Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower
The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place between Ashland Street and St. Felix Street in Brooklyn, New York City is one of the borough's architectural icons. It was once the tallest building in the borough, at 37 stories and 512 feet (156 m) tall, but has been surpassed in height by the Brooklyner. It is among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world. The clock faces, 17 feet in diameter, were the world's largest when they were installed.
In 2007–08, the building was converted into luxury condominium apartments under the name 1 Hanson Place.
Built in 1927–29 as the new headquarters for the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, and designed by the architectural firm Halsey, McCormack and Helmer in a modernized Byzantine-Romanesque style, it is located at 1 Hanson Place, at the corner of Ashland Place, near the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, across from the Atlantic Terminal Mall. Despite the name it stands in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn rather than Williamsburg – spelled without the h – where the bank's original headquarters building by George B. Post still stands. The architects' plan for the new building did not include a Renaissance style dome on top, but the bank considered a dome such as the one on the original building to be its signature and insisted on one being added – chief architect Robert Helmer noted: "Dome was required by Bank over our dead protests" – with the familiar phallic result: the AIA Guide to New York City calls it "New York's most exhuberant phallic symbol."
The tower was built with a vast, vaulted banking hall, 63 feet (19 m) high, one of the most famous interiors in New York, facing with limestone and marbles, with mosaics and huge tinted windows containing silhouetted iron cutouts with vignettes of workers, students etc. Above were two floors of banking offices. The rest of the balanced though not symmetrical vertical massing of staggered setbacks in buff-colored brick and architectural terracotta contained rental office spaces.
On the exterior a highly polished shoulder-height dado, veneered with veined and colored Minnesota granite, presents a glistening variegated surface to the pedestrian passing at close distance and offers a discreet inscription near a corner:
TO OUR DEPOSITORS PAST AND PRESENT THIS BUILDING IS DEDICATED. BY THEIR INDUSTRY AND THRIFT THEY HAVE BUILT HOMES AND EDUCATED CHILDREN, OPENED THE DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY TO YOUTH AND MADE AGE COMFORTABLE INDEPENDENT AND DIGNIFIED. BY THOSE STURDY VIRTUES THEY HAVE OBTAINED THEIR AMBITIONS, SWEPT ASIDE THE PETTY DISTINCTIONS OF CLASS AND BIRTH AND SO MAINTAINED THE TRUE SPIRIT OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Carved details around the windows are appealingly literal, in the vein of architecture parlante, speaking of the values of thrift with beehives, squirrels that store nuts, the head of Mercury, god of Commerce, wise owls, and seated lions whose paws protect the bank's lockbox, with the bank's monogram on the lock haft. Embedded in the ashlar wall face above are square basreliefs, one on the right of a burglar, whom the depositor understood would be thwarted by the extremely massive 60-ton vault doors in the basement, which stood open for inspection during banking hours.
Chief architect Helmer wrote at the time of the building's opening that he wanted the building "to be regarded as a cathedral dedicated to the furtherance of thrift and prosperity." Inside, the low vaulted ceiling of the narthex-like vestibule is mosaiced with tesserae that vary from gray-blue to the most intense turquoise and ultramarine. Glass doors applied with wrought iron screens by René Chambellan depicting the artisan trades open to the vast limestone banking hall, 128 feet (39 m) long, with a central nave divided from side aisles by Romanesque columns with cast-stone capitals. Friezes carved in the two-plane relief manner of Lombard Comacine masons, of foliate scrolls with animal heads, inhabited with human and animal figures, relieve the masonry walls. The ceiling vaults glitter with mosaics of tesserae of gold leaf under glass, embedded with moulded stars and showing the constellations of the Zodiac. The floor is inlaid with various colored marbles in the Cosmatesque manner. At the far end a giant mosaic panel gives a bird's-eye view of Breuckelen with Manhattan in the distance beyond and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower illuminated in a shaft of sunlight.
