Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The 1895 Bowery Savings Bank Building - 130 Bowery

The monumental Grand Street entrance -- photo by Jim Henderson

As the turn of the 20th century approached, the face of the Bowery was changing.  A 1905 postcard, showing off the elevated railway erected in 1878 and the hustle of motorized street cars and drays, noted that the Bowery was, “Formerly being a place of congregation for many of the notorious habitués of the underworld.  The street is now a thoroughfare that is an exit to the famous East Side of New York.”

It was in this more respectable neighborhood that The Bowery Savings Bank planned its spectacular headquarters in 1893, 60 years after its founding.  In giving guidelines to the group of architects vying for the commission, the bank’s committee instructed “that an edifice ought to be erected which should impress the beholder with its dignity and fortress-like strength on account of the neighborhood in which it is to be located.”

The committee chose the designs of McKim, Mead & White and they would get what they asked for.  As construction got underway, The New York Times promised that the building would “be one of the handsomest in the country as well as one of the largest wholly devoted to banking purposes.”

Borrowing loosely from the design of the Bank of England in London, the architects also drew inspiration from the monumental white marble edifices that appeared in Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of a year earlier.  The firm created a Roman temple to banking that wrapped around the existing building at Bowery and Grand Street.  The L-shaped structure had a majestic two-story portico on Grand Street with four colossal Corinthian columns supporting a classical pediment.  Frederick MacMonnies sculpted two reclining figures representing Time, with an hour glass and scythe, and Industry, who rested against an enormous clock within the pediment.

The narrower Bowery entrance with its triumphal arch entry -- photo by Jim Henderson

The narrower Bowery façade was entered through a deep, coffered triumphal arch flanked by fluted columns matching those on the Grand Street side and capped by an identical pediment.

Like other new bank buildings in the years following the Financial Panic of 1893, the structure was intended to instill confidence in those who would entrust their savings here.  The classical, sturdy limestone edifice exuded the strength and stability that wary investors found reassuring.

The interior was a dazzling display of grandeur.  A century later, the AIA Guide to New York City would say of it, “Roman pomp wraps around Renaissance luster…Pass through the triumphal arch into an interior that is one of the great spaces of New York.”

A 100-foot, mosaic-floored corridor led from the Bowery entrance to the main banking area which sat beneath an enormous amber glass dome.  Corinthian faux-marble columns with gilded capitals supported the dome and matching marble pilasters rose between the windows.  Beneath the dome was the eight-foot tall cashier’s counter crafted of Sienna marble and bronze grills.  White mahogany trim and glazed brick walls finished off the interior design, under a rich coffered ceiling based on the Basilica of Constantine in Rome.

Construction was completed in 1895 at a total cost of $570,421.57.

The bustling Bowery with its streetcars and elevated trains.  The tiny clothing store around which The Bowery Savings Bank wrapped is seen at the left -- photo The New Museum

The bank, which was founded “for the sole purpose of protecting the savings of the thrifty poor,” had become “the largest and most successful savings bank in the entire world,” according to the 1907 World Almanac & Book of Facts.  The almanac went on to say, “This one bank has greater savings than all Canada, all Norway, or all Holland; it has one-tenth as much as all Great Britain.  It is paying its depositors $4,000,000 a year on their savings.  This is a record unparalleled in the world.”

The Bowery Savings Bank remained in its imposing Roman temple until 1982 when it was sold to H. F. Ahmanson & Co., who renamed it Home Savings of America.  In October 2002, it ceased to be a bank and the building opened as Capitale–a banquet and events venue.  Owner Stan Greenberg spent $4 million to restore and convert the 36,000-foot space.

The Bowery Savings Bank exterior was designated a New York City landmark in 1966 and the breathtaking interiors were landmarked in 1994.

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1 comment:

  1. the east facade is actually in forced perspective. It is an astonishing piece of work and adds to the character of that entrance greatly. It is worth a close look!