Monday, June 4, 2012

slow motion demolition

Photo taken in the 1890′s, 
by the Cornell University Library. 
The Mount Morris Bank Building has been located on the northwest corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue since it was built in 1883. It’s a contemporary cousin to our 1886 ClockTower. In those years, fancy red brick and terracotta inserts were all the rage.

This Romanesque building combined bank offices on the lower three floors with fancy apartments on the top four floors. Harlem had its own railroad stop since 1837 where MetroNorth is now, and the bank prospered in this location. For awhile.

Visually, the Mount Morris Bank Building was “a great Queen Anne-Romanesque architectural stew of red brick, rock-faced brownstone, stepped gables, window bays and chimneys projecting above a peaked roof.’

The building had three arched entrances on 125th Street: one for the apartments, one with steps leading down to the vault area and one at the corner – a grand, projecting brownstone porch that served as the main entrance to the bank.

There were some exquisite details on the upper floors: brick with rivet-heads moulded in, terra-cotta panels with radiant forms, a date stone with the year 1883 in script set against a basket-weave pattern. All gone.

In 1890, The Real Estate Record and Guide called the building ”hardly surpassed by the great bank buildings erected in Wall Street during recent years.”

By the late 1920′s Harlem was emerging as a black community and then soon came the war. The community lost its momentum to WW2 and by the 1950′s Harlem was in trouble. Buildings that were new before the turn of the century were falling apart. In 1954, banking operations ceased in the old Mount Morris Bank building.

The city acquired the property in 1972, and vacancy followed. Landmarks Preservation considered the building for designation in 1984, but didn’t act until 1993. By then it was too late. 

Several plans have been advanced by developers but none has gained an economic traction in this recession. For safety, the building was dismantled to its present height in 2010. Unless this building is salvaged soon, it will almost certainly be destroyed.

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