Friday, August 25, 2023

The 1964 Franklin National Bank - 410 Madison Avenue


Arthur Thomas Roth, the chairman of the Mineola, Long Island-based Franklin National Bank, 
was familiarly known as "Mr. Long Island" for his deep involvement in the economic growth of Long Island following World War II.  He had been involved in banking there since 1926.  Roth had begun his career at the age of 17 as a messenger with the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, and joined the Franklin National Bank in 1934 as a cashier.

The banker was described by Edward Cowan of The New York Times on January 25, 1964 as a "bitter opponent of the invasion of Long Island by New York City banks."  Roth said that the urban banks marauding into his territory were impeding his expansion on Long Island.  Therefore, said Cowan, Roth "is mounting a counter-invasion."

While insisting there was no "retaliatory motive," the banker announced he would be opening 25 Franklin National Bank branches in New York City within the next five years.  The New York Times reported he intended to open the first three on May 11, one of them being 410 Madison Avenue at the northwest corner of 48th Street.

Roth was a self-avowed aficionado of "Colonial craftsmanship and history."  At a time when sleek, glass curtain buildings were the rage, Roth directed the architectural firm of Eggers & Higgins to design 410 Madison Avenue in the neo-Georgian style.  He told the press the bank could have put up a glass and steel skyscraper, "but then we would have looked like everybody else.  This way, people will know we're different the minute they see our buildings."

Indeed, the bank was a Midtown anachronism.  Nearly two decades later, on October 31, 1982, The New York Times said, "When it was about to open in 1964, the Franklin National Bank building at 410 Madison Avenue, at 48th Street, was regarded as a suburban curiosity."

Eggers & Higgins's seven-story building was faced in Flemish bond red brick and trimmed in marble.  The ground floor was dominated by vast, multi-paned arched windows.  The colonial style entrance featured a delicately-leaded transom.  It sat within a marble frame surmounted by broken-pediment with a carved marble pineapple in front of a large fan light.  Above the four-story mid-section, a two-story mansard with Georgian style dormers sat behind a marble balustrade.

The interiors, too, had a colonial flavor.  Roth insisted that "old time hand techniques" were used.  Interior plasterwork, like cornices, were hand-formed on site.  Interior designer Helen O'Connell worked with the architects.  She took inspiration from Arthur and Genevieve Roth's personal collection of Chippendale and other 18th century American furniture.  The offices and meeting rooms were paneled in hardwood and reflected a 1960's take on colonial domestic interiors.

The comfortable furnishings suggested colonial designs.  Franklin National Bank, 1964.

Arthur T. Roth's aggressive expansion into New York City was part of his undoing.  Four years after the 410 Madison Avenue branch opened, he was under fire for growing loan losses and declining stock prices.  Some critics accused him of overextended the bank by aggressively pushing into the New York City real estate market.  In July 1968 the board of directors removed him from his position as CEO, and two years later he resigned.

Ironically, the timing of his leaving was fortuitous for him.  In June 1974 the Franklin National Bank announced losses of $63.6 million in the first five months of the year.  Simultaneously, as reported by The New York Times, "a former supervisor in the bank and an independent securities trader had pleaded guilty to participating in a stock swindle that used as much as $2.1 million of the banks funds."  Mired in what the newspaper later described as "an international scandal," Franklin National Bank closed in 1974.

The Colonial Williamsburg-ready building stood empty in October 1982, when it was sold and then offered for lease as offices.  Leasing agents Weatherall Green & Smith called the building "very elegant," and promised that the interior would be returned "to its original condition" and the hardwood paneling retained.

The Bank of China purchased the property in 1986 as its U.S. headquarters.  It operated from the building through 2018, and on March 20, 2019 The Real Deal reported that JPMorgan Chase, which had already moved in, was negotiating a purchase "for more than $100 million."  As it turned out, JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. paid $115 million for the property.

Despite its sometimes turbulent history, Eggers and Higgins's refined Midtown bank building reposes unperturbed, a colonial anomaly among the skyscrapers.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Andrew Cronson for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to 

1 comment:

  1. In 1965, I worked upstairs at this branch while awaiting the opening of FNB's La Banque Continentale, where I'd been hired as the multilingual switchboard operator—on Fifth Avenue where Trump Tower now stands. The Arthur Roth I knew was a gentleman of the old school.