Dwight James Baum
(1886-1939)

Biography

Distantly related to L. Frank Baum who wrote the Wizard of Oz, Dwight James Baum was born near Newville, New York, just southeast of Utica.  He moved to Syracuse as a young man and later entered Syracuse University to study architecture.  Baum graduated from S.U. in 1909, winning the school's Architectural Fellowship and obtaining an honorary membership in the just formed Tau Sigma Delta honor society for architecture.

After graduation Baum worked for several architectural firms in New York City including Boring and Tilton; Kirby, Petit and Green; Sanford White; and finally Frank M. Andrews. Although his specialty was to be residential design, during this period in his life he worked on a variety of different projects.

In about 1912, Baum purchased a lot in the Riverdale area of the West Bronx where he built a Dutch Colonial style home for himself.  He set up an office in the attic of the house and began designing residences in his spare time. The developers in Riverdale liked his work and urged those who bought property in the community to commission Baum as their architect. He eventually resigned from the Andrews firm and devoted all his efforts to his own designs.

From 1914 to 1939, Baum designed 140 houses in the Riverdale area, primarily Tudor and Greek Revival styles.  His design for Dr. Francis Collins won the Better Homes in American Gold Medal in 1931 for the best two-story house constructed between 1926 and 1930. President Herbert Hoover was honorary chairman of the competition and personally presented the award to Baum. That year Baum also won honorable mention for another two-story house in a classical style making Baum the first architect to win two awards in this competition who had not studied at the Beaux Arts School in Paris or Rome.

In addition to these residential works, Baum also designed the Riverdale Country Club (1917) and the Arrowhead Inn, a restaurant in Riverdale (1924).

Baum first visited Florida in 1922 at the start of the Land Boom. In 1924 he received the most important residential commission of his career from John and Mabel Ringling. John Ringling was best known as one of the Ringling Brothers of Ringling, Barnum and Bailey Circus, but had made his fortune more in real-estate and railroads. The home, to be built on land in Sarasota, was to combine architectural elements of two of Mrs. Ringling's favorite buildings: the fašade of the Doge's Palace in Venice, and the tower of the old Madison Square Garden in New York City, designed by Stanford White, where the Ringling circus regularly appeared. Called CÓ d'Zan (which means "House of John" in Venetian dialect), the finished house was 200 feet long and featured a vast two-and-a-half story roofed court which served as the main living room. Some 30 rooms and 14 baths spread out from the main court with kitchens, pantries and servants' quarters in a wing to the south. An 8,000-square-foot terrace of variegated marble, enclosed with terra cotta balustrades, looked out over the bay. Thirteen steps of English veined marble led down to a dock where Mrs. Ringling moored her Venetian gondola. This building is now part of the Ringling Museum of Art and houses much of the Ringlings' art treasures.

Baum opened a second office in Sarasota and did considerable business in the area, including design of the Sarasota County Courthouse, the Sarasota Times Building and the First Presbyterian Church. He was credited by American Architect magazine (October, 1926) with developing a new Mediterranean Revival style through his work in the area. Several cities in Florida, including Clewiston and Ft. Pierce, contracted with Baum for city planning services.

During the depression, many architects had to leave the profession to support themselves. Baum was one of the few architects in the New York area who was able to keep his office open.  This was partially due to his wife's inheritance but also because of his close association with the Architectural League of New York. From the early 1920's Baum had been active in preservation activities. He photographed historic structures and wrote articles on preservation. Because of this interest, the Architectural League chose Baum's office for work projects to support unemployed draftsmen and designers.  Among the projects undertaken at this time by Baum's office was the research and documentation of historic buildings in Barrytown, New York and Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1929-1930, Baum was chosen to be consulting architect for Good Housekeeping Magazine. In this role he contributed articles on everything from regional architecture to concealed lighting, and served on juries for various contests conducted by the magazine. He is also remembered for his design for the Good Housekeeping exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair in Chicago.

Two of Baum's most noteworthy designs during the Depression were the West Side YMCA in New York City (at 5 West 63rd Street), and the Federal Building in Flushing, New York.

Baum's designs can be found the entire length of the eastern seaboard including New England, New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas and Florida.

Syracuse

It was during the Depression that Baum made his major contributions to the architecture of his alma mater, Syracuse University.  The buildings he designed at S.U. include:

The design of Syracuse Memorial Hospital was a collaborative effort between Baum and John Russell Pope (Syracuse Memorial Hospital later merged with Crouse Irving Hospital to become Crouse Memorial Hospital).

In 1934, Florentine sculptor V. Renzo Baldi was commissioned to complete a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus; Dwight Baum was commissioned to design the monument that would host the sculpture. This Columbus Monument now sits at the center of Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse.  Funds for the project were raised by Syracuse's Italian-American community. When the depression hit, the community could no longer afford to ship the statue they had commissioned from Italy to Syracuse. Benito Mussolini then stepped in to pay the shipping charge. It was he who specified the inscription: "Christoforo Columbo, Discoverer of America." Baum had said he wanted the area around the monument to have a "Roman" feel.  The statue of Columbus is set above a fountain within a pool shaped like a mariner's compass. 

Baum also designed several residences in the Syracuse area, including:

Sources:

  1. National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form for Dr. Walter Kennedy house in Sarasota, Florida. Filed March 14, 1994.

  2. Syracuse University Archives, Dwight James Baum collection, 6th floor Bird Library, Syracuse New York.

  3. Syracuse Landmarks: An AIA Guide to Downtown and Historic Neighborhoods, by Evamarie Hardin, Jon Crispin (Photographer), forward by Dick Case. Syracuse University Press. April, 1993.


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