Visitors to Manhattan’s Chinatown and nearby streets are sure to see some unique and interesting architecture. On the edge of Chinatown, close to the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge, is a New York City Landmark building: the historic Citizens Savings Bank. Later known as the Manhattan Savings Bank, the building is now occupied by HSBC. (HSBC purchased Citizens Savings Bank’s successor in 1999.)
Citizens Savings Bank is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture and was designed by architect Clarence W. Brazer. The building was completed in 1924 and was designated a city landmark in 2011. It’s not a huge building, but it’s solidly built, with a domed roof. Today, it’s surrounded by modern buildings, making its architecture stand out in comparison.
Above the entrance is this sculpture and clock designed by Charles Keck. It portrays a Native American, a sailor, and an eagle. (Additionally, if you look closely at the photo above, you may be able to see the small stone “beehives” on either side of the sculpture – I learned that beehives symbolize thrift.)
There are also these imposing lions stationed near the entrance – I think they are a much more recent addition.
Although the building still operates as a bank, the employees graciously allowed me to enter and take a few interior photos. From my research, I learned that the somber interior was meant to instill confidence in the bank’s ability to protect depositors’ money. Banks in the 1920s generally did not have insurance for deposits, and it was not uncommon for banks to fail. Depositors wanted to place their money in banks that seemed safer, and architecture could be used to create such an image. There are still some original architectural design details in the bank’s interior, such as the dome and the subtle messages painted in each corner near the ceiling. Would these messages give you confidence in the bank?
Want to see this New York City landmark for yourself? The bank is located at the corner of Canal Street and Bowery on the edge of Chinatown. It’s several city blocks’ walk from the subway. Take the B or D train to Grand Street, the F train to East Broadway, or the J, Z, or 6 train to Canal Street.
Want more detail about the building, the bank’s history, and the NYC landmark designation? The entire city landmark commission report is found here.