I know, as a New Yorker, one is expected to embrace change, but there are times when I just can’t do it. Case in point: Chase has shuttered its iconic bank branch at 43rd and Fifth and I’m pissed and sad about it at once. The crisp glass box, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM, is [was?] one of the city’s great masterworks of modern architecture. It opened in 1954 as a Manufacturer’s Hanover, with its signature vault daringly visible from the street. A ride up its escalator deposited you in a limpid open hall, with a Harry Bertoia screen in the back.
I knew the branch well, as I’ve written a couple of books out of the NYPL, which is just a block away and I do my banking at Chase. I made it a point to deposit important checks there. It was an edifying space. It made you feel good to be in it, but not in a nostalgic, Mad Men kind of way, because it was still operational, not a museum piece. I liked to stand on the upper level and just look out the window and watch the traffic on the avenue below: the Lubavitchers across the street, hustling office drones, street dancers, tourists walking along oblivious. How different it was from the traditional bank branch of an earlier time — think imposing classical facade of rusticated stone — and also the contemporary vulgarization of its own modern aesthetic.
Now the Bertoia screen is down and I know there’s a lot of concern as to its fate. I’m concerned as well, but to me that’s secondary to the hard blow that the bank might no longer be a bank. I suspect its fate will be similar to the wonderful old Scribner’s bookstore designed by Ernest Flagg just 5 blocks north on Fifth. It’s now a discount cosmetics retailer. That stinks.
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