Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

Back in December, I mentioned that HSBC, who had maintained a branch in the landmarked original Williamsburgh Bank building at Driggs Ave. and Broadway, had suddenly decamped, removing all their garish 21st century signage, and opened a branch further north at Bedford Ave. and North 3rd Street.

Until February, the building stood empty and lifeless with no hint of what was to be done with it. It is landmarked both outside and inside so any owners' or tenants' options are limited, at least in the sense that the building can't be torn down. But even a cursory glance at "vintage" buildings in the city (and here in Brooklyn) should be enough to assure anyone that a late-19th-century, neoclassical building in pristine condition like this one could be, so to speak, money in the bank.

Then, at the beginning of February, a large white construction tarp appeared on the west side of the building, covering the entire side, with big "debris tubes" hanging out and leading to dumpsters below.

This was intriguing since I thought landmarked buildings had to be treated with white glove care. But I figured maybe they were just clearing out the upper floors of material that was easier to junk than move out.

I hadn't given it much notice over the past month until last weekend when, purely by accident, I noticed graffiti had suddenly appeared near a front cornice. Then, on looking closer, I realized that the wall where the graffiti had appeared shouldn't have been visible. They were tearing down part of the bank!

But before going off half-cocked and complaining to someone, I figured I should check up on the building's history just a bit. And, as it turns out, the section they are demolishing was never part of the original bank building at all, just a very cleverly designed addition in a similar style. Still, they have managed to damage part of the original cornice of the bank.

I don't have any photos of the bank when it was first built but I recalled a book I had gotten from the BPL that contained a sketch drawing of the bank in 1889 and also a sketch map of Broadway in 1893, both showing the bank without that addition. Whew!

The name of the book, by the way, is Brooklyn's Williamsburgh: A City within a City, Brian Merlis, Brooklyn: Israelowitz Pub., 2005. Brian Merlis has a whole raft of books of vintage photos of most neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Now all I am wondering is why, if they are demolishing the damn thing, are they only demolishing the second and third floors and, apparently, keeping the first floor? I'm sure it would look better removed completely. Stay tuned.