Check out Williamsburg Bridge Plaza’s banks from bygone days

Eye on Real Estate: Landmark-worthy Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh is one of them

March 14, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A busy highway runs past Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, which is surrounded by century-old bank buildings. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Once upon a time, Williamsburg Bridge Plaza was more than a bus terminal. Way more.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area around it became the Numero Uno financial center for the Eastern District, as the Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Bushwick area was then called.

That’s because the 1903 opening of the Williamsburg Bridge drew businesses away from the East River waterfront to the area around the plaza, which was a terminal for trolleys that traveled across the bridge.   

A city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) staffer mentioned this fact at a public hearing the other day.

The hearing was about the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh, which is on Havemeyer Street, one of the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza’s boundaries.

The preservation agency is considering the Dime building for landmark designation but has not yet voted on the matter.

There are other century-old bank buildings facing the plaza. Some are no longer devoted to banking. But they’re stunning all the same.

If you want to see these buildings, the easiest way to get to this part of South Williamsburg is to ride the J or M train to the Marcy Avenue stop.

These above-ground train lines offer good views of the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza area.

When you walk down the stairs from the Marcy Avenue subway station, you’ll wind up on Broadway, which is another one of Williamsburg Bridge Plaza’s boundaries.


Which way to First National Bank of Brooklyn?

At the corner of Broadway and Havemeyer Street, you’ll find a distinguished-looking white limestone building.

First National Bank of Brooklyn constructed it in 1908 and was its original occupant.

A website called Novelty Theater posted a copy of a Brooklyn Eagle advertisement from that era.

The ad has a picture of 260 Broadway, which is the four-story building’s address, and a list of bank officers and directors. It says First National’s president, Joseph Huber, was also the president of the Otto Huber Brewery.

The website says First National’s previous office was at the end of Broadway by the East River — which became a less desirable location after the Williamsburg Bridge opened.

According to state Department of Financial Services records, in 1928 First National merged with the Bank of the Manhattan Company — which became Chase Manhattan Bank in 1955.

A billboard on top of 260 Broadway still has Chase Manhattan Bank’s name on it. But its successor, JPMorgan Chase Bank, sold the building to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A in 2002, city Finance Department records show.

Before that, the legal organization was a tenant at 260 Broadway, a 1997 lease agreement indicates.

Today, its Shriver Tyler MacCrate Center for Justice is located in the building. A pharmacy called Echo Drugs occupies the retail space.


Proximity to the Grand Street ferry became less desirable

Another corner of Broadway and Havemeyer Street is occupied by a McDonald’s. But nearly next door,  at 225 Havemeyer St., there’s a building that looks like a Classical temple. It has a Chase logo above its columned front entrance.

The building’s original occupant, the North Side Bank of Brooklyn, constructed it in 1912.

North Side Bank’s headquarters had been located near the waterfront end of Grand Street — an important spot prior to the Williamsburg Bridge’s construction because the Grand Street Ferry was there.

The bank relocated its headquarters to Havemeyer Street and downgraded its Grand Street building to a branch.

According to a 2014 Brownstoner.com story by architectural history expert Suzanne Spellen, North Side Bank was acquired by Manufacturers Trust in 1922.

Through name changes and mergers, it became Manufacturers Hanover Trust — whose nickname was Manny Hanny — then Chemical Bank, then Chase Manhattan Bank. Now it’s JPMorgan Chase Bank.

The Dime’s nifty neighbor

A handsome five-story office building facing Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, 217 Havemeyer St., probably has a connection to the early 20th-century banking industry.

The name “Huber Building” can be seen on its facade, just below its roofline.

An announcement in the 1906 edition of American Architect says that architect Charles Werner had drawn up a design for the new Huber Building, which Joseph Huber was going to construct.

As we just mentioned, Joseph Huber was the president of First National Bank of Brooklyn, which would be moving to 260 Broadway a couple years later, and also the president of Otto Huber Brewery.

Unless this was another man with the same name, here he is again.

Today the landlord of 217 Havemeyer St. is Weinberger Properties.

By the way, the building belonged to a bank from 1969 through 1985, Finance Department records show. Initially the owner’s name was Royal National Bank of New York. Because of a couple mergers, its name was Chemical Bank by the time the property was sold.

The Huber Building stands on the opposite corner of Havemeyer and South 5th streets from the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh.


The dandy Dime building

The Dime building was constructed between 1906 and 1908.

As we previously reported, the former bank at 209 Havemeyer St. is being incorporated into a 23-story office, retail and residential development.

The neo-Classical Indiana limestone bank was designed by Helmle & Huberty, an important Brooklyn architectural firm of yesteryear.

The Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh was founded in 1864. In 2016 it changed its name to Dime Community Bank.

The branch that was located at 209 Havemeyer St. has moved to nearby 281 Broadway — into a storefront in a newly constructed building called The Williams.  

Don’t be confused. Dime Community Bank is an entirely different financial institution from Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn, whose eye-popping domed building can be found at 9 DeKalb Ave. in Downtown Brooklyn.

The DeKalb Avenue Dime was acquired by Washington Mutual — which was seized by federal regulators in 2008 and sold to JPMorgan Chase.

The iconic DeKalb Avenue building now belongs to developers who are constructing a 1,066-foot-tall tower behind it.



A landmarked bank building is now a cathedral

But more about Williamsburg.

On the north side of South 5th Street you will find the domed Williamsburgh Trust Company Building.

A multi-lane highway that carries traffic on and off the Williamsburg Bridge and onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway separates the Williamsburgh Trust Company Building from the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza bus terminal.

The glam building at 177 South 5th St. has an unusual glazed white terra-cotta facade. It was designed by Helmle, Huberty & Hudswell.

This architecture firm consisted of the same people who designed the nearby Dime building — Frank J. Helmle and Ulrich J. Huberty — plus William H. Hudswell Jr.

The Williamsburgh Trust Company Building’s construction was completed in 1906.

A few years after it moved into the iconic building, the bank closed because of the financial misconduct of its founding family, the Jenkins. A story published in 2016 by website Bedford + Bowery gives a detailed account of these fraudsters’ behavior.  

For more than a half-century, 177 South 5th St. has been the home of Holy Trinity Cathedral-Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The church’s congregation has done a tremendous job of taking care of the historic property, which was designated as a city landmark in 2016.


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