Thursday, April 12, 2018

Preservation Call For Local Bank Buildings

Local Banks Offer A “Rich” Architectural History
by Michael Perlman

Between the 1939 World’s Fair and 1964 World’s Fair, local communities such as Forest Hills, Rego Park, and Kew Gardens Hills experienced much growth in development, marked by architectural achievements. Now it is time to have a look at noteworthy examples of banks, ranging from traditional Colonial to Classical Moderne and Modernist styles, which offered a sense of permanence. Some have remained banks, while others have been repurposed.

“These banks tell the story of Queens as a rapidly growing borough in the mid-20th century, and the architects of these branches who were among the most prominent designers of bank institutions in New York City at the time,” said Frampton Tolbert, architectural historian and creator of the Queens Modern project. “Bank companies including Ridgewood Savings Bank, Queens County Savings Bank, and Long Island City Savings Bank were among the first companies opening in the neighborhood, looking to provide much-needed services to the influx of new residents.” Many were also situated along Queens Boulevard a short distance away from recently expanded subway lines. “These were especially an opportunity for a show-stopping design such as the Metropolitan Industrial Bank,” said Tolbert. 

Queens County Savings Bank resembling Independence Hall, Kew Gardens Hills, 1954
It is rare opportunity to encounter a nearly faithful replica of Independence Hall in Kew Gardens Hills. The Georgian Colonial style Queens County Savings Bank at 75-44 Main Street, designed by architect Harold O. Carlson, was the recipient of a 1st prize bronze plaque by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1954. Rising from its gabled wings is a 100-foot tower featuring clocks, a cupola, and a weathervane that continues to mark the community’s highest point. The foyer includes a replica of the Liberty Bell, and the banking hall is graced with paintings such as the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and Washington Crossing the Delaware. In 2005, the bank was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and commemorated in a 2006 ceremony led by Queens Historian Jeff Gottlieb and banking and elected officials.

Linda Fisher, a licensed tour guide with the Guides Association of NYC explained, “Banks were designed to evoke feelings of confidence and stability, and this would account for Classical elements such as columns. This would have roots in Ancient Rome, where the Maison Carrée served as the model for government buildings, and although bank buildings are owned by private institutions, the architecture imbues the principles of solidity and democratic ideals.” 

Tower Diner, formerly Emigrant Savings Bank, Photo by Michael Perlman
Tower Diner has been enticing palates since 1993 at 98-95 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, but originated as City Savings and Loan Association in the mid-1960s, prior to merging with Emigrant Savings Bank. The Colonial façade’s clock tower and pitched roof with columns and cornice detail continue to offer a stately presence amidst traffic. 

Long Island City Savings Bank, Rego Park, 1952
The Colonial-style Long Island City Savings Bank at 97-27 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park was designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, and was awarded during the 1952 Building Awards Competition by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Notable features include a granite base with piers of face brick and Alabama limestone trim and coping, tall windows, and roundels. High ceilings with moldings and a spacious ambiance once added to the charm. The bank closed in the early 1990s, and today has been subdivided for a pharmacy and Tiger Schulmann's Karate. 

Metropolitan Industrial Bank, Forest Hills, 1952
Bank of America, which recently underwent a conversion for Mount Sinai Doctors at 99-01 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, opened in 1952 as the Metropolitan Industrial Bank, a Modernist building with industrial materials, which was considered revolutionary at a time of more traditional bank styles. Notable artist Dara Birnbaum, daughter of the late award-winning architect Philip Birnbaum, who was raised around the corner in Birnbaum’s Howard Apartments, said, “I thought it was a real winner, and it did win a 1st prize award by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, as it certainly was more than deserving. In fact, it was one of the jewels of my father's designs through the years.” Striking features include triple-height windows and a colonnade of Swedish granite and stainless steel fins that meet a rotunda entrance with curved glass. Although low-rise partitions have been installed, and the 22’ x 25’ mural commemorating Forest Hills’ growth is long-gone, the streamlined teakwood balcony and a whimsical terrazzo floor are retained. 

Ridgewood Savings Bank, Forest Hills, 1940
Shortly after the three-story Classical Moderne Ridgewood Savings Bank, designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, opened in 1940 on a landscaped triangular plot at 107-55 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, it also won a first prize award. The convex and concave Alabama Rockwood stone façade includes flat eagles, bronze windows, streamlined and wave-like incised designs, and Moderne clocks. Entering the banking hall, Art Deco fixtures are suspended over a streamlined ceiling designed by famed muralist Angelo Magnanti, and travertine floors exist alongside buff pink Mansota stone walls on a wainscot of polished Rosato D’Or marble carried onto the counters.

As neighborhoods are undergoing development, many residents are realizing the value in buildings that offer historic character. Tolbert explained, “These are the neighborhood landmarks that create a unique sense of place, but only the Ridgewood Savings Bank is currently landmarked (designated in 2000). With changes along Queens Boulevard, others may disappear, so we must preserve our history while we still can, as it is a key piece of how our borough developed into the Queens we know today.” 

On May 6 at 1 PM, architectural historian & Queens Modern project creator Frampton Tolbert will offer a free tour, “Jane's Walk of Forest Hills and Rego Park Modern,” which will begin at MacDonald Park (Queens Blvd & 70th Ave), and stops will include several local banks. For more information, contact  

A similar version of the above feature appears in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

No comments:

Post a Comment