By Robert Beck
The Apple Bank on Broadway and 73rd has a list of names carved into the limestone on the banking room wall. Those were trustees of the Central Savings Bank, with their names and dates of service, back to 1859. The two columns occupy about 30 feet of the wall height, a small portion of the soaring 80-foot elevation.
Apple Bank traces its history back to the Haarlem Savings Bank in 1863, which acquired Central Savings Bank—and this building—in 1961. That became Apple Bank in 1983, but Central’s name remains in prime locations, like over doorways.
The building was constructed in the mid-twenties with a blend of Classical and Modern that the people who design banks in our era find unnecessary. No one goes into this bank without being struck by the architecture. You are compelled to look up. The space expands and lightens your being. You immediately lose seven pounds. I don’t know how many branch banking-rooms like this exist, but there can’t be many.
This year, Apple Bank is celebrating that 160-year line back to the birth of the Haarlem Savings Bank during the Civil War. That’s a long time ago in our country’s development. The Transcontinental Railroad hadn’t been completed. The Brooklyn Bridge hadn’t been built. Edison hadn’t considered a lightbulb. Our country had only recently established a national currency and banking system. Fixed-rate overdraft credit was just a dream.
I was feeling all of that while I painted. It is noticeably quiet in the bank, enough to hear whispers from those names on the wall (all men, and a pretty exclusive group). I wasn’t describing a place, but rather an outlook, with barrel vault ceiling and Italian marble floor, and an extraordinary period leading to a major morning after. History is amazing. This place is a treasure.
The painting took longer than usual due to perspective issues and the wonderful conversations I had with the Apple Bank employees and customers. The way they felt about that room tells me it’s still valid. The stone, the magnificence, the stillness, the dignity. My easel was set up just inside the 73rd Street entrance, to the right. Light spilled from towering windows, striping the floor and counter. I could hear echoes of footsteps, and behind me, the sweep of a revolving door.
Robert Beck’s Rag column will be taking a break while he heads up to Maine. He has some interesting UWS locations lined up to paint and write about when he returns, but meanwhile, you can follow what he’s up to on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/robert.beck.52/ or Instagram @painterbob30
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