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Brooklyn Trust Company (now Chase Bank) Building

Brooklyn Heights Historic District, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

 

The Brooklyn Trust Company building (now a branch of Chemical Bank), designed __ by the prominent firm of York & Sawyer, a talented, prolific, and versatile team, was constructed in 1913-16 in a style modeled after the palazzi of the sixteenth-century Italian High Renaissance. The building, gracefully adapted to the imagery and functions of American banking in the early twentieth century, continues to project an image of tradition, stability, and security.

 

Although relatively small, the building is monumentally scaled and beautifully proportioned, executed in fine materials by superb craftsmen. Located near Brooklyn Borough Hall (originally City HaJl) and at the edge of Brooklyn Heights, this is the finest of the buildings on the Montague Street block known as "Bank Row." The Brooklyn Trust Company played an important historic role in Brooklyn, from its founding during the aftermath of the Civil War until its consolidation with larger banks beginning in the mid-twentieth century. Its founders, subsequent trustees, and administrato rs were notable Brooklynites, commiued not only to fiduciary but also to community responsibility. Today, the largely-intact building is a reminder of the importance of the institution in the Brooklyn community.

 

Aherations have been minimal and have been carried out with respect for the original fabric and design.

 

In 1913, when the officers of the Brooklyn Trust Company commissioned York & Sawyer to replace their outmoded building with new headquarters, the architects evidently suggested a building modeled after an Italian High Renaissance p alazzo. The style, the building type, and the architectural symbolism were all appropriate to a bank building; the prosperity and artistic wealth of the Italian Renaissance was to a large extent based on huge banking fortunes -- the Florentine house of the Medici perhaps the best known -- and many great banks were housed in palazzi. Verona was another Italian city of great financial and commercial prosperity during the Renaissance, and it was to the architecture of the Higb Renaissance Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli (1484/5- 1559) thai York & Sawyer turned for inspiration. Ii Sanmicheli's use of rusticated stone, especially in city gates and palazzi, may have been of special interest to Sawyer _. he himself was to be characterized as a "master of rustication" -- and such buildings as the Palazzo Bevilacqua may have been influential. Another prototype for the Brooklyn Trust Company building is Palazzzo della Gran Guardia in Verona; the Clinton Street elevation of the bank bears the greatest similarity.19 The exterior of the Brooklyn Trust Company creates a striking and impressive appearance on the street, while providing a suitable introduction to the serious business of banking. In the hands of such versatile and talented architects as York and Sawyer, the Academic Classic style is not merely a regrouping of historic, stylistic, and symbolic references, but also an entirely contemporary expression -- the Brooklyn Trust Company building is a quintessential image of its place, its time. and its function.

 

This very handsome neo-ltalian Renaissance style building projects an image of stability, pride, and tradition -- all appropriate to a banking institution. It occupies a long and narrow comer site bounded by Montague Street at the south, Clinton Street at the west, and Pierrepont Street at the north. The east elevation abuts another bank building (originally Peoples Trust, now a branch of Citibank), yet the Brooklyn Trust still gives the impression of a discrete urban palazzo, well-proportioned and finely crafted. It is composed in two sections. The rusticated, venniculated limestone base is articulated by a double-height arcade and mezzanine level.

 

The upper section. or piano nobile, is of smooth-faced limestone with a double-height colonnade in the Corinthian order, with alternating engaged columns and pilasters on shallow piers. The north and south ends of the building have monumental arched entrances, while the long west elevation is punctuated by seven arched windows. The north elevation bas a five-story, three-bay annex faced in rusticated limestone. The water table and stairway at the south are of Maine pink granite. The roofing is of Ohio tile. The building is of modem steel-frame construction.

 

- From the 1996 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report

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Taken on January 31, 2010