Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally East New York Savings Bank, now Popular Community Bank
Address: 1117 Eastern Parkway
Cross Streets: Corner Utica Avenue
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1928-29
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Architect: Holmes & Winslow
Other Buildings by Architect: Banks, including the Bank of Coney Island, Homestead Bank in ENY, Independence Savings Bank on Court Street, Brooklyn (Trader Joe’s). Also banks and schools in New Jersey.
Landmarked: Proposed, but not designated in 2011.
The story: Some of the best bank buildings in New York City were built in the first third of the 20th century. The “aughts” and the teens saw Beaux Arts style temples of money go up everywhere. Many of those followed the great design lead of that 19th century visionary, George Post, whose Williamsburgh Savings Bank building is still the one to beat in that category. Brooklyn has an impressive collection of Beaux Arts and Neo-Classical banks, all designed by some great architects. But I really love the ones that came next – the Art Deco banks.
The other Williamsburgh Savings Bank, at 1 Hanson Place, designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer in 1927 takes the lead, followed by their other great Brooklyn banks, including my favorite, the same team’s Kings County Savings Bank, on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue. Those Deco banks share many common design themes, including their use of flat-planed space and angular, stylized ornament on the facades. The ornament on those buildings was sculpted by one of the great Art Deco architectural sculptors in America, Paul Chambellan.
All of which is why I like this bank, also on Eastern Parkway. It was designed for the East New York Savings Bank by another Art Deco bank design firm; Holmes & Winslow. Their career specialty was banks and schools. Here in Brooklyn they designed the Bank of Coney Island, which was torn down a year ago, as well as the Homestead Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York. Charles A. Holmes, on his own, was responsible for the design of the Independence Savings Bank, which stands on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, and is better known today as Trader Joe’s.
Halsey, McCormack & Helmer used Chambellan in most of their work, and so did Holmes & Walker. Consequently, this bank resembles H, McC & H’s work in many ways. Before I found out differently, I thought the former firm had designed this bank. The ENY Savings Bank is not as formidable as the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, and is not as good as the Kings County bank either, but it’s still a great example of the Art Deco style in Brooklyn.
Chambellan’s artistry makes this bank. Holmes & Walker gave him a wonderful stone canvas to work with. The three story arched entryway and the side windows became a place where Neo-Classical could meet Art Deco, and it does so wonderfully, with rope twisted stone and braided floral motifs line the archways. Above that are Deco style sculptured plaques and bosses, topped by a row of lions below another braided rope stone cornice.
Of especial interest is the symbolism here. There is a shield with bees and a beehive, and another panel with two men bringing sacks of money perhaps, to a central beehive. It should come as no surprise that bees and beehives are symbols of thrift, saving and industrious hard work. The patinated bronze trim on the windows sport busts of Classical origin, no doubt representing the coins that are saved inside. It’s cool stuff!
The East New York Savings Bank was founded in 1868 by the Dutch and German landowners and businessmen representing much of the population of East New York at the time. It soon grew to be one of Brooklyn’s largest savings banks. They had several branches across Brooklyn. This one opened in 1929, and rode through the Crash because it catered to the common worker who dutifully saved whatever he or she could, in spite of the Depression.
The branch was altered several times in its day. The first alterations were in 1935, and again in 1947, and probably at least one other time after that. It’s rather interesting to note that the later alteration calls the building at 1117 Eastern Parkway a “bank and fur storage building.” They must have also had fur vaults in the basement. Well, riches are riches. Today, the building, like its neighbor ten blocks down Eastern Parkway, is home to Popular Community Bank.
(Photo:M. Munsey – Thanks, Morgan!)