30 January 2008

Banks, Beautifiers of Yesteryear, Crudifiers of Today

I recently had occasion to step inside the old Greenwich Savings Bank at 36th and Broadway, now rented out for posh events as Gotham Hall. What a gleaming, glorious temple it was/is inside. Columns, gilding, a high-domed central hall, beautiful coffered ceiling elsewhere, a grand chandelier. All for a bank, where you might take your sockful of quarters for safe-keeping. It's a banking Parthenon. After that I walked around a bit and began noticing all the great marble and stone edifices, now abandoned or converted into condos, that were once bank branches. What the moneymen once did to beautify our City! Sure, they did it for their own ego-driven purposes as well, but everyone in eyeshot benefited a little.

And look at what banks do today. Slap up cruddy, jerrybilt, boxy, soulless branches in every lowslung, ground-grubbing cubbyhole they can find, spraying their numbingly plastic palate of primary colors (blue, red, yellow, white, blue, red, blue, blue, blue...) all over the place, injuring the corneas of all passersby with their blinding, insistent boldness. Plastic pens, plastic ATM booths, cubicles and floor rugs. No gild, no marble, no brass, no height, no breadth, no air. The Citibanks, in particular, remind me of public toilets. Commerce branches make me think of Staples. And Washington Mutuals, which its floating rings of solo teller desks, like so many cashiers, come off like cell phone stores.

C'mon bankers. You'd got bags of money. Show a little self-respect. And a little respect for the City as well.


J$ said...

agreed on all points except for the plastic pens. a bin of free working pens is a huge improvement over the non-working pen on a chain of yore.

commerce branches usually have nice marble floors, and respectfully tasteful interiors. chase & citibank are literally like cattle pens for both customers and workers.

Lidian said...

Movie theatres are similar to banks in this regard - public gathering spaces that were once profound and are now plastic boxes.

Anonymous said...

I still can't figure out why so many bank branches are opening. Haven't ATM's and online banking and direct-deposit paychecks rendered physical branches semi-obsolete?

L'Emmerdeur said...

Physical branches are not there to provide service, they are dirt-cheap billboards. How many actual billboards do you think you could rent for $30k per month in Manhattan? - let alone street-level, in-your-face billboards?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, j$, but I gotta disagree. Commerce Banks are the bottom-feeders here. They look like something out of a mid-80s nightmare. And a cheap nightmare at that. Only they exist in a world with the knowledge that mid-80s tackiness sucks.

Lisanne said...

Lets face it. NOBODY does it like they used to anymore. We live in a homogenized, carpmentalized (pardon the spellling!) society. Detail is frowned upon.

Come to the shindig on Saturday at Freddy's February 2nd...where i try to relive the early 80's era of nYC of whence i grew up, where people of all ages and bands that do not relate to each other, but all dress fabulously merge.