If you walk by 555 Broadway, you will notice the name “Charles Broadway Rouss” emblazoned across its façade. In 1899, when Charles Broadway Rouss’ building was under construction, he placed a sign at the site that read:He who builds, owns and will occupy this marvel of brick, iron and granite, thirteen years ago walked these streets penniless and $50,000 in debt. Only to prove that the capitalists of today were poor men twenty years ago . . .
This was a testament to Rouss’ own success, albeit a little self aggrandizing. Rouss moved north to New York from Virginia after the Civil War. Ruined financially by the South’s defeat, he spent some time in a New York debtor’s prison before he quickly found success reselling auction merchandise. As a tribute to the street where he made his fortune, he adopted “Broadway” as his middle name and placed it prominently on his new building.
Charles Broadway Rouss Wholesale Auction Dry Goods, Rouss’ department store, occupied the entire building. The building replaced another whose ground floor housed the opulent Taylor’s Saloon where Walt Whitman, among many other prominent New Yorkers, lunched and its top floor was the headquarters of an avant-garde group called “The League for Free Love.”
Rouss’ department store sold a variety of goods, that, in Rouss’ words, would “keep everything calculated to make a man fashionable, a lady irresistible and a family comfortable.” Carpets, corsets, cutlery, cloaks, and even Japanese goods, were just a few of the items to be found at Charles Broadway Rouss Wholesale Auction Dry Goods.
Upon his death in 1902, Rouss left his business to his children, who continued it until 1929. In 1938, the S. Blechman & Sons dry goods company leased the entire building for its wholesale hosiery and underwear buisness until it went out of business in 1948.
Ise Hiyoko Inc. purchased the building in 1996, and the Ise Cultural Foundation, whose mission is to support emerging, under-represented artists and curators, had a gallery in the building’s basement until 2014.
Scholastic Inc., who was a tenant at 555 Broadway starting in 1992, purchased the building in 2014 and moved most of its offices there. The ground floor commercial space is now home to Sephora and Hugo Boss. The Rouss Building has been renovated by its various owners to keep up with the times, but its history will live on in the bold lettering that will adorn this landmarked building forevermore.
For the inscription buffs out there, note that the “Broadway” in the SoHo Broadway Initiative logo is in the same font as the “Charles Broadway Rouss” lettering font on the building at 555 Broadway.
Take a ‘Lookback’ at previous articles in this series…