The decade before the outbreak of the Civil War saw the block of 23rd Street just west of Fifth Avenue fill with handsome residences. Charles A. Baudoine erected his Italianate style home at No. 24. Four stories tall above an English basement, it boasted extras like the carved and paneled archititrave framing of the windows, topped with ledge-like cornices.
|The handsome sheet metal cornice included dainty dentil molding below the foliate brackets.|
The Baudoine family shared the block with well-heeled neighbors. The wealthy George Frederick Jones family lived at No. 14. Their daughter, Edith Newbold Jones would gain literary prominence as Edith Wharton. Stockbroker Benjamin Nathan lived next door at No. 12 (The Times described the house as "lavish to excess"). And across the street were the lavish houses of William Schermerhorn, James Constable, and his business partner Aaron Arnold.
There is no question concerning what expensive Victorian furniture graced the home. Charles A. Baudouine opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830. As highly-ornate Victorian styles came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him a reputation as one of New York’s premier cabinetmakers. His sole competitor in New York was John Henry Belter with whom he was (and is) consistently compared.
|Baudoine's workshop created intricately-carved pieces like this Rococo Revival sofa. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art|
When Cyrus West Field purchase his mansion on the newly-developed Gramercy Park, he commissioned Baudoine to furnish the entire home--it was the first instance in New York of a professional interior decorator.
The family was gone by the early 1870s; although Baudoine retained ownership, leasing it to W. A. Weichers and his wife, Abby Elizabeth. Weichers was vice-president of The Matthiessen & Weichers Sugar Refinery Company.
The couple escaped the winter of 1873-74 by traveling to Cuba. Sadly, Abby died there, in the town of Matanazas, on February 16. The logistics of having her body transported back to New York resulted in her funeral, held in the house, being delayed until March 2.
Weicher suffered a stroke of back luck later that spring. He visited a nearby store on Broadway and 24th Street and then walked home, only to find he had lost his wallet and cash. He placed an ad in The New York Herald that read "Lost--May 14, between the lace store under the Albemarle Hotel and Twenty-third street, a black Portemonnaie, containing money. The finder will be suitable rewarded by returning it to 24 West Twenty-third street."
In 1881 Baudoine leased the house to Amand Chatain and his wife, Adele. Chatain was a partner in the piano making firm of Choplain & Chatain. But already the neighborhood was changing. Sixth Avenue was becoming lined with retail stores, a trend that spilled onto West 23rd Street when the Stern Brothers Dry Goods store replaced Nos. 32 through 36 in 1878--disturbingly close to Baudoine's brownstone house.
By 1885 the lower floors of No. 24 had been converted to the toy store of Scharles Bros. Playthings for girls born into privilege were, in fact, often designed to prepare them for their roles in society. The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide mentioned some of the toys available at Scharles Bros. as Christmas approached that year:
"There are sets of dishes in boxes tastefully decorated, toilette sets of fine French china, table linen, with cloth napkins and doileys, all bordered, fringed and folded, similar to those used by grown-up housekeeper...and baskets with complete sets of knives forks and spoons are among the house-keeping toys that please girls. The present doll of the period is a singing doll, in addition to former accomplishments of driving, walking and playing on the piano; the various wardrobes are complete with every article a modern society doll would require--Saratoga trunks for travelling, satchels complete in three inches of alligator skin, writing desks filled for Miss Dolly's correspondence and invitations to 5-o'clock teas."
|A Scharles Bros. trade card gave little hint of the toys it sold; instead depicting a whip-wielding infant on a tortoise -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
At the time No. 24 mostly retained its residential appearance. But that would change in 1889 when Baudoine commissioned architect J. E. Terhune to redesign the ground and second floor. The stoop and brownstone cladding were removed and a cast iron front installed. Broad expanses of glass filled the showrooms with natural light. The second floor featured a bowed bay flanked by ornate thin columns and was crowned by a frothy cartouche.
|The four gap-mouthed lions' heads above the first floor originally held an awning.|
Scharles Bros. was in the building at least through 1892. The store moved three doors west to No. 30 by 1894. In the meantime, Martin J. Pendergast shared the building, operating his printing and stationery store upstairs. The invitations, calling cards, menu cards and other items socialites had learned about as little girls through their expensive dolls were available here.
The shop was the scene of unexpected upheaval on August 31, 1889. Emma Long fancied herself an artist and lived a few blocks away at No. 308 West 22nd Street. The 29-year old stepped into the store that afternoon "to pay a small bill that she thought she owed to W. C. Christie, who is connected with the establishment," according to The New York Times.
A typesetter was hard at work on the composition of a Labor Day publication, the deadline for which was that evening. For some reason, Long became agitated, feeling that someone had insulted her.
Her eyes fell on the galleys of type. "Miss Long turned her wrath on this and 'pied' it all, making a complete wreck of about $20 worth of composition." Pendergast had the woman arrested and she took her fury to the station house with her.
"She said there that she did not mind how much it would cost for defense, but that she would not give one cent for tribute." The Times added flatly "It is thought that she is slightly deranged."
Indeed, when she appeared before Justice Gorman the following day a friend, Mrs. Driggs, spoke in Emma Long's defense, saying "she was not in her right mind." Long was committed for mental examination.
Additional renovations were done to the building when when high-end women's clothiers Gosta Kraemer signed a lease in 1894. On April 26 The Times reported that Charles A. Baudoine was doing $2,000 in alterations to the building.
