The House on 35th Street

Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin at Home

Rex Stout published his first Nero Wolfe story, Fer-De-Lance, in 1934, establishing his hero as a brilliant, enormously fat, eccentric detective who raises orchids, keeps a gourmet table (complete with live-in chef), and rarely leaves home. Home is "an old brownstone" at 918 W. 35th Street, Manhattan -- an address that has become as real and almost as famous as Sherlock Holmes' 221B Baker Street in London.

In the almost 40 years that Stout described the house (in some forty-eight stories) in ever increasing detail, both the details of the house and its occupants shifted about a bit in size and location -- in his first book Archie's room is on the second floor, across from Wolfe, and Fritz "slept above across from the plant rooms," and there is an outside elevator leading up to the plant rooms (which both Stout and I subsequently ignored). Nevertheless, in a few years, Stout settled into a general image of how life was lived at 918 W. 35th Street. Fritz moved to the basement, Wolfe remained on the second floor across from the "North Room," Archie moved to the third floor adjacent to the "South Room" where we may suppose the orchids had been, and Horstmann moved to the roof with ten thousand orchids!

Oh, once in a while, things popped up as they were needed -- a fireplace suddenly (and rather inconveniently for the draftsman) appeared in the front parlor: Wolfe was angry at a new dictionary; in a rage, he tore it to pieces and burned it. Oh... where? Uh, in the fireplace in the front parlor. Okay. Hadn't noticed that before. And a chair pops up across from the coat rack, a pool table is established in the basement, a window is needed for an escape, this and that. Rex Stout maintained a mental image of Archie seated to Wolfe's right, while his consistent descriptions call for Archie to be at the far end of the room (with a mirror in front of his desk so he can see the room behind him) and the bookshelves and globe at the other end so that if Wolfe's desk faces the door to the office (as is common), Archie has to be at Wolfe's left. But Stout calls for the famous waterfall portrait with a peephole to be behind Wolfe, ergo, Wolfe is not seated facing the door, and Archie can be place eight feet away and at right angles as called for in the Master's text. Small details can also be a problem. Stout has the light switch on the left inside of the door to the office as you enter, but that would have the door hinged on the wrong side, swinging into the room and furniture, rather than as I have drawn it, swinging into a wall. Also, as Stout kept adding needed touches -- a cabinet for fingerprint equipment, keys, and rubber gloves, with drawers to hold manuscripts, a safe, filing cabinets, a bathroom (!), and room enough for two rows of chairs in front of Wolfe's desk plus a large couch -- we end up needing a lot of room and Archie ends up where I have placed him. Ain't no other way. So this is it.

A word about the occupants:

Nero Wolfe who owns the house was born in Yugoslavia, immigrated to the United States, and somehow ended up as a licensed detective in New York City. He is overweight ("a seventh of a ton"), erudite, opinionated, dislikes and distrusts women, automobiles, and airplanes, and hates to work. Hence, Archie Goodwin, his chief investigator, right arm, leg man, muscle, and goad who is also, not too incidently, his Dr. Watson and Boswell. The stories are all in the first person, narrated by Archie.

Fritz Brenner, the chef,

"... prefers the basement. His den is as big as the office and front room combined, but over the years it has got pretty cluttered -- tables with stacks of magazines, busts of Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin on stands, framed menus on the walls, a king-size bed, five chairs, shelves of books (he has 289 cookbooks), a head of a wild boar he shot in the Vosges, a TV and stereo cabinet, two large cases of ancient cooking vessels, one of which he thinks was used by Julius Caesar's chef, and so on. Wolfe was in the biggest chair by a table...." (The Doorbell Rang, 1965, p.70)

Meals are serious affairs (no business talk) and lovingly described. I knew an Argentinean who was a member of a group that met regularly to prepare and consume a Fritz Brenner dinner!

Theodore Horstmann is neither very developed as a character nor very lovable. He takes care of the orchids and is grumpy.

And this is the house they live in.... 


(Back to Nero Wolfe index)

Overview of the house on W. 35th Street
First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan  with interior views of Wolfe's bedroom.
Third Floor Plan  
The Basement (Fritz)
The Roof (Orchids & Horstmann)
Two views: The Front Hall and The Kitchen