Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Obituary of John T. Brook, Jailed After Failure of the Pelham National Bank

Organized in 1921, the Pelham National Bank was a successful little community bank patronized by many Pelham residents.  On January 23, 1925, the bank's Board of Directors named a local real estate developer, John T. Brook, President of the bank.  

Brook began growing the bank and sold additional shares of stock in the bank.  He sold a plot of land he owned to the bank and built the Pelham National Bank Building that still stands at One Wolfs Lane (the former Post Office Building).    

The Pelham National Bank closed on the National Bank Holiday decreed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in March, 1933 and never reopened.  It was discovered that Brook had invested bank assets in the stock market and was insolvent.  Following the bank's failure, Brook was jailed after his Federal conviction for misapplying and misappropriating bank funds and received a five-year sentence.  Eventually, banking regulators were only able to return to Pelham residents pennies on the dollar as reimbursement for their lost deposits.  Some depositors lost much of their life savings.  To read more about the failure, see:  

Bell, Blake A., The Failure of The Pelham National Bank, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 39, Oct. 1, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

Wed., Nov. 30, 2005:  The Pelham National Bank Building in the Village of Pelham.  

Thu., May 05, 2005:  John Thomas Brook, Real Estate Developer and Failed Bank President.

Wed., Feb. 19, 2014:  Dedication of the Post Office in the Pelham National Bank Building and More About Old Post Offices.

Mon., Mar. 23, 2015:  Pelham Residents Ravaged by the Great Depression: Record Sale of Tax Liens Advertised in 1932.

John T. Brook, Ca. 1924-25.
Source:  French, Alvah P., ed., History of Westchester
County New York, Vol. V, pp. 170-71
(NY, NY & Chicago, IL: Lewis Historical Publishing Co. 1925).
NOTE: Click Image To Enlarge.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of the obituary of John T. Brook that appeared on the front page of the October 30, 1942 issue of The Pelham Sun.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source. 

"John T. Brook, Newsboy, Contractor And Millionaire Bank President, Who Lost All During Depression, Is Dead

Meteoric Career of Former President of Pelham National Bank Ended in New York Hospital Following Operations; Built Two Hundred Houses in Pelham, Including Pelnord, Pelbrook Hall and Peldean Apartment Buildings.

John T. Brook of No. 690 Timpson street, Pelham, N. Y., contractor and banker, who began life as a newsboy at the old Grand Union Station in New York, became a millionaire and then lost everything during the financial panic of the late twenties, died in New York Hospital, New York City on Wednesday night after a month's illness.  He was 68 years old and was born in Vincennes, Ind., coming to New York at an early age.  His father and mother were English emigrants, coming from Liverpool.  They operated a general store in a building in West 34th street, New York City.  Tommy Brook as he was then known, delivered the orders before and after school.  Later he fought for his place among the newsboys who gathered around the old Grand Union terminal of the New York Central Railroad.  As a young man he started a trucking business, and at one time had an ash collection contract with the city.

His first adventure in the building and contracting business was forced on him.  He had leased a stable building, and after filling up empty stalls made it so profitable that the owner refused to renew a lease, hoping to take it over and receive the profits himself.  John T. therefore bought a piece of land nearby, and with the assistance of some bricklayer friends, built his own stable and kept his tenants.  His first speculation in real estate in New York brought him a handsome profit and the friendship of a man who was to have much to do with his successful realty speculation, Robert Fulton.  

Coming to Pelham in 1910 after being attracted to the town while looking out of a train window and then discovering it was only 30 miles to Grand Central, Mr. Brook purchased a large tract of land on Fifth avenue and built [illegible] building boom in the Pelhams beginning at Manor lane.  The huge demand for property here in the early twenties found buyers for his properties often before they were finished, sometimes sales being made from plans.

In 1921 he turned his attention to the erection of apartment houses, the Pelbrook Hall being the first and being followed by Peldean, Peldale and Pelnord apartments, beside the building in which The Pelham Sun office is now located.  He founded the Pelham Builders' Supply Co., the Great Eastern Sash & Door Co., and several other realty and building concerns, and during the days of the realty boom in New York and its suburbs, speculared largely and successfully in real estate, so that he became a millionaire.

He had a remarkable memory and an amazing ability for mental arithmetic, and for several years conducted his business transactions from memory.  He was finally compelled by the increasing sweep of his operations to install a large office staff.  In 1921 he was identified financially with the launching of a newspaper in Pelham called the Pelham Free Press, which failed after a life of six weeks.

Mr. Brook was president of Pelham National Bank which was founded in 1921 and opened in August of that year.  He succeeded Loren O. Thompson, its first president in 1926.  At that time he was engaged in building the original Post Office building at 105 Fifth avenue.  The day before it was due to open under Government contract, there was no front and no floor in the building, no lights, no partition furnishings erected.  By working all night with a very large force the post office opened for business the following morning at 8 o'clock.  It was typical of his tremendous energy.

Mr. Brook resigned from the presidency of the Pelham National Bank in November, 1932, being succeeded by Clyde Browne.  When the panic swept the country in March, 1933, the Pelham Bank in common with thousands of others was placed under a conservator's control.  Warnery Pyne was named receiver on July 21, 1933.  Subsequently several directors of the bank were indicted and the former president served a five-year sentence in Lewisburg, then facetiously termed the 'Bank presidents' rest,' on account of the number of former banking officials there.

During the last few years John T. Brook had attempted to stage a comeback in building speculatively in New Rochelle.

He leaves a widow, Fanny Dean Brook; two sons, John R. of New York and Thomas L. of Toronto, Canada; and a daughter, Mrs. Nicholas Vardalis of Tuckahoe.  

Funeral services will take place at the George T. Davis Memorial Chapel in New Rochelle today at 2 p. m.  Interment will be in Kensico.  The Rev. Herbert H. Brown, pastor emeritus of the Church of the Redeemer will officiate."

Source:  John T. Brook, Newsboy, Contractor And Millionaire Banke President, Who Lost All During Depression, Is Dead, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 30, 1942, Vol. 32, No. 30, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  

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