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03.22.2011
Money in the Bank
Defunct Williamsburgh Savings to become catering hall and arts venue.
Tom Stoelker / The Architect's Newspaper

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, purchased this past December by Juan Figueroa for $4.5 million, is set to become a catering hall, concert space, and art gallery.  Project manager Carlos Perez San Martin said Figueroa plans to spend $1.5 million to $2 million on restoring the bank located at the corner of Broadway and Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The owner has yet to face the scrutiny of the community board and preservationists, but San Martin, who is also Figueroa’s cousin, noted that the owner has already restored one building in the borough: the warehouse in Bushwick that houses the New York Loft Hostel.

Williamsburg Savings Bank.   Williamsburg Savings Bank.   Williamsburg Savings Bank
Left to right: Architect jorge Bosch, detail of dome interior, exterior detail.
[Click to enlarge.]
 

The 25, 000 square foot bank building is divided into three sections. The main neo-classical building was built between1870 and 1875 and designed by George B. Post, architect of the New York Stock Exchange and City College. Post added a smaller domed addition in 1905. The original structure has a landmarked interior and exterior. Only the exterior is landmarked on the later building. The third section, an addition built in the 1940s, sits on a separate lot and is not landmarked at all. When the scaffolding went up on that structure a few months back, the blogosphere lit up with speculation. While the owner was not divulging much information, zoning would permit a residential tower and ground floor retail.

New York-based architect Jorge Bosch will oversee the restoration. Bosch was “astonished” on first encountering the majestic building while visiting Peter Luger several years ago. He was equally thrilled when he received the commission to lead the renovation. The architect has already drawn up plans for the basement, which will house the kitchen facilities (in a nod to the Hasidic neighbors, a separate kosher kitchen will be installed).  Workers have already cleared and whitewashed the space. When asked if there were any serious structural problems that need immediate attention, Bosch said they’ve adopted a plan- as-you-go approach. “If we find some problems, we’ll address it,” he said. “We are at the very beginning, you know, only three months in, so we’re still searching and thinking about what to do.”

Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank

 

Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank
Clockwise from top left:  atrium at rear of the 1908 building, door knob with bank logo, detail of safe Mechanism, oculus of the 1908 dome, Inside the main dome, and corner of Broadway and Driggs.
[Click to enlarge.]
 

Elsewhere in the vast complex, though it hasn’t been determined exactly where, the owner plans to install a “museum,” though it sounds more like a rotating gallery. “We don’t know what sort of museum,” said San Martin. “We started talking with Juan about Latin American art, but it definitely will be a place for Brooklyn artists. Brooklyn doesn’t have a place to show all Brooklyn artists together.” As far as ambitions for the performance space is concerned, San Martin said he doesn’t necessarily foresee Metallica coming, but he wouldn’t rule it out. “It would be wonderful to have classical or blues or jazz, but we will not be bound to one type of style,” he said.

Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank   Williamsburg Savings Bank.
Left to right:  Interior Cornice detail from main building, view of manhattan from cupola, view of cupola from roof.
[Click to enlarge.]
 

But as running a catering operation remains the main focus, it’s unclear how and when the general public will get access to see the art or hear the music. The new owner plans to offer in-house catering in addition renting to outside operators and has already consulted with several firms to understand their needs, suggesting a comparison with Cipriani on 42nd Street or Skylight One Hanson, an event hall in another renovated Williamburgh Savings Bank in Downtown Brooklyn, would appropriate. “Our goal is to have every night of the year rented,” said San Martin.

Tom Stoelker