Monday, December 30, 2019

The Lost Importers & Traders Nat'l Bank - 247 Broadway

The narrow building sat on a residence-sized plot.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Since its founding in 1855 the Importers & Traders National Bank had operated from the southwest corner of Broadway and Murray Street.  By the first years of the new century its four-story structure, while admittedly handsome, was both outdated and confining.

The old building was accessed above a stoop on Broadway.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On May 12, 1906 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the bank had made a somewhat startling decision.  At the time financial institutions flaunted their stability and the size of their holdings with large structures that included vast ground floor banking rooms.  Upper floors were then leased as offices.  But rather than purchase additional properties, president Edward Townsend announced the bank would rebuild on its 25-foot wide plot--using the entire structure for its own use.

The directors were in no apparent hurry.  Demolition of the original building did not commence until June 1907.  The directors had chosen architect J. H. Feedlander to design their building, estimated to cost $500,000 to construct--around $13.8 million in today's dollars.

Freelander's renderings emphasized the narrow dimensions of the Broadway elevation as compared with the Murray Street side.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide May 25, 1907 (copyright expired)
Freelander designed a classically-inspired, six-story structure faced in white Dover marble above the ground floor.  The Broadway front featured four-story engaged Corinthian columns, echoed on Murray Street by pilasters.  The sole entrance within the rusticated granite base was on Broadway.  The door and the window frames were of bronze.  

Completed late in 1908, the elegance of the exterior was carried on inside.  "The decorations of the interior will form a special feature of the bank," predicted the Record & Guide in May 1907.  "The first floor will be of marble, with marble and bronze counter screens, and elevator enclosures."  The Guide remarked "The inherent refinement and purity of detail of the classics have been drawn upon to give to the building a simply dignity in consonance with the purposes for which it is intended."
The narrow proportions of the building are evidenced in this view of the banking room. Both Sides of Broadway, 1910 (copyright expired) 
But it was the innovative configuration of the structure that drew attention.  On December 26, 1908 the Record & Guide remarked that it "marks an era in the construction of buildings of this type.  In fact, it may be said that its scheme, both in arrangement and in the disposition of the various departments, is almost revolutionary, inasmuch as it departs from the traditional system of a main banking room covering an extended floor area, and is contained in a single lot twenty-five foot wide and a hundred feet deep."

King's Views of New York 1909 (copyright expired)
The public business of the bank was conducted on the first through third floors.  Administrative offices were on the fourth, the "directors' suite" engulfed the fifth floor, and the sixth was left vacant "to the future growth of the bank."

Throughout most of the 20th century workers were paid in cash, receiving their pay envelopes at the end of the workday either on Friday or Saturday.  The practice necessitated an office worker, usually a bookkeeper or paymaster, to withdraw large amounts of cash once a week.  Not surprisingly, their weekly movements were often closely scrutinized by robbers.

Interestingly, the president's office (above) was shared by several other officers.  The paneled Board Room featured a striking mantel and ornate plaster ceiling.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Manhattan Brass Works Company on East 28th Street took extra precautions by sending a bodyguard with Carl Gunther each week.  But on the morning of January 15, 1921 even that was insufficient protection.  Gunther left the Importers & Traders National Bank with a bag containing $6,000--just under $85,000 today.  He and Richard Schmimke rode the Third Avenue elevated railroad to 28th Street and were just passing the public school there at around 10:00 when they were ambushed by four or five thugs.

Several witnesses saw Schmimke knocked unconscious with a monkey wrench from behind.  The Evening World reported "As the guard fell, Gunther turned and faced the second bandit, who instantly shot him and caught at the bag.  All who saw the scene declare that Gunther even after he had been shot put up a desperate battle and clung to the money bag until he sank to the pavement, apparently dying."

An advertisement included a handy map.  New-York Tribune, June 13 1922 (copyright expired)

In the spring of 1923 plans were finalized for the absorption of the Importers and Traders National Bank by the Equitable Trust Company.  The two institutions had operated just three blocks apart for decades and continuing the combined business in both locations made no sense.  On March 6, 1923 The New York Times said "It is understood that tentative plans provide for the physical combination of these two places of business in 1924 or 1925.

The entrance doors were solid bronze.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As it turned out, neither building would survive the merger.  On July 31, 1925 The New York Times reported that "Plans were recently completed for the Equitable Trust Company's new thirty-four story bank building on the site of the Mills Building, Wall Street's first skyscraper."

The former Importers & Traders National Bank building survived until 1930 when Equitable Trust merged with the Chase National Bank.  According to The New York Times "the building was pulled down about that time to save taxes, leaving the steelwork as an eerie plaque."  Eerie, indeed, the twisted framework sat within the weed-filled plot for a quarter of a century.

Finally, in April 1955 builder and investor Arthur H. Bienenstock purchased the corner property, announcing plans to erect a 20-story office building on the site.  "But," said The New York Times, "before Mr. Bienenstock can start construction in the fall as he expects, some two to three stories of rusty steelwork which has been on the site for the past twenty-five years will have to be torn down."

photo via
Today the site is occupied by the 1964 glass-and-steel office building, 250 Broadway. 

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