Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former Kings County Savings Bank, now Williamsburg Art and Historical Society (WAH)
Address: 135 Broadway, corner of Bedford Avenue
Year Built: 1868
Architectural Style: Second Empire
Architect: King and Wilcox, chief architect – William H. Wilcox
Landmarked: Individual landmark, 1966
This is one of my favorite buildings in Brooklyn. It’s the epitome of post-Civil War architecture, the late 1860’s- mid 1870’s, when America turned away from the war years, and forged ahead with a sense of Destiny. The Second Empire Style fits this bill perfectly. Much of the architecture of the boom towns of the far Midwest and West incorporated Second Empire stylings. The name comes from the French Emperor Napoleon III’s rebuilding of Paris, under the brilliant Georges-Eugene Haussmann.
One of the most visually striking features of the new Paris was the use of the Mansard roof, which is really only a top floor, sloped or even domed, covered in roofing materials. Back in the US, this style took off like wildfire, in cities and towns; residential and commercial architecture. It meshed quite well with the existent Italianate style, and in fact, many Second Empire buildings, especially brownstones, are Italianates with a mansard roof.
The Kings County Bank Building is much earlier than the other financial and commercial institutions around it, a rare survivor of Williamsburg’s earlier merchant days. In those days when money actually sat in a bank vault, it was important to have a building that inspired trust in the bank’s solvency and security, a building that like the institution, could survive whatever came its way. It was also important to have a quiet dignity, not flamboyant extravagance.
This certainly fills the bill. Solid construction, deep quoins, which look like stone straps holding it all together, and Classical ornament in the form of pedimented windows, the impressive entrance, and the columns in the recessed windows on the front facade, not to mention the wonderful dormered windows on the mansard roof.
The round window on the front facade once held a clock, which the present owners would like to someday restore. The bank facilities were originally only on the first floor, the second floor held ceremonial rooms, while the third floor was a large ballroom for society functions. When the bank was acquired by the Williamsburg Art and Historical Society in 1996, one of their first restoration projects was to restore the roof and clock tower.
The tower had been damaged by a storm, and had been painted over. WAH had that, and later, the rest of the roof, fixed and cleaned of years of paint and grime, revealing the long hidden colored slate tiles that help make the building so distinctive.
The bank was one of the first ten buildings classified as landmarks when the Landmarks Preservation Law went into effect in late 1965. Inside, much of the interior looks as it did originally. This is one of Brooklyn’s architectural treasures.