Monday, October 31, 2022

The Lost Mutual Bank Building - 49-51 West 33rd Street


The scale of the building can be judged by the figures standing on the steps.  photograph by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the fall of 1910, the Mutual Bank had operated from leased space at the northeast corner of Broadway and West 33rd Street for years.  But that was about to change.  In October, the bank purchased the property at 49 and 51 West 33rd Street, just steps away from its present home, as the site for a permanent building.  On October 8, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that construction would begin as soon as an architect was chosen, adding, "It was said all probability a tall structure would be put up, containing offices above, the bank occupying the two lower floors."

By the time architect Donn Barber filed plans in January 1911, the idea of a "tall structure" had been scrapped.  It was now to be a "two story brick and stone bank" to cost $100,000 to erect (about $2.9 million in 2022).  His office provided a preliminary sketch to journalists which showed a neo-Classical facade with two-story Scamozzi columns and a stone balustrade along the roofline.  
Barber's preliminary rendering proved to be strikingly accurate.  Real Estate Record & Guide, January 21, 1911 (copyright expired)

The bank opened for business on February 13, 1912.  The Sun called the building "the latest word in design."  The New York Times agreed, deeming it "one of the most unique structures in the Greeley Square section," and remarking, "The exterior is entirely of limestone with granite base and steps and is treated in an adaptation of classic architecture."

Customers entered a one-story vestibule that provided second-story space for offices.  Beyond that, the great banking room opened up--soaring 38 feet upwards to a coffered ceiling and leaded glass skylight.  The walls were clad, full-height, in Caen stone.  The counters were of Bottichino marble, the teller cages of bronze, and the floors of Tennessee marble.  The Sun said, "Hung from the ceilings are eight gilded electric chandeliers, reasonable in size and delicate in modelling, which with the wall brackets around the panelled  [sic] walls give good light to all parts of the room."  

Within the second story space was the director's room.  "This room is almost Colonial in character," wrote The Sun, "having grayish blue stuff on the walls, white painted trim, mahogany doors and furniture, bluish leather furniture covering, and a blue rug, together with certain ornaments and antique silver electric fixtures."

The vaults were below street level, accessed by a marble staircase.  The doors of the security vault and of the safe deposit compartment weighed, respectively, 12 and 23 tons.  The article said, "They are so evenly balanced on a line of crane hinges, eccentric effects, ball and pin bearing degrees that a child could swing them."  

Architecture magazine, April 1913 (copyright expired)

The opening advertisement promised, in part:

The location of the new Mutual Bank building, at West 33rd Street, just a few feet from Broadway, and in the heart of the city, makes it one of the most centrally situated banks in New York, and unusually convenient for important business institutions now locating in this section of the city.  Its appointments, moreover, are unique in the measure of convenience they afford to patrons.

The New York Times noted the "ingenious device which forestalls any possibility of a holdup man making a 'getaway.'"  The article explained that should a gunman demand cash, "he would no doubt find that gentleman very obliging so far as the handing over was concerned."  But simultaneously, the teller would press a foot button that locked "the main and only exit," and activated a huge gong.

It was not a holdup man who confronted cashier William J. McGirr on October 8, 1921, but two young men wishing to cash a $1,000 railroad bond.  Edmond Foughot, who was 18 years old, and Dennis Doyle, 21, handed McGirr the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bond.  As they waited, he carefully compared its serial number with a list of stolen bonds and found a match.

At the West 13th Street police station, they said that they had been in Washington the previous Friday, where a man approached and attempted to sell them the bond.  While they debated whether it may or may not be stolen, he disappeared, leaving them holding the bond.  The story did not preclude their being charged with attempting to cash a stolen bond.

Shortly after the incident, the institution's name was changed to the Mutual National Bank.  It would be changed again in 1927 when the Chase National Bank stockholders voted to acquired Mutual National Bank.  The elegant limestone structure survived until 1951, when it was razed to make way for the four-story Modernist structure that remains.

image via

many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for prompting this post
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1 comment:

  1. From a classic beauty to an "oof".

    I'm always amazed at how monumental things were. The columns, the windows!