09 August 2009

Past Home of the Banana King

The austere building at the corner of Mulberry and Mosco Streets in Chinatown definitely has the look about it of An Address With a Past.

And indeed it does. The columns, the large stone escutcheon, the combination of faux marble and granite, the majestic carved eagle. It all said "Bank" to me.

It was a bank, belong to one Antonio Cuneo, a Piedmonte native who made his way over the U.S. sometime shortly after the Civil War. He was an industrious sort. He quickly climbed from pushcart to grocery to bank, and, then, through his bank, became a financial and real estate giant, owning a great many tenement slums along the notorious (and long gone) "Mulberry Bend." He was called "The Banana King," because he had cornered the fruit market in New York, specifically bananas. You couldn't buy a banana without going through Cuneo.

Cuneo opened his bank at this seemingly obscure corner for a reason. The corner of Mulberry and Mosco (which used to be Park Lane and, before that, Cross Street) was once in the thick of the Five Points slum. Italian immigrants dumped into this criminal intersection would quickly spy his bank and find a friend. Cuneo was beloved because he stayed in the neighborhood, even after he became worth between $4,000,000 and $5,000,000, living at 101 Park (Mosco), right around the corner from his bank.

Cuneo had a messy end. In 1896, he was sent to the Receiving Hospital "to await an examination by the Commissioners of Insanity." He had been found wandering aimlessly, mouthing nonsense. Soon after, in September of that year, he died. People mobbed his funeral.


Harpy said...

That was my good-night story. Thank You excellent in too many ways.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks so much, Harpy. Good night.

Anonymous said...

Wandering aimlessly, mouthing nonsense ... and that differs from modern bank CEO's, how?