10 March 2010

Siegel-Cooper's Massive Bronze Columns

Are the huge, imposing pillars outside the former Siegel-Cooper department store on Sixth Avenue (now Bed, Bath & Beyond) the biggest bronze columns in the City? I don't know, but if there are bigger ones, I'd like to see them. No matter how many times I pass this entrance (probably one thousand and counting at this point), the triple-arched doorway always takes my breath away. It's pretentious and overdone, yes, as was the way in the Gilded Age, when the building was erected. But it's also beautiful.

Grand Chicago capitalist Henry Siegel put his all into this block-long structure, building what was then New York's greatest department store in five short months, and opening with much fanfare on Sept. 12, 1896. It was called "The Big Store—A City in Itself," and the central fountain became a local landmark. A brass statue called "The Republic," a replica of a sculpture at the Chicago World's Fair by Daniel Chester French, was surrounded by spurting jets of water, which were illuminated by colored lights. "Meet me at the fountain" became a catchphrase. There's the crazy fountain below.

The store only lasted until World War I, when the building served as a military hospital for a time. The French statue now stands in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, and I doubt a lot of people meet there.

But a lot of people know the history of that fountain. What about those columns? The other day, I noticed two small engravings on each pillar. One said "DeLemos & Cordes. Architects." The other said "Executed by Paul E. Cabaret. New York City." The first one's easy. DeLemos & Cordes were the architects of the Siegel-Cooper store. DeLemos & Cordes were serious practitioners, specializing in department stores. They also built Macy's on 34th Street, and had a hand in the Washington Bridge (the one over the Harlem River). The partners' full names were Theodore Wilhelm Emile De Lemos and August Wilhelm Cordes. They were a couple of Germans with penetrating eyes, square heads and impressive moustaches. (See below.) They also built a lot of stuff down in Mexico City, interestingly enough.

But what about the man with the improbable name of Paul E. Cabaret? A 1911 New York Times article identifies Paul E. Cabaret & Co., of 11th Avenue and W. 20th Street, as "manufacturers of brass and bronze works of art, who have been located for many years in West Fourteenth Street." OK. So it's looking like DeLemos & Cordes designed the columns and then contracted Cabaret to make them. I found other evidence that Cabaret was a metalsmith much in demand in his day. But the problem with researching a guy named Cabaret is that you keep turing up articles about singing halls.

Good thing for Cabaret that he had his name put on those columns, or there'd be no remembrance of him left in the City.


President of the De Lemos and Cordes Fan Club said...

De Lemos & Cordes had a hand in the George Washington Bridge?

De Lemos died in 1909. The bridge was constructed from 1927 to 1931. What "hand" did they have in designing the bridge?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Sorry, the Washington Bridge, the one over the Harlem River. Scratch the "George."

President of the De Lemos and Cordes Fan Club said...

Yes, they're two different bridges.

Welcome to New York, Brooks.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

It was a typo.

Welcome to New York yourself, my President of the De Lemos and Cordes Fan Club—of which organization I can't believe it exists. Don't get your pince-nez all fogged up.

Taominatrix said...

There's a de Lemos and Cordes FAN CLUB??? LOL! I came across this blog in researching my great great grandfather - Theodore de Lemos. I've been going through old family papers/photos many of which, until the past month or so, have been boxed up and gathering dust for over 100 years. Although I don't recall seeing anything about these columns, I do have the original conception drawing for the Arion building, and several other architectural design drawings of his as well. There are also quite a few photos of Mexico City (1904-1906), not only of his buildings and the construction process, but also of various cowboys, indians, aristocrats,railroad stations, and whatever architecture happened to catch his fancy. I also have his european sketch books, just about every letter/postcard he ever wrote to his family, and his personal journals (written in German). In all of that, I don't recall reading anything about ANY bridge (though admittedly I don't speak German, so I suppose I may have missed something).

Oh yeah - if anyone has any suggestions regarding the best way to go about making this rather large collection Old New York memrobilia/ephemera (photos, postcards, menus, architectural drawings, play bills, magazines, etc. ) available to those who might be interested, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm doing my best to scan as much as I can, but it's extremely time consuming, especially as I really have no idea what I'm going to do with all of it. Thanks. :-)

Taominatrix said...

A 'de Lemos and Cordes FANCLUB'??? No way! My Great Great Grandfather was Theodore de Lemos. I just happened upon this blog by way of geneological interest/research. If anyone has any thoughts regarding how I might best display/make use of the various de Lemos family papers, photos, postcards, architectural drawings, documents,theatre announcements, scrapbooks, menus, journals, World's Fair & Cruise ship programs, sketch books, magazines, etc. - all of which have been carefully collected, preserved, and packed up in boxes (some for over 100 years)- I'd be very grateful for your feedback. I'm trying to scan as much of this stuff as I can, but it's extremely time consuming - especially when I have no idea what I'm ultimately going to be able to do with all of it. Thanks.

Oh yeah - and I think it's extremely cool (and even kind of touching) that my Great Great Grandfathers work is STILL appreciated. :-)

Martha S. Vogeler said...

My father would have passed through those massive bronze columns on Dec. 10, 1918, the day he returned from France, where he had served with the Harvard Medical Unit (Base Hospital No. 5) since May 1917. Still suffering from the dysentery that had caused his medical discharge, he was treated at the Seigel Cooper building, being used at the time as a military hospital. Martha Vogeler (nee Salmon)