They were completed by fall, and on Oct 1 1894 Fur Trade Review announced "Mr. Gosta Kraemer had a grand opening in his new store at West Twenty-third street, opposite the Fifth Avenue Hotel, on September 24. The building is one of the handsomest devoted to business in the city, the entire front being in white and gold and the show window one of the largest, both in width and depth, on that thoroughfare."
The article mentioned that on opening day there was a "grand array of cloaks, furs and high class costumes" and that the "show window was made additionally attractive with palms and ferns and full mounted tiger rugs."
Gosta Kraemer imported European fashions as well as creating its own. On January 16, 1895 Kraemer sailed for the Continent to shop for new styles. Cloaks and Furs reported that he "will visit the principal fashion centers abroad and will return about the first of March."
Kraemer returned just in time for the International Exposition of Costumes which opened in Madison Square Garden, mere steps away from No. 24 West 23rd Street, on March 11. Kraemer stole the show, erecting a huge glass case in the center of the hall. The costly garments and accessories were changed every day, and hinted at Gosta Kraemer's wealthy clientele.
The New York Times reported on March 12, "The display yesterday included two superb imported costumes. One of them, by Worth, was in black and green, the material being silk grenadine crepon. The trimming was black silk embroidery and jewel buttons. The skirt was very full. It was cut in peculiar gores that gave it a very unique and handsome effect."
The article went on to describe the other gown, by Paris couturier Jacques Doucet, as well as the capes and boas displayed. One of the capes "was of Sicilian moire antique, being the same material that was used in the evening wrap made for Miss Anna Gould, now the Countess de Castellane, by Mr. Kraemer."
For some reason Gosta Kraemer left the 23rd Street location that same year. In its place came Samuel Koch & Sons. The millinery store had been a fixture on Brooklyn's Fulton Street for years. Now, before it moved into its new home the Baudouine estate (Charles Baudoine died on January 13, 1895) spent $10,000 on yet another set of interior alterations.
Koch & Sons opened on March 10, 1896. The New York Times wrote "The firm occupies the former establishment of Kraemer, a spacious four-story building, nearly opposite the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The entire four floors were tastefully decorated with flowers and brilliantly illuminated." The newspaper opined "The store, with its display, is an attractive addition to the many stores in the Twenty-third Street section."
|On April 1, 1900 the New-York Tribune remarked that these two Koch & Sons hats, one dripping with artificial grapes, would "be popular with the 'Summer Girl." (copyright expired)|
Feminine shoppers could choose among the wide variety of imported and custom made headgear; or select accessories to change up hats they already owned. An advertisement on April 9, 1900 offered cherries and grapes ("imported") "for Hat Trimmings. Large bunches with foliage." Normally costing $1, they were on sale for 69 cents.
By the time of that advertisement, S. Koch & Sons had branched into "girls' and small women's" clothing, and other accessory items like The Koch "Pulley" Belt.
The contraption forced the body into the hour-glass shape so desired; while eliminating the inconvenience of having a maid or other person cinch up a corset. A Koch & Son advertisement on January 4, 1900 explained its invention: "Can be drawn tight as desired by means of the 'pulley' attachment. Gives the long waist effect. Symmetry and style secured by its use. Holds both skirt and waist in position without pins, hooks or buckles."
|The Koch 'Pulley' Belt could be purchased for $1.25. The Evening World, January 4, 1900 (copyright expired)|
After 15 years in the building S. Koch & Sons left in 1911. It was followed by the Paris-based millinery store, Reinhardt's. Upon its opening in March 1912, it boasted "a superb array, expressly designed for walking, carriage wear or dress occasions, embracing every modern idea of the leading European ateliers."
Like S. Koch & Sons, Reinhardt's produced its own creations, as well as importing. It advertised "conceptions of our own, demonstrating originality and individuality as brilliant characteristics." And, also like Koch, it provided trimmings so women could alter their own hats, including "untrimmed shapes, flowers, foliage, plumes, ribbons, etc."
As the United States entered World War I, No. 24 West 23rd Street got a starkly different upstairs tenant, the recruiting headquarters of the Marine Corps. The office was swamped with applicants following news of the Marine Corps' victories in France in June 1918.
The New-York Tribune reported on June 8 "Friday always has been a dull day for volunteers in any of the service branches, but so far as the marines were concerned this Friday was different. Instead of the normal enlistment average of fifty men, more than four hundred joined the ranks of the 'sea soldiers.'"
Lieutenant Daniel M. Gardner, Jr., in charge of the 23rd Street office, told a reporter "A lot of husky New Yorkers are scrambling over each other to join us. Our first recruit today was a member of a local exemption board, who read about the battle in the morning paper and hurried down to enlist right after breakfast."
The West 23rd Street shopping area remained upscale following the war. In 1921 cut glass dealers Witte & Diehl moved in from West 24th Street, where they had been for some years. Their interesting co-existence was somewhat symbiotic. Each advertised separately and operated individual showrooms, but had legally joined forces around the time of their move.
By mid-century the high-end retailers had moved northward along Fifth Avenue and Broadway. West 23rd Street was no longer a destination of the carriage trade. In 1936 architect Louis A. Hornum made renovations that split the interior for two tenants--a store and salesroom on the first and second floor, and a "business" space on the top two.
The building was updated again in 2014, and today a restaurant operates from street level while offices occupy the upper floors. Through it all, it has suffered no major changes since
J. E. Terhune added his cast iron storefront in 1889. And above that still looms Charles Baudoine's brownstone house.
photographs by the author
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