An Inventive Architect Designs a Bank With Industrial Grit in Williamsburg

Photo by Susan De Vries

Editor’s note: This story is an update of one that ran in 2014. Read the original here.

Although many of Brooklyn’s historic bank buildings are quite large and very often quite impressive, that’s not always the case.

A successful bank building was one that inspired confidence in the institution and was the bank’s most visible advertisement. Who’s going to trust their money with a bank that physically doesn’t inspire trust, and looks like it will collapse into insolvency? Some institutions were started with the idea that the customer was more concerned with who was running the bank, rather than who designed it or what it looked like. Fortunately, here, we have the best of both.

williamsburg

The bank in 1906. Photo via Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection

The North Side Bank of Brooklyn was chartered in 1889. This building at 33-35 Grand Street was its first permanent office, and was headquarters for the bank even after it opened other branches. The founders, who were all from Williamsburg or nearby, wanted a bank on Grand Street, Williamsburg’s busy commercial street. Many of the other banks native to Williamsburg were located on or near Broadway, but being over here, near the area’s industrial heart, gave the new bank better access to a whole range of depositors.

Most important, they got all of the traffic coming from the Manhattan ferries that docked at the end of Grand Street only a couple of blocks away. Everyone walked right by here. Smart thinking. The bank did so well that they were soon able to open branches. One joined the other banks clustered on Broadway, although it was further from the water, at Lorimer. The other was on Grand near Graham Avenue.

Although quite fancy for the street, this is not a huge impressive bank building. It is a really good building, though, one that has survived pretty much intact, in spite of all of the area’s changes over the last century.

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building ornamentation

It was the product of the inventive mind of Theobald Engelhardt, the master architect of the Eastern District, which included parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant. He designed all kinds of buildings for the bankers, brewers, factory owners, businessmen, churchmen and homeowners of the area. You can’t go down a street in the area without passing his buildings; they are literally everywhere. For at least 40 years, Engelhardt was the go-to architect in these parts, and he always did excellent work.

Unlike the Classically inspired temple of money that George Post designed for the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Engelhardt designed a Romanesque Revival gem that was much more suited for the area. It’s gritty and industrial, faced in rough cut stone, and only two stories tall. Keeping with the idea of the might of industrial materials, he used a profusion of wrought iron on all of the windows and doors, and then capped it off, literally, with a huge pressed metal pediment. It’s really quite a statement, and to this day inspires a double-take.

exterior of 33 grand street

The building in 2018 with the rear addition visible

The North Side Bank did quite well for itself until 1922, when it was acquired by the Manufacturer’s Trust Bank. This bank, founded in Brooklyn as Citizen’s Trust, in 1905, grew even faster and bigger than North Side. They were one of four local banks that merged into Manufacturer’s Trust, creating the largest commercial bank in Brooklyn. All of the branches stayed open. Manufacturer’s Trust became Manufacturers Hanover Trust, which became Chemical Bank, which became Chase Manhattan, which became J.P. Morgan Chase.

The building didn’t survive all of those mergers, and closed to banking. It was an outlet store for the French clothing brand A.P.C. for several years. Hopefully, there will be no Duane Reades or McDonald’s opening in here. A rear addition was built around 2011 and there is a rather large apartment upstairs. After housing the Seattle-based Rudy’s Barbershop for a few years, the building has been a successful events space, for weddings and special occasions, art shows, photo shoots and the like.

[Photos by Susan De Vries except when noted otherwise]

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