One Hanson Place / Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower
The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, at 1 Hanson Place between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street in Brooklyn, New York City, is one of the borough’s architectural icons. It was once the tallest building in the borough, at 37 stories and 512 feet (156 m) tall, but has been surpassed in height by the Brooklyner.
It is among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world. The clock faces, 17 feet in diameter, were the world’s largest when they were installed. Since 2007–08, the building has been converted into luxury condominium apartments under the name One Hanson Place.
It was built in 1927–29 as the new headquarters for the Williamsburgh Savings Bank by the architectural firm Halsey, McCormack and Helmer. It was then owned by the bank’s parent, Republic National Bank, then, via a merger, HSBC, which has since relocated across the street to 118 Flatbush Avenue. For years the building’s offices were notably dentists’ offices; the New York Daily News once called it “The Mecca of Dentistry”.
The building was declared a New York City landmark in 1977, and the interior in 1996. Replacement of windows engendered a lawsuit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission that forced restoration of the original appearance of the windows.
In 2005, Skylight Group One Hanson was created in conjunction with Canyon Capital Realty Advisers, as part of their massive redevelopment of the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building. Located in one of Brooklyn’s most famous landmarks, the Skylight One Hanson event space is composed of the Romanesque Beaux Arts Bank Hall and the Art Deco Vault. Throughout the restoration and redevelopment of the building, great care was taken to preserve the architectural prestige of its marble floors, carved teller stations, magnificent 63-foot vaulted ceiling and the iconic 40-foot mosaic of New York as a Dutch colony. At the same time, Magic Johnson converted the building to luxury loft condominiums in 2006–07, and the tower houses 176 apartments with 138 distinct floor plans, from 295 square foot studios to 3,263 square foot full-floor four-bedroom units. In 2008 CJ Follini and Noyack Medical Partners purchased the commercial half of the famed landmark.
The building, constructed, in a modernized Byzantine-Romanesque style, is located at One Hanson Place, at the corner of Ashland Place, near Times Plaza – the intersection of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth Avenues – and close to the Atlantic Terminal mall, Atlantic Terminal LIRR station, and the Barclays Center. Despite its name, it stands in the Fort Greene/Pacific Park sections of Brooklyn rather than Williamsburg – spelled without the h – where the bank’s original headquarters building by George B. Post still stands. The architects’ plan for the new building did not include a Renaissance style dome on top, but the bank considered a dome such as the one on the original building to be its signature and insisted on one being added – chief architect Robert Helmer noted: “Dome was required by Bank over our dead protests” – with the familiar phallic result: the AIA Guide to New York City calls it “New York’s most exuberant phallic symbol.”
The tower was built with a vast, vaulted banking hall, 63 feet (19 m) high, one of the most famous interiors in New York, facing with limestone and marbles, with mosaics and huge tinted windows containing silhouetted iron cutouts with vignettes of workers, students etc. Above were two floors of banking offices. The rest of the balanced though not symmetrical vertical massing of staggered setbacks in buff-colored brick and architectural terracotta contained rental office spaces.
On the exterior a highly polished shoulder-height dado, veneered with veined and colored Minnesota granite, presents a glistening variegated surface to the pedestrian passing at close distance and offers a discreet inscription near a corner:
TO OUR DEPOSITORS PAST AND PRESENT THIS BUILDING IS DEDICATED. BY THEIR INDUSTRY AND THRIFT THEY HAVE BUILT HOMES AND EDUCATED CHILDREN, OPENED THE DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY TO YOUTH AND MADE AGE COMFORTABLE INDEPENDENT AND DIGNIFIED. BY THOSE STURDY VIRTUES THEY HAVE OBTAINED THEIR AMBITIONS, SWEPT ASIDE THE PETTY DISTINCTIONS OF CLASS AND BIRTH AND SO MAINTAINED THE TRUE SPIRIT OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Carved details around the windows are appealingly literal, in the vein of architecture parlante, speaking of the values of thrift with beehives, squirrels that store nuts, the head of Mercury, god of Commerce, wise owls, and seated lions whose paws protect the bank’s lockbox, with the bank’s monogram on the lock haft. Embedded in the ashlar wall face above are square basreliefs, one on the right of a burglar, whom the depositor understood would be thwarted by the extremely massive 60-ton vault doors in the basement, which stood open for inspection during banking hours.
Chief architect Helmer wrote at the time of the building’s opening that he wanted the building “to be regarded as a cathedral dedicated to the furtherance of thrift and prosperity.” Inside, the low vaulted ceiling of the narthex-like vestibule is mosaiced with tesserae that vary from gray-blue to the most intense turquoise and ultramarine. Glass doors applied with wrought iron screens by René Chambellan depicting the artisan trades open to the vast limestone banking hall, 128 feet (39 m) long, with a central nave divided from side aisles by Romanesque columns with cast-stone capitals. Friezes carved in the two-plane relief manner of Lombard Comacine masons, of foliate scrolls with animal heads, inhabited with human and animal figures, relieve the masonry walls. The ceiling vaults glitter with mosaics of tesserae of gold leaf under glass, embedded with moulded stars and showing the constellations of the Zodiac. The floor is inlaid with various colored marbles in the Cosmatesque manner. At the far end a giant mosaic panel gives a bird’s-eye view of Breuckelen with Manhattan in the distance beyond and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower illuminated in a shaft of sunlight.
The building features a gilded copper dome; carved lions, turtles and birds on the exterior; and a marble banking hall on the ground floor with 63-foot (19 m) vaulted ceilings, 40-foot (12 m) windows and elaborate mosaics; and two abandoned public observation decks with signage describing the Battle of Brooklyn.