Monday, March 21, 2022

The Lost Dry Dock Savings Bank - 341-343 Bowery


original source unknown

Starting early 1820's, the former Stuyvesant family land along the East River east of the Bowery became Manhattan's main shipbuilding location, earning the district the name of the Dry Dock Neighborhood.  The following decade saw banks opening along the Bowery--first the Bull's Head Bank (an outgrowth of the Bull's Head Tavern), followed by the Butchers and Drovers Bank in 1830, and the Bowery Savings Bank in 1834.

In 1848 The Dry-Dock Savings Bank was formed by "a number of gentlemen principally interested in [the shipbuilding] industry."  According to King's Handbook of New York, they hoped "to encourage thrift and prudence among their workmen."  Originally located on East 10th Street near the river, it moved to 339-341 East 4th Street in 1859.

And then, in 1872, the directors purchased the properties at the southeast corner of the Bowery and East 3rd Street, "in part occupied as a marble yard," according to the New York Herald on December 12.  The newspaper somewhat lamented the deal, saying, "This precludes the possibility of a new German theatre on what was the favorite site with that part of our population."

The bank hired Prague-born architect Leopold Eidlitz to design its new home.  Generally considered America's first Jewish architect, he was a founding member of the American Institute of Architects.  

Construction began in June 1873 and was completed in December 1875.  Saying the building was "valued at $250,000" ($6 million in today's money), King's Handbook of New York called it "one of the finest buildings in the country for its purposes." Eidlitz's Victorian Gothic, or Ruskinian Gothic, design was striking.  An enclosed portico served as the base for a charming gable-roofed balcony.  Stone balconies clung to the East 3rd Street façade, and the arched openings wore variegated voussoirs, nearly obligatory in the Victorian Gothic style.  The upper floors transitioned to a mélange of shapes and angles, with crisp dormers poking through the several steep roofs.

The bank's name was worked into the arch of the balcony.  original source unknown

The princely building easily stood out among its humbler neighbors.  On October 16, 1886, the Real Estate Record & Guide commented, "people were surprised, and criticized the directors for erecting an ornate and imposing building in so unpromising a region."  Eidlitz had designed one of the last New York City buildings in the fading style.  On April 9, 1898, the Record & Guide said, "In 1868 Victorian Gothic was far from being a new story, even in New York...The movement, however, was closing and of the last notable buildings it gave to New York may be mentioned the Jefferson Market Court House [and] the Dry Dock Savings Bank."  

Only months after the bank moved into its new home trouble arose.  On June 22, 1876 The New York Times entitled an article "The Run on the Dry Dock Bank," and reported, "As early as 9 o'clock yesterday morning the depositors of the Dry Dock Savings Bank...began to congregate in front of the doors of that institution, and from that time until the bank was opened they elbowed and pushed one another in a somewhat vain endeavor to be first to enter."

The newspaper said that the bank's officers had anticipated the rush, and three policemen were there "to keep the excited men and women in line."  Dry Dock Bank's president, Andrew Mills, told the reporter that the bank's officers "were at a loss to account for the run," assuring that "They had plenty of money with which to pay off those then present."  Happily, two days later the Albany Morning Express reported, "The run on the Dry Dock Savings Bank is at an end.  Only twenty persons demanded their money yesterday morning, and were promptly paid.  Many came to draw, but went away without doing so.  Confidence was restored and business proceeded as usual."

The glass plate negative was reversed, resulting in a backwards photograph of the bank.  original source unknown

As the century drew to a close, many of the Bowery banks moved northward, following their depositors.  But the Dry Dock Savings Institution (the name had recently been changed) was firmly rooted in its site.  On May 14, 1896 the New-York Tribune wrote, "The Dry Dock Savings Institution, at No. 343 Bowery, seems as immovable as the hills.  Its building is substantial, commodious and impressive.  Its officers say that there is no talk that the bank will move to a new home."  And, indeed, it would operate from the location for decades to come.

But the neighborhood was, nonetheless, degrading.  At around 10:30 on the morning of July 19, 1909.  Mrs. Rosa Fleischmann arrived at the bank.  She was a long-standing customer and, because she had her two-year-old daughter, Mamie, in her arms, the bank treasurer offered to take her $40 deposit to the teller for her.  As she waited, a man rushed up, snatched her satchel and ran.

Rosa's screams sent Special Officer George Wilson on the thief's trail.  He caught him a block away at the Bowery and East 4th Street, and "hurried him back to the bank," according to The New York Times.  "The commotion caused a great crowd to gather in front of the bank, and President Mills came out and told Wilson to bring the fellow back into his private office."  

There the man turned the tables on Rosa Fleischmann.  Saying he was Aaron Wolberg, a cigarmaker, he insisted she had stolen his bag and he had simply gotten it back.  Inside, he said, was $2,000.  Mills asked him what else was in the satchel.  "Just the money and nothing else," was the reply.

The two-story banking banking room had polished marble columns.  Obligatory spittoons dot the mosaic-tiled floor.  Architectural Record, December 1911 (copyright expired)

Rosa Fleischman was then asked the same question.  She said it held her bankbook and a bottle of milk.  It was opened to reveal the book and the milk.  "It's hers," exclaimed Wolberg, as he bolted for the door.  He was overtaken by Wilson who held him on the floor until Policeman John Spath arrived.  

Wolberg "put up several hard fights on the way to court," said The New York Times, "and Spath's hands were bleeding from several wounds, most of them due to the sharpness of Wolberg's teeth."  Wolberg now changed his story, telling the judge "the bag had been given to him by a stranger."  A policeman suggested that Wolberg was a member of a gang known to loiter around the bank.  The New York Times explained, "It is said that women depositors have often been annoyed by members of this gang."

King's Handbook of New York, 1892 (copyright expired)

In October 1932, Hiram C. Bloomingdale of Bloomingdale Brothers sold four old four-story buildings the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 59th Street to the Dry Dock Savings Institution.  Andrew Mills announced that plans were being drawn for a branch bank on the site, while promising that the Bowery building "will continue to be its main office."

The following year the bank hired architect Louis S. Weeks to make interior renovations to the vintage Bowery building.  The updating was restricted to the cavernous banking room and the executive offices. 

By mid-century, the Bowery neighborhood had deteriorated to Manhattan's Skid Row.  On May 18, 1950, The Times Record explained that abandoned funds were not kept by the banking institutions, but after 15 years were turned over to the State.  The article delved into the reason why the owners were sometimes hard to track down.  It noted, "Illiterates are another problem.  The Bowery office of the Dry Dock Savings Bank reported last year that it has had some sad experiences with its unschooled depositors to whom the spelling of their name is a matter of supreme indifference."

from the collection of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

The demographics finally made it impossible for the bank to continue at its location.  On November 9, 1954, The New York Times reported, "A gasoline service station is to replace the old Dry Dock Savings Bank Building...The four-story structure, erected in 1875, has been sold by the bank to the L. B. Oil Company, Inc.

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The gasoline service station survived into the 21st century, replaced in 2008 by the 16-story Bowery Hotel, designed by Scarano & Associates.

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1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous building. Sad to know it was demolished, its remains likely ending up in a landfill or helping extend Manhattan's shoreline.