Fort Greene

You can soon party inside one of Brooklyn’s most famous buildings

An events venue is in the works at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Clocktower Building.

June 25, 2019 Lore Croghan
A look at some of the details in the famous banking hall. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
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The owner of the landmarked banking hall inside the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Clocktower Building plans to turn the iconic space into an events venue.

Madison Realty Capital owns the glamorous ground floor and basement at the 1920s clock-topped Fort Greene skyscraper, which is arguably Brooklyn’s most famous building — and, not arguably, once its tallest.

The real estate firm has tried to rent out the vacant banking hall as retail space, but it turns out that people want to use it “to shoot movies, have parties and have events,” Nick Liberis of architecture firm Archimaera said at a city Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on Tuesday.

His presentation materials included architectural drawings of the space set up as a banquet hall and as an auditorium.

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To maximize the use of the space when staging events, Liberis devised a way to put wheels on the big tables that are usually permanent fixtures in the banking hall. The tables will only be moved from where they now stand when there’s an event, he told the commissioners.

Sunlight glows in 40-foot windows in the Williamsburgh Bank’s landmarked banking hall. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Sunlight glows in 40-foot windows in the Williamsburgh Bank’s landmarked banking hall. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

They thought the movable tables would make the banking hall easier to use as an events venue, and voted unanimously to approve the design.

“To me, it never made sense for the banking hall to be a retail space,” Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy said before the vote.

It is so far unclear whether Madison Realty Capital plans to lease the space to a third-party operator or will itself handle events bookings at the banking hall.

This was the second time Madison Realty Capital has received the LPC’s approval to change the Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s interior.

The first occasion was in January 2017, when the real estate investor got the go-ahead to open up passageways through teller cages where bank workers formerly sat.

Architecture firm Halsey, McCormack & Helmer designed the neo-Romanesque skyscraper. It was an office tower when it was constructed in the late 1920s. Now it’s a condo building.

City landmarking usually applies solely to buildings’ exteriors. The interiors of just a few Brooklyn properties are considered so architecturally significant that they, too, have received landmark designations.

Many Brooklyn residents have seen 1 Hanson Place’s eye-popping banking hall. It has 40-foot-tall arched windows, a vaulted ceiling with the signs of the zodiac, a mosaic mural of Henry Hudson’s ship and an intricately patterned marble floor.

People who aren’t old enough to have been customers of HSBC Bank, which operated a branch in the space until 2004, probably attended Smorgasburg there.

For several years, the banking hall hosted Brooklyn Flea vendors on its ground floor and Smorgasburg food sellers in the basement during the markets’ fall and winter seasons.

Madison Realty Capital purchased the banking hall as a retail condominium for $18 million in 2015, city Finance Department records indicate.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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