The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

gleaming sands

with 4 comments

How the other half lives, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pals at Atlas Obscura rang me up and asked if I’d be interested in shooting at one of their events in Brooklyn, and since this offered an opportunity to leave the house (a rare treat during this winter of frozen discontent), I packed up Our Lady of the Pentacle and my camera bag and we set off for Williamsburg. Now, I don’t spend a lot of time around these parts, can’t afford it, but its also nice to see how the other half lives.

from wikipedia

Williamsburg is a neighborhood of 113,000 inhabitants in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, bordering Greenpoint to the north, Bedford–Stuyvesant to the south, Bushwick and Ridgewood, Queens to the east and the East River to the west. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 1. The neighborhood is served by the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s 90th Precinct. In the City Council, the western and southern part of the neighborhood is represented by the 33rd District; and the eastern part of the neighborhood is represented by the 34th District.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building at 175 Broadway, a building erected just 10 years after the Civil War. A famous structure, its the domed building you can’t help but notice when exiting the Williamsburg Bridge, at least when you’re on the Brooklyn side.

from wikipedia

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank was an important institution in Brooklyn, New York, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. A series of bank mergers brought it into the HSBC group late in the 20th century. (It is not to be confused with the nearby Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh, now known simply as the DIME, a rival local institution that has remained independent.) It is best remembered for two imposing headquarters buildings still standing, the domed original at 175 Broadway in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, designed by George B. Post, and the later Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As transmitted by our hosts, the tale of the WSB includes decades of neglect, wear, and tear. The current owners acquired it just a few years ago (and of course it was controversial, it’s in North Brooklyn, not Queens) and set upon a radical architectural restoration of the bank. Pictured is the meticulous work found on the first of the interior domes.


To build a new edifice for the WBS the board of trustees hired George B. Post (1837-1913), a man who had just finished the important Equitable Life Assurance Building (1868-1870), was at present finishing the Western Union Building (1873-1875), and who would later go on to design the icon of money, the market, and capitalism in 1903. Architecturally speaking and with vast hindsight, it was upon the hiring of Post that the WBS secured itself as a structural institution and landmark in Brooklyn. For it is through the tie to its architect that this structurally impressive building gains even more notoriety; George B. Post would later go on to design City College (1886-1906), the Brooklyn Historical Society (1881), the New York Stock Exchange (1903), and other notable buildings throughout the country.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were three buildings here, the 1875 original and an early 20th century addition (1906, I think) – both domed – and a 1940’s era office building of pedestrian design. The domed buildings were landmarked, but the office building was not and it was torn down. There are plans to erect a modern hotel on the property, a mammoth 40 story affair. The former bank will act as an event space for the hotel.

for a Landmarks Preservation Committee document generated by municipal authorities back in 1996, click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the second dome, which I seem to recall as being of 1906 vintage, but might be misstating the date. The oculus in the center was actually boarded up during the Second World War and remained so until the restoration process began. In case you’re curious, yes, I laid down on the floor in the center of the room and shot straight up.


When Brooklyn hostel owner Juan Figueroa purchased the Williamsburgh Savings Bank for $4.5 million in 2010, the rumor was that he planned to convert the historic bank building into a hotel. That would have been difficult, though, since the structure is an exterior, interior, and national landmark. The actual plan, it turned out, was to meticulously restore it and turn it into an event space and banquet hall, and place a 40-story hotel right next door.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other half lives in Williamsburg, I’m told. The Brooklyn patois pronunciation for this neighborhood is “Willemsboig” and my parents – who used to bank with the company once located here – called it “Da Willemsboig Savins Banks.” They stayed with the company all the way till it became HSBC. That’s brand loyalty, folks. Back tomorrow with a few more shots from within the lush interior, including some details on the vault.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 18, 2014 at 7:30 am

4 Responses

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  1. Your article on the Williamsburg Savings Bank is just wonderful. Thanks so much for providing a travelogue to seniors who are homebound, and/or may not get out to Williamsburg to see the bank.

    Ellen Imbimbo



    February 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

  2. Ellen Imbimbo’s comments apply to those of us far off in New Mexico.


    February 18, 2014 at 3:32 pm

  3. […] yesterday’s post – “gleaming sands” – the story of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building at 175 Broadway in Brooklyn was […]

  4. […] former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, over in North Brooklyn, has been laboriously restored to the glories typical of the era of […]

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