Rosenwald Building in Albuquerque got its start as a department store

The ground floor of the long-vacant Rosenwald Building in downtown Albuquerque will soon become an APD police station. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note:

The Journal continues “What’s in a Name?”, a monthly column in which writer Elaine Briseño will give a brief history of how places in New Mexico got their names.

The city recently announced that it would establish a police substation at Fourth and Central Avenue inside a vacant building named after Rosenwald.

One look and it’s obvious that the three-story building is historic and even more obvious that it didn’t start out as a police station.

When the railroad passed through Albuquerque in the late 1800s, a commercial activity formed around it to provide service to its passengers. Initially, commercial buildings were relatively simple one-story structures, but transportation was not the only sector undergoing a transformation. As machinery and engineering became more advanced, so did buildings. What followed was the rise, literally, of downtown Albuquerque as multi-story buildings were erected.

The Rosenwald was one such building. It was built in 1910 to house the Rosenwald Brothers department store, named after brothers Aron and Edward (sometimes spelled Eduard) Rosenwald who founded the company in 1871 in Trinidad, Colorado. The siblings’ legacy lives on today in a stripped-down sign on the front of the Albuquerque building listing Rosenwald Bros.

A newspaper page from August 14, 1921, Albuquerque Morning Journal. (Courtesy of journals.com)

According to an August 14, 1921, article in the Albuquerque Morning Journal, the brothers loaded all their “goods into cumbersome wagons pulled by walking oxen” and traveled along the Santa Fe Trail to Colorado. They settled in a small adobe structure and began to build their little empire.

They opened their Albuquerque branch in 1879 in Old Town, but soon after moved to New Town on the northeast corner of Third Street and Central Avenue (then called Railroad Avenue) in a small building for which they paid $1,400, a price considered extravagant. at the time. When they arrived, it was not yet certain that Albuquerque would become the metropolis it is today. But the brothers, according to the 1921 story, never wavered in their faith that Albuquerque was where they would prosper. And they thrived.

A few years later, they sold their Colorado store and moved all of their operations to New Mexico. According to advertisements published in the Albuquerque Morning Journal throughout 1882, the store sold boots, shoes, hats, caps, dry goods, clothing, furniture, and groceries. Business was booming and when the brothers retired in 1903 they took over the management of Rosenwald Bro. to Aron’s sons, Sidney and David Rosenwald.

This second generation brings the company into a new era. They moved to a larger building at the southwest corner of Third and Central in 1907 and would remain there until moving to the present Rosenwald Building.

Construction of the building, designed by architect Henry C. Trost, began on Valentine’s Day in 1910. The Rosenwald Building was the city’s first reinforced concrete structure and was touted as fireproof.

The project was not without danger. About four months into construction, a worker fell almost two stories as he attempted to descend from the building. He survived, but had several broken ribs and bruises. In July, a cement worker named Joe Romero became entangled in scaffolding and also fell, dislocating his hip, according to an August 2, 1910, article in the Albuquerque Morning Journal.

The opening day finally took place on October 1st. The Albuquerque Morning Journal praised the innovative three-story (four if you count the basement) building, calling it “the most beautiful, up-to-date, and comprehensive department store in the Southwest.”

“…the statement is made without fear of being contradicted that no department store in Denver, El Paso, or any other important city in the region of the Rocky Mountains, nor in the valleys where the land begins to slope toward the sea, is housed in a better building, nor harbors a more complete and up-to-date store of goods within its walls than the house at Rosenwald.

The building had three elevators, which was also a first for Albuquerque.

A 10-piece orchestra welcomed the approximately 5,000 visitors who passed through its doors on opening day. On the ground floor, customers in those early days would have found haberdashery, jewelry, toiletries, shoes, and men’s clothing. The second floor housed women’s “ready-to-wear, headgear and corsets” as well as changing rooms, an alteration room and a bathroom. A trip to the third floor revealed rugs, carpets and furniture.

Rosenwald Brothers Building, 320 Central SW, Albuquerque, Bernalillo County. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The store also had something else that was relatively new – payphones in each department so visitors could “phone friends around town and would also prove a valuable means of communication between customers and department heads. different departments”.

But nothing was for sale that day. Visitors had to come back the following Monday if they really wanted to buy goods. The store flourished for over a decade, but trouble arose for the Rosenwald family.

Although supposedly fireproof, a mattress on the third floor caught fire in 1921 and caused extensive smoke and water damage, requiring a full renovation that took six years.

David Rosenwald died of a heart attack in November 1927, at the age of 49. According to his obituary, he was born in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1878. As a youth, he was sent to school in Germany. He returned to Albuquerque and graduated from high school.

He was not just an entrepreneur. He was also very involved in the community. He was secretary of the State Fair Association, director of the Commercial Club and the Albuquerque Hotel Co., and president of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club.

Sadly, according to newspaper reports, Sidney Rosenwald committed suicide in 1932. It was reported that he was depressed with financial worries.

The McLellan stores moved into the ground floor of the Rosenwald Building in 1927 and would remain there for 50 years, but the Rosenwald name remained on the building’s storefront. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

According to Albuquerque Journal clippings, crews worked to restore the building to its original form in 1980. They converted the upper floors into offices. The city purchased two floors of the building in 2008 and recently sold it to a private developer with a partial lease agreement for the APD substation.

The journalist present on the day the building opened in 1910 made this prophetic observation:

“The magnificent building at Rosenwald will stand for many years as a monument to the enterprise of the Rosenwalds, as an indication of their faith in Albuquerque and Albuquerqueans. May the name of Rosenwald live long and may the store of Rosenwald Brothers… ever prosper, is the best wish of all who were invited to the opening yesterday.

Curious to know how a city, a street or a building gets its name? Email editor Elaine Briseño at [email protected]