Fort Greene

Attention real-estate nerds: Come see the Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s landmarked interior during Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea

Eye On Real Estate

November 23, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the fall and winter home of Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

You know you’re a real-estate nerd when you go to the fall-and-winter Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea because you want to look at the landmarked interior of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

It’s great fun to sample the fabulous fare at the weekend foodie fest inside the Brooklyn Cultural District’s famous clock-topped 1920s-vintage skyscraper — and buy vintage clothing, antique knickknacks and midcentury furniture at sister market Brooklyn Flea.

But.

The Number One reason real-estate nerds attend the November-through-March Smorg and Brooklyn Flea isn’t to eat Ramen Burgers or buy an amazing $200 hat from Berete Tribal Art.

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It’s to see the jaw-dropping landmarked banking hall, AKA Skylight One Hanson.

On a recent Sunday, we made a beeline to the neo-Romanesque tower at 1 Hanson Place to feast our eyes on the architectural details of the banking room’s main floor, which was occupied by Brooklyn Flea vendors.

We also ate actual food that was pretty amazing, too, at Smorgasburg, which was in the basement of the banking hall. See related story.


A stunning mosaic mural on the north wall of the former bank branch’s main floor shows Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, and the names of Brooklyn’s original Dutch colonial settlements on a map of Brooklyn with the Williamsburgh Savings Bank clocktower planted on it, bathed in rays of sunlight.

We know that’s a long description, but there’s a lot going on in the mural.

An equally stunning mosaic on the banking hall’s vaulted ceiling depicts the signs of the zodiac.  

The banking hall looks like a cathedral    

The banking hall belongs to Madison Realty Capital.

An LLC with Brian Shatz, a Madison Realty Capital managing principal and co-founder, as authorized signatory paid $18 million for the retail condominium in 2015, city Finance Department records indicate.

It is one of a handful of interior spaces that have been designated as New York City landmarks.

This protected status, which the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) granted in 1996, means that everything from the tellers’ counters to the marble floors must be left intact unless the city agency okays changes to the space.

And speaking of marble, there are 22 different kinds of it inside the banking hall, according to the LPC’s designation report about this interior landmark.

The Hanson Place skyscraper was designed by architecture firm Halsey, McCormack & Helmer.

The LPC’s designation report says architect Robert Helmer wanted the Williamsburgh Savings Bank to “be regarded as a cathedral dedicated to the furtherance of thrift and prosperity of the community it serves.”

The main floor’s 63-foot-high vaulted ceiling, 40-foot-tall arched windows and Cosmati-style marble floor makes it look like a church nave.

Cosmati work, a design technique that mixes intricately patterned mosaics with pieces of plain stone, was used in medieval Roman churches.   

The banking hall’s entrance gates are decorated with sculptures of industrious workers that were designed by notable artist Rene P. Chambellan. The mosaic ceiling was done by painter Angelo Magnanti.

‘The House of Pain’

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s exterior is also a city landmark. It has been since 1977.

The Fort Greene tower was built in 1927-1929. It is arguably Brooklyn’s best-known building.

Its fame is due in part to its four-faced clock, which is one of the world’s largest. The hands of the clock are lit with red electric lights.

The skyscraper, which is on the corner of Hanson Place and Ashland Place, was conceived as a bank branch that also had office space that was rented to tenants.  

At the time of the building’s construction, Williamsburgh Savings Bank was America’s fourth-largest savings and loan.

The then-thriving Williamsburg-based financial institution had been in existence since 1851.

The 512-foot tower — which is across the street from Long Island Rail Road’s Atlantic Terminal and shares a block with the Brooklyn Academy of Music — was the tallest building in the borough until recently-constructed Downtown Brooklyn residential towers surpassed it in height.

For many years, the iconic skyscraper was nicknamed “the House of Pain” because so many dentists rented offices in the building.

After the last bank to own it, HSBC, sold the tower a decade ago, most of the building was converted to residential condos. See related story.

Today, a small part of the property has dental and medical offices in it.

Until the condo converter renovated the clock a few years ago, its four faces weren’t synchronized — and often displayed different times.


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