Past and Present: The Brevoort Savings Bank

Early-20th-century postcard

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

As Brooklyn’s neighborhoods grew, back in the late-19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for each community to have at least one home-grown neighborhood savings bank. Having a trusted place to put one’s hard earned money was as important to people then as now, perhaps even more so, before the FDIC and other regulations. It was relatively easy to start a savings bank. You needed seed money, of course, a board of directors and trustees, and an office. Then you needed customers. Everything else, like the impressive bank building, came later.

Many of New York and Brooklyn’s savings banks were established by wealthy members of the many different ethnic groups in the different communities: Germania Savings Bank and People’s Savings Bank by Germans in Bushwick, and Emigrant Savings Bank by the Irish, for example. Others were established by certain trades or unions, and some were just started by wealthy men in a particular neighborhood because they wanted control over their money in their own communities. Besides, it helped the neighborhood and certainly was quite the ego boost, as well.

In the growing upper middle class community of Bedford, a group of wealthy investors decided to establish a neighborhood savings bank. Some of these men had very long familial ties to Brooklyn and Bedford itself, ties going back to the first Dutch settlers in the area. One of them was J. Carson Brevoort, whose family history went back to some of the earliest settlers in Brooklyn.

Brevoort married the daughter of Judge Lefferts Lefferts, the largest landowner in Bedford, and was wealthy and influential in his own right. He was a civil engineer, and a collector of rare books and coins, and was a member and trustee of several historic and scientific societies, including the Long Island Historical Society, today’s Brooklyn Historical Society, which he helped found. The family lived in a large mansion on Brevoort Place, a small street tucked behind Atlantic Avenue, near Fulton St.

The idea for the Brevoort Savings Bank was put together by Brevoort and other wealthy investors in the last years of the 1880s, but Brevoort himself died before the bank was incorporated in 1890. His son, Henry Lefferts Brevoort, carried on in his father’s stead. The first president of the bank was a man named Felix Campbell. Other investors and directors included local developer Charles W. Betts. The bank opened on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street.

At the time, the bank was the only one in the Bedford neighborhood, and was immediately successful. It was no longer necessary for depositors to go all the way downtown to bank. The board of directors knew they could soon afford to build a suitably impressive bank building to house this growing institution. They purchased a plot of land on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Macon Street, just across the street from the Alhambra Apartments and the Girls High School, both impressive edifices symbolizing the importance and success of Bedford.

They turned to one of Brooklyn’s most prominent architects, who happened to live practically around the corner from here, and the architect of the Alhambra: Montrose W. Morris, for the bank’s design. Morris designed a classically inspired bank, built of granite, limestone and terra-cotta. The building cost around $50,000, and had, in addition to all the necessary creature comforts, the latest in secure vault design and construction. The building opened for business in 1905.

Brevoort Savings Bank was rock solid in its fiscal duties, and became one of Brooklyn’s most successful savings banks. They offered a good interest rate, and never disappointed their customers. The bank grew enough to branch out to locations as far away as Bay Ridge. As a sign of its success, by the outbreak of the Great Depression, in 1929, the bank was planning to expand yet again, and build a much larger new bank building just around the corner, on Fulton Street. They purchased the old Fulton Theater, which had been closed, and tore that building down in order to build a much larger bank.

That bank, designed by the firm of Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, opened in 1932. The architects were experts at bank design and were one of the finest such firms in the city. They were responsible for the expansion of the Dime Savings Bank, and most famously, designed the Williamsburg Savings Bank tower at Hansen Place, which was completed in 1929. They also designed the Kings County Savings Bank, now Banco Popular, on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue.

The new bank had an annex that curved around Macon Street and connected it to the old Montrose Morris bank. Customers were able to enter the bank from either entrance. The new facilities gave Brevoort room for expansive offices for the bank president and other officers, a conference room, and more room for teller and general banking services. A much larger vault was also constructed.

But as the years passed, the old bank grew, well, old. I don’t know if it was torn down or happened to burn down, I couldn’t find any records on line. I don’t know when it was destroyed, but could have been as far back as the 1940s or ’50s. It was replaced by a taxpayer building, a no-style, utilitarian structure that now houses several storefront businesses and an upstairs hall that is used for meetings and church services.

The Brevoort Savings Bank was in operation until 1969, when it was taken over by Metropolitan Savings Bank, which the Federal Metropolitan Savings Bank in 1983, which the changed its name to Crossland Savings Bank in 1985. The Fulton Street headquarters would become home to the Carver Savings Bank, and they too, would leave, in a move up the street to Restoration Plaza. The bank remained empty for a number of years, open as a pop up store for Toys R Us in the past few years. Its fate remains uncertain.

Interestingly enough, the annex joining the old and new branches of the bank is still in existence, a windowless (of course) building facing out onto Macon. Hopefully all of the 1932 bank building survives. Too bad the Morris building did not. You can never have too many Montrose Morris buildings, especially on his home turf. It was his only bank building. GMAP

Early 20th Century postcard

Early-20th-century postcard

50 Macon St today. Photo: Christopher Bride for Property Shark

50 Macon Street today. Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

Artist's rendering of new Brevoort Savings Bank. Brooklyn Eagle, 1905

Artist’s rendering of new Brevoort Savings Bank. 1905 photo via Brooklyn Eagle

1932 Brevoort Savings Bank, Fulton St.

1932 Brevoort Savings Bank, Fulton Street

Back of 1932 bank, facing Macon Street.

Back of 1932 bank, facing Macon Street

Back of 1932 bank, facing Macon Street. Door detail.

Back of 1932 bank, facing Macon Street. Door detail.

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