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.