Name: Mechanics and Traders Bank of Brooklyn Building
Address: 144 Franklin Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Greenpoint Avenue
Year Built: 1895
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival, with Romanesque Revival arches
Landmarked: Yes, part of Greenpoint HD (1982)
The story: Today’s Franklin Street was once a turnpike connecting Williamsburg to Astoria, Queens, opening up Greenpoint to commercial traffic. Franklin was the main commercial street in the neighborhood until the 1880’s, when Manhattan Avenue took its place. Consequently, there were many important commercial buildings on Franklin, and the Mechanics and Traders Bank of Brooklyn was one of the most important. It’s also one of the most interesting. The bank itself also has a very colorful history. It was established in 1867, and operated out of a small brick office on this site. As their business grew, they decided to build this much more impressive building to replace it. The bank had originally bought the site from the Sparrow family, local manufacturers, merchants, and real estate developers who helped develop much of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. A Sparrow was on the board of the bank, as were members of the Meserole, Roland and Wyckoff families, all old Eastern District and/or Brooklyn families.
In 1902, the bank merged with the Corn Exchange Bank, one of NY’s larger banks at the time. Corn would later merge with Chemical Bank, which would become Chase Manhattan, now JP Morgan Chase. A fabulous banking scandal erupted in 1911, involving the president of the bank. It will soon be a Walkabout piece. This has not been a bank for a long time, and has been home to several Polish community organizations, among other things. The building is a handsome deep red brick with terra-cotta trim, in the Classically-inspired Renaissance Revival style, with great Romanesque arches. We don’t know who the architect was. Whoever he was, he made some odd choices that make the building both great and kind of a letdown at the same time, aesthetically, for me anyway.
The main entrance is on the narrow Franklin St. side, looking very much like a turn of the century mid-block commercial building, one with a great upper story arched window. It’s not until you see the Greenpoint Avenue façade that you see the building in all of its glory. And the third floor is certainly glorious, with three large arched windows, with two oval windows in between, all flanked and crowned with terra cotta Corinthian capitals and handsome friezes and cornice. It’s so great; we see it in the Brownstoner header every day. But the rest of the building is only ok. The second floor is pretty pedestrian, and the stone faced ground floor is really a letdown.
The first time I actually saw the building in person, I was really disappointed that the entire building wasn’t better. But, we do have that third floor. There are many commercial buildings in Manhattan, along lower Broadway, for example, that save all the really good stuff for their upper floors, often 10 stories up, so at least we don’t have to crane our necks here. The building is still a local landmark, and a vital part of the history of Greenpoint. I’m glad it’s still here. GMAP
Top Photo by Richard Caplan