Past and Present: The Franklin Trust Building

Postcard from 1910

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    A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

    “Money makes the world go around”, as the song lyrics say, and in Brooklyn, the money businesses centered themselves on the eastern end of Montague Street, and nearby Court Street. By the late 19th century, this was Brooklyn’s Wall Street, home to banks, insurance companies, savings banks, trusts, and brokerages. Financial institutions popped up everywhere at this time, especially with all of the money that was being made in Brooklyn in manufacturing, shipping, merchant ventures, real estate and the like. It was almost religious. “Whenever two or more are gathered,” as the Bible says, referred not to churches in Brooklyn, but trusts and banks. A casual look at the boards of these financial institutions who regularly advertised in the Eagle shows the same cadre of successful men joining together, presumably getting richer and richer in each union. They advertised with the names of the board members prominently displayed, unlike today, as proof of the institution’s worthiness. If the city’s leading citizens were running these companies, how could you go wrong?

    One of the more successful institutions was the Franklin Trust. A trust is an institution, often a bank that in its most simplistic form, manages the monies of its clients. A trust could buy and sell stock, invest money, and on the behalf of clients, pay out wills and estates, do estate planning, give to charities, in short, be a personal money manager. It was, and still is, a very lucrative business. George Morse, one of Brooklyn’s finest architects, designed this building in 1891 to hold the Franklin Trust’s business and office center. It is located at 166 Montague Street, on the corner of Clinton Street.

    Any worthy financial institution wants a building that conveys the wealth and gravitas of the company, and this building delivers. Named after Benjamin Franklin, this was one of Brooklyn’s premiere trust companies, which, in the 1890’s counted a Low, Pierrepont, Woodward, Packard and Hulburt on its board, among many prominent names. The richly carved arched entryway, the ten stories of sturdy elegance, the prominent corner location, everything about this building said “success.”

    And so it was in 1910 when the photograph on the left was taken. Although a bit obscured by the postmark, it shows the armored car of the day ready out in front of the entrance, presumably to take some of the company’s riches to a more secure place. Franklin Trust is boldly carved above the front door, and a bust of the great man sits above the entryway. A discrete sign hangs over the Clinton St. corner.

    The Franklin Trust lasted from 1888 until 1920, when it merged with the State Bank of America. They became First National City Bank of New York in 1955, which became Citibank, in 1976. The building became offices a long time ago, with retail on the ground floor, leading to the subway. Sometime around 2007, the building was purchased and the slow process of developing luxury condo units commenced. Originally, you had to be wealthy to bank here. Today, you still need to be wealthy to live here. GMAP

    Postcard from 1910

    Photo: Googlemaps

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