The Rosenwald Building was New Mexico’s first fireproof, reinforced concrete structure and its first modern department store.
Soon after opening their Dry Goods and Clothing Store in Old Town in 1878, Aron [ sic] and Edward Rosenwald moved it in 1880 to the corner of Railroad Avenue and Third Street in New Town. In 1908, their heirs incorporated the store as Rosenwald Brothers, and in 1909 commissioned Henry C. Trost to design a new building one block west at the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Fourth Street.
The three-story building, 50 feet high on a footprint measuring 75 by 142 feet, has a structural frame and floors of reinforced, poured-in-place concrete. The structure is laid out on a 25-by-14-foot grid with sturdy 2-foot-square columns that were intended to support two additional stories in an unexecuted expansion. It is finished with stuccoed brick on the exterior and originally had interior partitions of hollow gypsum tile. The frame is directly expressed on the exterior, where it determines the generously fenestrated rhythms of the classically detailed elevations. Sill courses over the ground- and third-floor windows order the facades into a tripartite scheme of base, shaft, and capital. The building’s abstract classical logic is reinforced by the flat quoins at the corners, the dentil brackets suggesting capitals at the top of the column piers, the Ionic tripartite architrave and dentil cornice framing the two-story recessed entrance, and the schematic pediment and attic frieze above that entrance.
The Rosenwald Building is often read as an example of Prairie Style architecture, like Henry C. Trost’s Spitz Residence in Albuquerque from the year before. But it more directly reflects the commercial architecture of the Chicago School. Before Trost formed his architectural firm in 1903 in El Paso, Texas, his peripatetic career around the Midwest and Southwest included eight years (1888–1896) as a designer of ornamental metal work in Chicago, where he met Louis Sullivan and presumably saw such precedents as Adler and Sullivan’s Wirt Dexter Building at 630 South Wabash Avenue (1887).
The Rosenwald Building at first functioned exclusively as a department store, with dry goods, jewelry, toiletries, shoes, and men’s clothing on the ground floor, women’s clothing on the second floor, and carpets and furniture on the third floor. A fire on the third floor caused extensive smoke and water damage in 1921, and when the renovated building reopened in 1927, offices occupied most of the second and third floors and the ground floor had been subdivided into commercial spaces. Tenants included Groc-A-Tote, Albuquerque’s first self-service grocery store, and McLellan’s, a New York retail chain that would take over the entire building in 1950. By the time that McLellan’s vacated the building in 1977, commercial retail in Albuquerque had long since scattered to suburban shopping centers and the downtown was left with a collection of empty storefronts.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the Rosenwald Building was renovated and its exterior restored in 1980–1981, in one of the first steps taken in the ongoing project to revive downtown Albuquerque. The city acquired the first two floors in 2008 and now maintains the building while continuing to look for private developers willing to invest in its adaptive reuse.
DeWitt, Susan, “The Rosenwald Building,” Bernalillo County, New Mexico. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1978. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
DeWitt, Susan. Historic Albuquerque Today: An Overview Survey of Historic Buildings and Districts. 2nd edition. Albuquerque, NM: Historic Landmarks Survey of Albuquerque, 1978.
Engelbrecht, Lloyd C. and June F. Henry C. Trost: Architect of the Southwest. El Paso: El Paso Public Library Association, 1981.