|The Inland Architect and News Record published a photograph of the newly-completed building in 1901. A bronze bust of Franklin would soon grace the square granite block above the doors. (copyright expired)
On January 19, 1898 The New York Times reported that “The building occupied by the Franklin Savings Bank, at Eighth Avenue and Forty-second Street, will soon be replaced by one of much more modern construction.” Bank directors estimated the cost of the new building at $200,000—over $4.5 million by today’s standards. The Times remarked that “although it will be only one story in height, it will be devoted entirely to the bank, and will, it is promised, be an ornament to the neighborhood.”
To design this new ornament the trustees called upon architects York & Sawyer. With the depression fresh in the minds of depositors, the firm was charged with producing a bank that would instill a sense of permanency and confidence. And they did.
The first of many bank buildings York & Sawyer would design, it was nothing if not solid-looking. Constructed of granite it drew its inspiration from the Roman temple. The heavy, rusticated façade was broken by three enormous arched openings on the 42nd Street side. A matching arched window above the massive bronze doors continued the design to the recessed entrance. Two monumental columns upheld the entablature below the cornice that was surmounted by a classical triangular pediment.
|The oversized bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin (left) would find a place above the entrance doors -- American Architect and Building News, July 13, 1901 (copyright expired)
|Materials like marble wainscoting, bronze doors and brass railings were used -- American Architect and Building News, July 13, 1901 (copyright expired)
The sensational trial made front-page headlines for months and introduced readers to colorful witnesses like Lillian Rosenberg, called by The Evening World “the ‘baby-doll’ wife of Lefty Louie,” and Jack Rose who personally collected Becker’s graft.
|The corrupt Lt. Becker deposited his ill-gotten gains in the Franklin Savings Bank. He was later sentenced to death for murder. photo UPI (copyright expired)
|By 1903 Benjamin Franklin had found his perch.
|N. C. Wyeth executed "The Apotheosis of Franklin" for the building's extension. --http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/essays/apotheosis.htm
|The extension nears completion in 1926 -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The city was shocked on August 5, 1974 when, with its new headquarters completed, the bank’s executive vice president, Edward Rollins, announced the decision to demolish the old building. The New York Times reported “The bank plans to replace the old building with either a parking lot or a one-story retail building, believing that the cleared site would be more attractive to potential developers.”
|photo NYPL Collection
The New York Times lashed out at the bank’s directors in an editorial nine days later. “The ‘dump’ has sculptured bronze doors valued at $35,000 and fixtures that will go to the Brooklyn Museum, arched windows, vaulted ceilings and solid cut-stone facades. It also has something increasingly rare in this and other cities: quality of structure and validity of style.
“’More attractive,’ in Franklin’s curiously inverted reasoning, means a parking lot…Bulldozing the good old building immediately will be the bank’s contribution to upgrading the neighborhood.”
Unmoved by the outrage of newspapers, preservationists and city officials (Richard Lam, director of the city’s Office of Midtown Planning said “I don’t believe the building is an eyesore—I have more serious questions about the advisability of using that site for a parking lot.”), the bank forged ahead with the destruction of its granite Roman temple to finance.
The Wyeth mural was saved at the last minute and eventually was donated to the University of Pennsylvania. The bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin was donated to the Brooklyn Museum. Sadly, despite The Times' hopes, the museum could not accept the mammoth bronze doors because of their size and weight. It appears they were sold for scrap metal.
On January 12, 1976 New York Magazine had the last word. It editorially awarded the management of the Frankling Savings Bank “one massive withdrawal slip…for demolishing its elegant, neoclassical monument…and then constructing a Laundromat-type branch diagonally across the way, and topping it off with a trompe l’oeil mural of a Uris-type façade.”
|Ironically, the 1976 building did not last long, replaced by the above structure -- photo by Alice Lum