On OETA, the PBS “Masterpiece Classic” series “Mr. Selfridge” is following the life and times of the creator of London, England’s first department store.
Selfridge & Co. was envisioned and built in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American businessman who learned the merchant trade in Chicago, Ill.
A comparison could be made to Oklahoma City’s Baum Building, built in 1909 and opened in 1910 by Moses J. Baum.
M.J. Baum, born in Mississippi of German parents, arrived in Oklahoma City in 1897 at the age of 18. He is described in the June 15, 1915, edition of The Oklahoman as a “pioneer merchant of Oklahoma City and the first dealer in women’s exclusive garments in the southwest ...”
“Coming to Oklahoma City eighteen years ago, Mr. Baum established what was known as the ‘Bazaar,’ the first exclusive women’s garment house in the southwest, there being no similar business in Wichita, Dallas or any of the other cities in this section.”
His business was doing so well that in 1909, at the age of 30, Mr. Baum secured a 99-year lease from the Henry Overholser family for the northeast corner of Grand (Sheridan) and Robinson, acquired the services of architectural firm Layton, Hawk and Smith, and began construction on a five story building, which cost $140,000. It was completed the following year.
The Baum Building had stone cupolas on all four corners, as well as towers, arched windows, and marble and terra-cotta decorations, making it one of the most ornate buildings in Oklahoma City. It was modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy.
The new building attracted tenants and Baum’s flourished on the first three floors for several years judging by the many advertisements appearing in The Oklahoman.
One advertisement designed to attract customers appeared in The Oklahoman May 23, 1911, and announced that: “A good store the class of BAUM’s is just as essential to any city as its High School, its Library and all other institutions for the improvement of its people.”
The large ad notified the public that Baum’s had acquired at “great expense” an exact copy of the gown and coronation robes that Queen Mary would wear when she was to be crowned queen on June 22.
Mr. Baum’s fortunes shifted because in 1913 the newspaper advertisements were announcing the month-long bankruptcy sale of Baum’s. Apparently Baum found himself financially overextended and lost his store, the building and the lease.
After M.J. Baum lost his store he took a two year “vacation” in Okmulgee, returning to Oklahoma City in 1915 to work for Scott-Halliburton department store.
The city directories list Moses J. Baum in Oklahoma City until 1917. The 1920 U.S. Census lists him in San Antonio, managing a ready-to-wear store. The 1930 Census finds him working as a ready-to-wear salesman in Dallas, then in 1940 in Atlanta, Ga., still working in a department store.
While Harry Selfridge’s building and store still stand in London 105 years later, the Baum Building was a 1973 victim of urban renewal and M.J. Baum is a footnote in the history of Oklahoma City.
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