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Night at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank
Past and Present: Ashland and Hanson Places
The Williamsburgh Savings Bank was established in Williamsburg (h) in 1851. They were soon the recipients of a splendid new bank in 1854. Thirteen years later, they had outgrown that facility, and were looking to move into something larger. After an architectural competition, the designs of George Post were accepted, and the magnificent domed Williamsburgh Savings Bank was completed in five years, rising tall on Driggs and Broadway. The year was 1875. By 1923, the bank needed to open another major branch, closer to the Downtown Brooklyn hub, and a site was chosen on the corner of Ashland and Hanson Places, across the street from the LIRR station, and the rest of the busy transportation hub that is the Times Plaza area.
The designs of prominent bank architects Halsey, McCormick & Helmer were chosen. They had a stellar history of fine bank design, which in Brooklyn, included the extensive makeover of the Dime Savings Bank in the middle of the Fulton Street shopping district. They would also go on to design the Kings County Savings Bank on Eastern Parkway, in Crown Heights, and the Brevoort Savings Bank on Fulton Street in Bedford Stuyvesant. All of these designs were well steeped in the Art Deco style, and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank is about as Deco as they come.
The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, with its wonderful setbacks and central clock tower, would be the tallest building in Brooklyn for 80-plus years, up until only recently. Itís a masterpiece of Art Deco design, and is one of those rare buildings to be landmarked both outside and in: the bank interior is also landmarked and protected. The building is gloriously ornamented in bronze and stone, and is considered one of the finest skyscrapers in the entire city.
The period photograph on the left was taken in 1927 right before these buildings were all torn down. The signs on the roof herald the coming of the new bank. The church in the photograph was also torn down, and rebuilt next door to the new bank building. This is the Central Methodist Church, whose new building was also designed by Halsey, McCormick & Helmer, and built right after the bank was almost completed. The bank was built between 1927 and 1929, the church between 1929 and 1931.
The only buildings that remain today from the 1927 photograph are the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which can be seen way on the end of Ashland Place, on the far left, and the Central Branch of the YMCA, now the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building, all the way in the back on the right, up Hanson Place. The groups of two and four story brownstone buildings that lined Ashland Place were replaced by the bank and the Salvation Army HQ, which was also built in 1927, also after this photograph was taken.
1927 Photograph: Museum of the City of New York