New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rags and Riches


I recall speaking to a young architect many years ago, expressing my dissatisfaction with NYU's hulking Bobst Library on Washington Square South. She explained that from an architectural perspective, the nature of a library demands such an imposing structure. I was not thoroughly convinced that this particular library needed to have such an imposing presence on Washington Square, particularly such an enormous, monolithic, cubic design, but I did come to appreciate that certain types of institutions can instill confidence in their patrons by the nature of their structure. And what would be a better candidate than a bank, home, and guardian for our money?
From an article in the New York Times:

Why build such evocative Greek temples to begin with? To inspire confidence. When the United States economy collapsed in the Panic of 1893, many people blamed banks for the depression that followed and withdrew their money.
So, banks built in that era (until the end of the Great Depression, when banks began to demystify themselves with glass-fronted branches) were meant to suggest strength, as if they had been there forever.

The Bowery Savings Bank, 130 Bowery at Grand Street, is an outstanding structure. It was designed by Stanford White (1853 - 1906) of the firm of McKim, Mead, and White, and built in 1895. The landmark building is adorned with Corinthian columns, Venetian glass, marble mosaic floors, and 65-foot ceilings.

The Bowery Savings Bank, however, ran into serious financial difficulties and, in 1985, was sold to Richard Ravitch and others. Its current incarnation is Capitale, an upscale events space and popular wedding facility. To see a photo gallery of the beautiful interior spaces, see their website here.

Equally remarkable is the building's location on the Bowery, a street/area which, in recent history, has been quite impoverished, known as skid row and home for Bowery bums. Sections of the area have become gentrified. To walk the street is still a very uneven experience, with the lighting district, restaurant supply district, bits of Chinatown, an art museum, and Cooper Union. It is a rags and riches story...

Note: The roster of works designed by McKim, Mead, and White is extraordinary. In New York City alone, they were responsible for the Harvard Club of New York, Madison Square Garden II, the Cable Building, Washington Square Arch, Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus, The Morgan Library & Museum, the Manhattan Municipal Building, Bellevue Hospital Center, James Farley Post Office, the Town Hall, Savoy-Plaza Hotel, and the Villard Houses. The existing building replaced the original Bowery Savings Bank building of 1834.

5 comments:

Mary said...

I wonder...Is the corner building a part of it? Or is it just built in imitation/admiration of it?

Brian Dubé said...

Mary - Good observation. The corner building is not part of the bank = the bank building actually wraps around it to Grand. It also has an exposure on Elizabeth Street.

ryan said...

I went to primary school about 4 blocks away on Mulberry Street (PS 130). One of my teachers decided, as a way to learn the value of money, that we should have bank accounts. Having gotten our parents' permission she marched us down to get our first bank books. Coming in from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown and sometimes passing drunks passed out on the steps, the bank was an oasis promising safety and encouraging trust. In the rarified atmosphere of the marble clad interior, everyone spoke in a hush voice. It became a very popular bank with the immigrant Chinese population. By the 70s most of the staff was Chinese. My mother kept her valuables and documents in the safe deposit box downstairs in the vault.

Thérèse said...

Grandiose interior!
Interesting comment from Ryan...

ChickenUnderwear said...

It it is landmarked hod can the awnings be there. They take away a lot from the beauty of the building.