Last week, the Joseph Baum papers were made available to researchers at the New York Public Library's Manuscript and Archives Reading Room.
Joe Baum was the executive and president of Restaurant Associates, and the man behind such iconic New York restaurants as the Four Seasons, La Fonda del Sol, Forum of the Twelve Caesars, and Windows on the World, bringing an over-the-top theatricality to a quality dining experience. As William Grimes wrote in Baum's obituary in 1999, "More than any other restaurateur, [Baum] operated in the conceptual territory where food and theater overlapped."
Born in 1920 in Saratoga Springs, NY, Baum graduated from high school in New Jersey and worked at various hotels in New York and Florida before attending Cornell University's Hotel Administration School.
In 1949, after working in accounting firms for hotels and restaurants, he was hired by Restaurants Associates to help open the Newarker, a restaurant located in the Newark Airport. Despite its rough start and less than appealing location, the Newarker was a great success. Baum invested money in what he knew could make or break the restaurant, including a well-designed menu (indeed, it's one of my favorites in the collection) and delicious food prepared by Swiss chef Albert Stockli.
More restaurants followed, including La Fonda del Sol (1960). Baum's papers include later menus from La Fonda (the gorgeous sun example above is from the Rare Book collection), and wonderful black and white photographs of the interior.
But according to Grimes, the Four Seasons was the Baum restaurant that really represented his lasting legacy. The restaurant cost $4.5 million to open, featuring art work by Picasso and Miro and was one of the first restaurants to place seasonality at center stage, changing its menu and color scheme with each season.
Valerie Wingfield, the archivist who had the enviable job of processing the Baum papers told me she was struck by the how much she was both moved by the Window on the World menus (which Baum opened in the 1976) and how much she enjoyed the fun and whimsy of the Rainbow & Stars files. Rainbow & Stars was a caberet club which opened in 1989, and was part of the Rainbow Room complex. Included in those files are wonderful photographs of the many celebrities (and some song lists) of those who performed at Rainbow & Stars, such as Cybill Shephard, Tony Danza, Rosemary Clooney, and Leslie Uggams. Who can deny that this is material worth saving and consulting? I'm thrilled to have these papers at the Library, and I can't wait to look through all 158 (!) boxes.
To make an appointment to see the Joe Baum papers, please email the Manuscripts Division directly.