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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper The Future of the City
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Other banks also were building grand, but small-scale buildings. We have seen before how banks, especially savings banks, used architecture to attract lots of small depositors. This continued in the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century. The building here is the Bowery Savings Bank, which was built in 1893 on the Bowery, in the Lower East Side, where it would attract poor immigrant workers who would open up accounts with very small amounts of money. But if they could attract enough of these immigrant workers, this could be a very profitable bank. So the Bowery hired McKim, Mead & White in 1893 to build a grand new banking facility for them. McKim, Mead & White were by the 1890s the most prestigious architectural firm in New York. And they designed a grand Roman classical building that would attract attention, bring in depositors, and also, at a time before the government insured deposits, it would appear to be an insurance policy. The depositors would think that this bank, because it could afford to build such an extraordinary building so grand and so stable looking, was a safe place to put their money.

The interior was also lavish. For people who lived in tenements and who rarely saw a building of great beauty, they could go in and bank under a stained glass ceiling with the most beautiful marble columns, comfortable seating, and spectacular interior spaces. You were entering a palace in order to bank. And this was another way of attracting attention.

Many of these banks appeared in New York in the early twentieth century. The most important were designed by the architectural firm of York & Sawyer, the leading bank architects in America in the early twentieth century. Both York and Sawyer had worked in the McKim, Mead & White office, and they were very familiar with their ideas. In the second and third decades of the twentieth century, they designed many of the great banks of New York. This included the old Central Savings Bank (now the Apple Bank on Broadway, at Seventy-third Street), which was built in 1924 to look like a grand Italian palazzo with a spectacularly lavish interior and rental office space on the top. It was built in this manner because the bank wanted to make at least a little bit of rental money out of this spot and they were giving up so much space to the banking hall. It is ornamented with the most beautiful ironwork. The ironwork here is the work of Samuel Yellin, the leading ironworker in America in the early twentieth century. He was a Philadelphia ironworker, who designed these donkeys with very tall ears sticking up and also used this ironwork lavishly on the interior of the bank. So there were many smaller-scale commercial buildings going up during the heyday of the skyscraper.

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