Despite never being directly identified in the novels the home of Rex Stout’s beloved fictional detective, Nero Wolfe has been officially recognized by the City of New York.
Sherlock Holmes’ residence at 221B Baker Street is well known the world over, but one of his American counterparts, Nero Wolfe’s home has long been a mystery. Over the course of 33 novels and 39 short stories written between 1934 and 1975, mystery writer Rex Stout gave numerous addresses on West 35th Street in New York, most of which never existed. For instance, in the novel The Silent Speaker, Nero Wolfe’s business card gives his address as 922 West 35th Street, a city block which would lie someway in the middle of the Hudson River.
The books describe the luxurious brownstone as having three floors, a private elevator and a rooftop greenhouse. From his HQ, the corpulent detective would drink three cases of beer a day, tend his 10,000 orchids, and solve murders, all written down by his faithful ally and house mate, Archie Goodwin.
In The Forth of July Picnic (1957), Nero Wolfe says “I suggest beginning with autobiographical sketches from each of us, and here is mine. I was born in Montenegro and spent my early boyhood there. At the age of sixteen I decided to move around, and in fourteen years I became acquainted with most of Europe, a little of Africa, and much of Asia, in a variety of roles and activities. Coming to this country in nineteen-thirty, not penniless, I bought this house and entered into practice as a private detective.” However the book Champagne For One provided the most important key to the puzzle. Stout notes that the brownstone had a back entrance leading to a private garden from which a passage leads to 34th Street to be used to enter or leave Wolfe’s home when it was necessary to evade surveillance.
Today, little remains of Rex Stout’s West 35th Street, and certainly no brownstones. Much of West 35th Street’s topography was changed during the building of the Lincoln Tunnel in the 1950s, yet this did not stop the author’s intrepid fans. Investigating the street in 1996, the Rex Stout fan club, known as “The Wolfe Pack,” identified that the only house which fitted this description was 454 West 35th Street and that the address must be the home of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. So confident in their find, the group, with the help of the City Park’s department, had a plaque placed to commemorate New York’s greatest private detective.
The plaque reads, “On this site stood the elegant brownstone of the corpulent fictional private detective Nero Wolfe. With his able assistant Archie Goodwin, Mr. Wolfe raised orchids and dined well, while solving over seventy cases as recorded by Rex Stout from 1934-1975.”
Today the building is home to a non-profit organization, renovated and managed by Clinton Housing Development Company.