Walking along 6th Ave between 43rd and 44th you might not notice number 1120, a midsized, 1950s glassy office building. Madmen’s Roger Sterling would look at home in the lobby.
But maybe you happen to catch sight of the building’s name: Hippodrome.
Unusual. Where does it come from?
It comes from the wonderous building, the Hippodrome Theatre,
that operated on this site from 1909 to 1939. It had 5,300 seats–more than today’s Met. Performing elephants and Harry Houdini graced the stage.
These photos of the old theater come from a display the New York Public Library mounted in the 47th-50th Street subway station, right by Rockefeller Center.
The Upper West Side owes much to a mad Frenchman.
Paul Emile Maurice Duboy was born in Paris around 1858. He arrived in America on August 10, 1882 and worked as a sculpture and architect. When he became a U.S. citizen he lived at 58 East 10the Street and he gave “architect” as his profession. The witness was another architect—one Charles W. Stoughton of 1665 Washington Avenue. Duboy’s naturalization took place on April 17, 1899.
The very next year, after nearly a decade of false starts and delays, ground broke on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, at 89th Street. It commemorates the sacrifices made by members of the Union’s armed forces during the Civil War. The architects? Charles W. Stoughton and his younger brother, Arthur Alexander Stoughton. The Stoughtons tapped Duboy to make the carvings. The building was finished in 1902—President Theodore Roosevelt himself came to officiate at the dedication on Memorial Day that year. Annually since, people have gathered at the monument to remember the honored dead, following in Roosevelt’s footsteps.
During this same period, just blocks away, on Broadway between 73rd and 74th, Duboy was hard at work on another landmark. The driving force behind the Ansonia Hotel, W. E. D. Stokes, called himself “architect-in-chief” but hired Duboy to actually draw the plans. That project broke ground in 1899 and opened in 1903. Duboy himself took a three-year lease in the Ansonia in January that year.
What happened next is murky. Somewhere around this time, Duboy lost his mind. He wound up committed to an insane asylum outside of Paris, according to Stokes. In 1907 Stokes used Duboy’s insanity to try to duck out of paying a contractor. The contractor sued Stokes for $90,000 of unpaid bills. A court ordered Stokes to fork over $73,000. Stokes then countered that Duboy was in an asylum and must have already been crazy when he “signed the final certificate and hence that instrument can never have been legally validated,” The American Architect and Building News reported.
Secondary sources state that Duboy died in 1907. I’ve been unable to verify but have not reason to question that date. It would be very interesting also to learn the outcome of Stokes’ legal argument.
Find on the Map
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Touching, bittersweet meditation on John Lennon’s death by Christine Lavin: