The better known Charles Broadway Rouss sign is on the nearby Rouss Building at 549-555 Broadway.
The pediment of 549-555 Broadway reads, "Rouss Building / 1899 1900" (click for image).
A Streetscapes article by Christopher Gray (New York Times, 11 August 1996) explains the two dates: "In 1889, he [Rouss] put up his own building, a 10-story cast iron and stone structure at 549-543 Broadway, designed by Alfred Zucker... In 1900, Rouss had the architect William J. Dilthey expand his building one bay to the north; the entire building was given the address 555 Broadway."
Citing Jordan, John W. Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography, vol. III. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1914, pp. 720-723, the website montgomery.pa-roots.com describes William Jacob Dilthey, "Architect, Man of Affairs," in these terms: "In 1896 he opened an office and began his professional career under his own name, with an office at No. 1-3 Union Square West, New York City, and has achieved considerable success in his vocation. He designed and supervised the construction of a fourteen-story mercantile building at Nos. 547-555 Broadway, New York City, for Charles Broadway Rouss, in 1900, and in 1907-08 a fifteen-story mercantile building at Nos. 123-125 Mercer street, New York City, for Peter Winchester Rouss."
The Manhattan New Building Database at the
Office for Metropolitan History
lists 2 New Building applications filed with the New York City Dept. of Buildings
relating to 123-125 Mercer St.:
(1) 1906, NB# 595, $200,000, Mercer st, Nos 123-125, 13-sty brk and stone store and loft building; owner: Chas Broadway Rouss, 549-555 Broadway; architect: Wm J Dilthey, 1 Union sq
(2) 1916, NB# 52, $300,000, Greene St, 104-110, 12-sty fireproof warehouse, 87 x 100; owner: Peter W. Rouss, 320 Garfield pl, Brooklyn; architect: Low-Parker Engineering Co, 45 Broadway.
123-125 Mercer St. is a mid-block building that runs through to Greene St., where the address is 104-110 Greene St.
Charles Broadway Rouss (1836-1902) was born Charles Baltzell Rouss and changed his middle name to Broadway because he was so enamored of the street. Moses King, writing in 1892, gives the following account, "The man, a Virginian, came to New York immediately after the war [American Civil War], defeated, but not conquered; an ardent, aggressive Southerner... He came without money or influence, and with $11,000 of ante-bellum debts hanging over him... In the twelve stories of his building there are art-objects, boots and shoes, carpets, corsets, cigars, walking-sticks, canes, clothing, gloves, hardware, hosiery, hats, jewelry, laces, linens, millinery, notions, piece-goods, shades, shawls, jackets, skirts, show-cases, stationery, tinware, woolens, white goods, everything that one may think of, useful or ornamental, for personal wear or house-furnishing, including the inimitable Rouss parlor-organs. The value of the stock is $2,000,000."
This portrait of Rouss appeared in Moses King's Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 (1899). This advertisement for Rouss (549-553 Broadway) appeared in Moses King's Photographic Views of New York (1895). A view of the Broadway side of the Rouss Building is also included in King's Photographic Views on google books.
Rouss's obituary in the New York Times (4 March 1902, p. 9), read in part, "Charles Broadway Rouss, for so many years an eccentric character in commercial life of New York, died after four days' illness of pneumonia yesterday morning at his residence, 632 Fifth Avenue. Mr. Rouss was known throughout the United States because of his peculiar faculty for attracting public attention through dramatic and sensational feats, even turning his misfortunes to account... Mr. Rouss accumulated a considerable fortune, meeting, however, with many of the vicissitudes incident to commercial life. In 1865, as a result of a failure, and not having a penny in the world, he was locked up in Ludlow Street jail...
"Mr. Rouss was a professed atheist. He was a great admirer of the late Robert G.
Ingersoll, and always attended his lectures in this city. Mr. Rouss alienated many
friends by his frankness in expressing his views upon the subject of religion. In
philosophy and military science he entertained also radical opinions.
"He was born at Woodbury, Md., in 1836, and went to school for a short time at Winchester, Va. At the age of fifteen he was employed as a clerk in a country store at Winchester, and some years later opened a small store there. During the war he served in the same company with William L. Wilson, afterward Congressman and Postmaster General.
"When he came to New York at the close of the war he was penniless, lived on free lunches, and slept in the parks, but soon started business in a small way and prospered. In 1899 Mr. Rouss erected at Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, Va., a costly mausoleum to himself. He gave $100,000 to erect a memorial hall in Richmond, Va., in honor of Southern soldiers, and he gave $35,000 to the University of Virginia, and $30,000 for the water works at Winchester. He likewise donated the Washington-Lafayette Statue near Morningside Park."
According to James Burnley in Millionaires and Kings of Enterprise (1901) "Mr. Charles Broadway Rouss ... was born in 1836 at Woodsboro', Frederick County, Maryland. His father, Peter H. Rouss, was a man of some position in that part of the country, as is evidenced by the fact that in 1841 he was able to purchase a considerable estate called 'Runnymede,' in Virginia, to which place he removed his family shortly afterwards. In 1846 Charles Broadway Rouss entered the Winchester Academy, where he acquired a sound education and proved himself a bright and earnest student... At the age of fourteen young Rouss obtained a position in the general store of Mr. Jacob Senseny, of Winchester, at a salary of one dollar a week and board, which was increased from time to time, enabling Rouss in the course of four years to save a sum of five hundred dollars, which he deemed sufficient to start on his own account upon...
"Leaving the service of Mr. Senseny, Mr. Rouss took a journey to Baltimore, where he laid out the main portion of his savings in the purchase of a stock of dry goods. He was only eighteen years of age, but he had plenty of original notions of his own as to methods of business, and at the outset determined to avail himself of the aid of the advertising columns of the local newspapers. His first advertisement was of a character calculated to attract attention on the part of the inhabitants of the staid old town of Winchester, and the following was one of the most prominent sentences appearing in the announcement: 'We shall keep everything calculated to make a man fashionable, a lady irresistible, and a family comfortable.'"
The Biggert Collection of Architectural Vignettes at Columbia University contains a Charles Broadway Rouse receipt dated 20 April 1917, specifying "Wholesale Auction Dry Goods" at 549, 551, 553, 555 Broadway.
Copyright © 2009 Walter Grutchfield