wbg-t032.jpg (53801 bytes) New York Architecture Images-  Williamsburg Brooklyn

Williamsburgh Savings Bank


George B Post. Additions, 1906, 1925. Helmle, Huberty & Hudswell.  Restorations, 1990s. Platt Byard Dovell.


175 Broadway, NW cor. Driggs Ave, Williamsburg.











The eclectic Victorian crossbreeding of Renaissance and Roman parts. It is a sharp, hard, gray place reminiscent of the work of Brooklyn's own great architect, Frank Freeman, at the old, long since demolished, Brooklyn Trust Company (below the dome).

No good has ever come out of going down into a church basement, at least by the fifth grade I thought so. I was raised a catholic and I attended catholic school from kindergarten through seventh grade. As a result of my reverent education I was no stranger to the Lord, his church, and the holy dungeon of academic purity hidden beneath it. Because of the small size of my school, often times inflammatory classes, such as Sex Ed. or Music, were held underneath the church in the basement. It was during these alarming sessions that all the boys and girls from the fifth grade were gathered together to watch a long series of educational videos where each tape was more advanced, and therefore more shocking then its predecessors. To the best of my memory, the crowning glory of the series was an instructional vignette on how a pious girl could go about giving herself a pelvic exam with the aid of a mirror - the pencil illustrations were shocking, if not outright scandalous, to all the ten-year-old boys trapped in the church's bowels; that afternoon there were many silent car rides home next to mom. I believe this was how I developed my disdain for church basements.

I suppose it was because of those Sex Ed. videos that I paused, rode out a flash of heat, and, for at least a moment, was thrust back in a dream to fifth grade, after having read that the Williamsburg Savings Bank (WBS) was operated out of the basement of the Univeralist Church at Bedford and South 4th. According to a book written in 1926 by then president of the Brooklyn bank John V. Jewell, on May 8th 1851, the Committee on Location reported that they had hired the aforementioned church's basement "for three years, with the privilege of five years at $150 per annum" to house the upstart venture. That following June 9th the WBS opened it doors for business. In the words of Mr. Meeker - coincidentally the same man who drew up the charter to incorporate Williamsburg - the WBS was to "afford a safe and beneficial place to deposit for savings of Tradesmen, Mechanics, Clerks, Apprentices, Laborers, married or single Women and others." After six weeks of business the bank reported deposits by 158 customers totaling $15,003.07. That same report also detailed a first mortgage loan that amounted to $3,000, which was given to a Thomas I. Van Sant for an advance against two houses and lots on the north side of South Second Street, just west of Marcy Avenue. These transactions were small by today's standards, but telling presages of a future rise in capital and economy that would further necessitate the demand for a bank in the Williamsburg none-the-less.

In April of 1854 the villages Brooklyn became one and as the city prospered so did the bank. In that same year, after three years of operation, the bank had taken on enough business to move to a site of its own: a three story building on Bedford and South Third. From 1854 on, while fostering the growth of Williamsburg, loaning money and an employee to the federal government for the Civil War, and always honoring Thursdays as "ladies' day" (a day when only women could bank), the WBS stayed a steady, conservative course and consequently, after ten years of banking, deposits had grown to $1,900,000. According to Jewell, "As the population multiplied and the wealth of the city increased the Bank (sic) grew apace, so that by the late (eighteen) sixties it became necessary to again seek a larger quarters." It was in 1869 that the board of trustees purchased the land for their new building, a building that would hopefully serve as a symbol of permanence. The board agreed to purchase its present site at Broadway and Driggs.

To build a new edifice for the WBS the board of trustees hired George B. Post (1837-1913), a man who had just


finished the important Equitable Life Assurance Building (1868-1870), was at present finishing the Western Union Building (1873-1875), and who would later go on to design the icon of money, the market, and capitalism in 1903. Architecturally speaking and with vast hindsight, it was upon the hiring of Post that the WBS secured itself as a structural institution and landmark in Brooklyn. For it is through the tie to its architect that this structurally impressive building gains even more notoriety; George B. Post would later go on to design City College (1886-1906), the Brooklyn Historical Society (1881), the New York Stock Exchange (1903), and other notable buildings throughout the country. Post's work would also later be recognized as a precursor to the skyscraper - the aforementioned Western Union Building having been considered one of New York's first.

The WBS on Broadway was completed in 1875 after five years of construction. At times loosely referencing classical architecture and using a system of tiers to structure an impressive demeanor against the surrounding buildings, the Bank on Broadway fits well within aspects of Post's vernacular. The construction of a massive base, large windows and entrance, as well as the use of a pediment, all work toward establishing the proper proportions befitting the grand finale: the crowning dome‹an identical one can be found on another the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower located by BAM, though this building is 32 stories tall. The building itself turned out to be an impressive architectural statement in Williamsburg, while later being lead into service as a historic landmark - though it appears that the building has enjoyed more permanence than the business that occupied it.

After moving into the new building, the Bank continued to have the same success it was blessed with in the past. By 1926 it was the largest mutual savings bank in Brooklyn, third largest in New York, and the forth largest in the United States. Around this time Jewell wrote that it was not unusual to find mail deposits from India, Ireland, Finland, the "Canal Zone," and "other equally far-distant places, where the depositors, if they were so minded, could readily find local banking facilities."

As a building and a business everything appeared to come together around the early to mid 1900s, but as it went with most banks, the mergers and takeovers that changed the financial landscape of the 80s and 90s caught up with the Williamsburg Savings Bank. In 1990 the bank was acquired in a merger with Manhattan Savings Bank, which was eventually purchased Safra Savings Bank. The name was then changed to Republic Bank for Savings in 1993, which then merged with the Federal Republic National Bank of New York three years later. It was then converted to the State Republic Bank of New York, only to be acquired by a merger with HSBC Bank USA that same year. That same day in December, its name was changed from the State Republic Bank of New York to HSBC Bank USA - a foggy chain of names no doubt.

Despite name and management changes the building on Driggs and Broadway has remained a constant; the original structure was only altered in 1906 and 1923 for reasons I do not know. I cannot tell you where to get the best view of the building at sunrise, noon, or sunset. I am not sure if it will someday be owned by GE or Seagram's. Nor can I tell you what the view is like from the top of the dome, but I suppose I can end with this: I suppose that good can come from a church basement, unless that is you feel as uncomfortable around churches as I did in the fifth grade, when I was forced to watch Sex Ed. videos ordained by the Pope.

Special thanks to Thaddeus Kromelis




  with thanks to "The AIA Guide to New York",