Mount Morris Bank Building, 1883, Harlem

January 9, 2014

This is the 1883 Mount Morris Bank Building (it was expanded in 1897). This was the only branch and the headquarters for this bank. Eventually the Corn Exchange Bank, a fore – runner of Chemical Bank, took it over. The Mount Morris Bank, which was chartered in 1880 to serve the growing community of Harlem, originally was situated at 125th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Still a suburb at that time, Harlem had had its own railroad stop at 125th Street and Park Avenue since 1837.

The bank prospered and in 1883 built a building that combined bank offices (on the lower three floors) and apartments (the top four floors) across from the station at 125th and Park.

It is one of Manhattan’s most picturesque buildings (as shown in this original drawing above), designed by the noted architectural firm of Lamb and Rich as a mixed use residential and commercial building. It was originally a five story red brick and stone building with a combination of Queen Anne and Romanesque styles. It’s an architectural stew of rock-faced brownstone, stepped gables, window bays and chimneys projecting above a peaked roof. The building had three arched entrances on 125th Street: one for the apartments, one with steps leading down to the vault area and one at the corner – a grand, projecting brownstone porch that served as the main entrance to the bank.

Harlem always has historical events, this one took place in this bank when a Corn Exchange teller grew suspicious of a depositor’s $10 gold certificate. It turned out to be part of the ransom paid for Charles Lindbergh’s kidnapped infant son. The certificate was traced to Bruno Hauptmann, who was arrested within the week and eventually executed for the baby’s murder.

The building survived through the 1970’s but by the late ’70’s the building was basically abandoned. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The City tried to seal up the building by cinder blocking all the openings on the lower floors. In 1997 a fire took off the top two floors.

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