The building was designed for the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, then owned later by its parent, Republic National Bank, then, via a merger, HSBC. For years the building's offices were notably dentists' offices; the New York Daily News once called it 'The Mecca of Dentistry'. As of early 2006, Magic Johnson is converting the building to luxury condominiums. In 2008 CJ Follini and Noyack Medical Partners purchased the commercial half of this famed landmark.
The building features a gilded copper dome; carved lions, turtles and birds on the exterior; and a marble banking hall on the ground floor with 63-foot (19 m) vaulted ceilings, 40-foot (12 m) windows and elaborate mosaics; and two abandoned public observation decks with signage describing the Battle of Brooklyn.
The building was declared a New York City landmark in 1977, and the interior in 1996. Replacement of windows engendered a lawsuit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission that forced restoration of the original appearance of the windows.
In 2005, Skylight Group One Hanson was created in conjunction with Canyon Capital Realty Advisers, as part of their massive redevelopment of the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building. Located in one of Brooklyn’s most famous landmarks, the Skylight One Hanson event space is composed of the Romanesque Beaux Arts Bank Hall and the Art Deco Vault. Throughout the restoration and redevelopment of the building, great care was taken to preserve the architectural prestige of its marble floors, carved teller stations, magnificent 63-foot vaulted ceiling and the iconic 40-foot mosaic of New York as a Dutch colony.
The building was converted to luxury loft condominiums in 2006–07 and now houses 176 apartments with 138 distinct floorplans, from 295 square foot studios to 3,263 square foot full-floor four-bedrooom units.
In popular culture
Author Jonathan Ames created a "Most Phallic Building" contest which followed an article he wrote for Slate magazine, in which he claimed that the Tower was the most phallic building he'd ever seen. The character of the same name in his HBO show Bored to Death moves into the building in the third season.
The tower or its the interior has been seen in the film Prizzi's Honor, the music video "Empire State of Mind", and the TV shows Pan Am, Law & Order, Bored to Death, White Collar, Gossip Girl, and Boardwalk Empire.
- New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Postal, Matthew A. (ed. and text); Dolkart, Andrew S. (text). (2009) Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.246
- The architectural and real estate development firm formed in 1920 by the developer Hayward S. Halsey with Thomas Bruce Boyd was renamed Halsey, McCormack and Helmer in 1925, when Halsey took into partnership the well-connected former banker George H. McCormack, and the architect Robert Helmer, who was primarily responsible for the design office.(Landmarks Preservation Commission July 19, 1994 accessed 13 January 2010). The firm made a reputation for their moderately progressive bank buildings; aside from the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, they are noted for the Dollar Savings Bank, Grand Concourse, the Bronx (1932–33, landmarked 1994) and Greenwich Savings Bank, 3–5 West 57th Street (1947); the firm was absorbed by Mancini•Duffy in 1967.
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot with Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195383867., p. 637
- The City of Williamsburgh was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1854, and the resulting neighborhood came to be called "Williamsburg", without the h. Nevius, Michelle and Nevius, James. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. New York: Free Press, 2009. ISBN 141658997X, p.76
- Newman, Andy. "A Tower of Dentists Wears a Golden Crown" The New York Times (September 20, 2002) accessed 13 January 2010
- Friedman, Joe. Inside New York: Discovering the Classic Interiors of New York 1998; 26, 125.
- "By the end of the 1920s the setback skyscraper, originally built in response to a New York zoning code, became a style that caught on from Chicago to Shanghai," observe Eric Peter Nash and Norman McGrath, discussing the "Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower" in Manhattan Skyscrapers 2005:55.
- Kahn, Eve M. "Profiting from History", Period Homes (November 2008)
- Nash and McGrath.
- Now HSBC has relocated across the street to 118 Flatbush Avenue.
- "Lessons on Abandoned Observation Decks - part 1". All City New York. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
- Christopher Gray, "Streetscapes: Williamsburgh Savings Bank; Resolving the Case of Missing Muntins", The New York Times, 12 November 1989.
- Ames, Jonathan. "Entry 4" Slate (July 17, 2003)
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