Monday, December 13, 2010

HSBC Does the Right Thing

Only, I'm not sure they did it because it was right or because it was just expedient or convenient.

(I am almost back in business. I have a new PC but too many of my old photos are on the old PC. A friend said he could probably rescue them, so I am hopeful.)

I don't keep track of bank mergers and acquisitions so I don't know when it happened, but at some point the Williamsburgh Savings Bank became part of HSBC. And HSBC at that point did what all banks do under the circumstances and obliterated any evidence of the former bank's existence.

That's not a big deal if you're taking over branches that have been built only in the last ten or twenty or thirty or whatever years. Modern branches in modern buildings. A bright new logo replaces a bright old logo and no one can tell the difference.

But it's different if the building was thrown up at the end of the 19th century as was the original headquarters of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

I would have thought that with all the photos I have been taking around Brooklyn, and especially around Williamsburg, I would have a lot of this bank at Driggs Ave. and Broadway. And I think I do . . . on the conked out hard drive of the old computer. Still, I was able to drag up the photos here from various dates from another source.

Since that was the way the bank looked when I first moved over here, I must have assumed they just threw up those red and white signs wherever it seemed convenient: over doors, over windows, on windows, on the roof, wherever.

Now, that's no way to treat a beautiful building. I always thought that if they cared, they could have found a way to keep their name on the bank without vandalizing it, which is close to what it amounted to in my mind. But that would have taken more time and thought than they may have wanted to give to it.

This past Saturday on my regular weekly trek to the library at Grand Army Plaza, I walked past the bank and thought that something was wrong, a bit off. It turned out that something was right but it took me a few moments to realize what had happened.

All the garish HSBC signs had been removed and the building was back to as close as it could be to the time it was built, barring a good scrub.

Although, the building itself really isn't that dirty. It may not gleam the way it did originally, but it ain't bad. But if a local philanthropist wanted to underwrite a good cleaning, it would be a great contribution toward making life in Williamsburg just that much more pleasant.

And I do hope they plan to get rid of the iron frame in front of the dome. A dome that always seemed to me to be a kind of riff on the Duomo in Florence.

I have no idea whether the building has been landmarked; it would surprise me if it hasn't been. But if it hasn't been, it could see even worse if HSBC gets rid of it. If they plan to stay there, why remove the signage? Thinking about it, if they were able to erect all those HSBC signs, maybe the building isn't landmarked.

It truly is a remarkable building.

But it has a deserted and abandoned look about it now, especially at night. In some other city, this building would be floodlighted and and a use would be found for it that would make the most of its special qualities; the light below is from the high intensity street lamp, around front it's black as pitch. In Brooklyn, circa 2011, some lean and hungry developer probably has his eye on it even now wondering how many floors he can get away with in a nice green glass and steel box in that location.

One clue could be the new HSBC branch just dropped into the Northside, next door to the infamous Duane-Reade, at North 3rd street and Bedford Ave. At first I thought this was a small branch but it could well be replacing Broadway and Driggs. Strange to close it, when other banks are opening out on Broadway.

I took the not-so-hot nighttime shot below several weeks ago before the HSBC signs were completed. It's giving us a further taste of midtown Manhattan with its bright lights-big city air.