A Mid-Century Surprise in Downtown Brooklyn

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2015 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

Downtown Brooklyn is layered with architectural history, making it one of Brooklyn’s more interesting neighborhoods. A single block can span the distance between the years before the Civil War up until the present.

The former Former Equitable Federal Savings and Loan building at 356 Fulton Street is a bit of mid-20th century suburbia right in the heart of the city.

brooklyn architecture downtown brooklyn

Mid-20th Century Neo-Formalism

Architect Adolf Goldberg and his firm, Goldberg-Epstein Associates, designed suburban banks like this, as well as more anonymous-looking housing developments and other buildings. Goldberg retired in 1967, so this is one of his last buildings. It was completed in 1968.

Buildings such as the Lincoln Center complex are classified as neo-Formalist because they use classical elements such as symmetrical rows of columns in their design — although those elements are conceived in a most modern and abstract manner. Flat rooflines are also an element of this style.

brooklyn architecture downtown brooklyn

By that definition, this building qualifies. Here, the concrete columns are punctuated by rows of decorative sea-blue tiles, perhaps terra cotta. Although they could use a good cleaning, they still add a bit of color and zing to what could have been a totally lackluster exterior.

A Mid-Century Building for a Venerable Bank

This financial institution started out as the South Brooklyn Cooperative Building and Loan Association, chartered in 1886. It was located at 3rd Avenue and 24th Street. The savings bank was started in part to encourage home building in what was then called South Brooklyn.

The name was shortened to South Brooklyn Savings and Loan. Throughout the early 20th century, they picked up several more local savings banks, including one in Park Slope and one on Dean Street, and they opened a Bensonhurst branch and a branch in St. Albans, Queens.

brooklyn architecture downtown brooklyn 356 fulton street
In 1955, the bank changed its name to the Equitable Savings and Loan Association. It had become the largest association in the city, and the second largest in the state, with assets of over $50 million.

For most of that time, they were located downtown at 44 Willoughby Street, and in 1953 they moved to 15 Willoughby. This became their headquarters in 1968.

Equitable S&L was acquired by the Bowery Savings Bank in 1980. Today, they are a part of Convert Federal Home Savings Bank of America.

brooklyn architecture downtown brooklyn

By the early part of this century, the bank was a North Fork Savings Bank branch. They merged with the Greenpoint Savings Bank, which merged with Capital One Bank, which now has its downtown branch here.

Thanks to Frampton Tolbert’s Mid-Century Mundane for finding the info on this one. If you like mid-century architecture, this blog is a must-see.

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

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