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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bronze Work at the Pelham National Bank Building


One of the most visible signs of the tragedy of the Great Depression in Pelham was the failure of the Pelham National Bank.  Organized in 1921, the bank was a successful little community bank patronized by many Pelham residents.  On January 23, 1925, the bank's fortunes changed.  Its Board of Directors named a local real estate developer flush with cash from the real estate bubble of the Roaring Twenties, John T. Brook, President of the bank. 

Brook began growing the bank and sold additional shares of stock in the institution.  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 building cost the bank an astounding $250,000.00 to build and opened on September 14, 1929, only six weeks before the Black Tuesday stock market crash of October 29, 1929. 

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.  The bank was insolvent.  Following the bank's failure, Brook was jailed after his Federal conviction for misapplying and misappropriating bank funds.  He 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 their life savings.  To read more about the failure, see the list of articles, with links, at the end of today's posting.  

The failure of the Pelham National Bank meant that plans to expand the structure from its three stories, when built, to nine stories.  Indeed, the plans for expansion of the building were so serious that it was built to support the additional construction and an architectural rendering showing what it would look like once expanded was published locally.



Architect's Rendering for the Planned Pelham National Bank
Building. Many Pelham Residents Do Not Realize that the Building
Was Built with the Grandiose Plan to Enable it to Expand to Nine
Stories as the Bank Grew.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Construction of the Pelham National Bank Building, 1 Wolfs Lane, was completed in 1929.  The building was designed by Holmes & Winslow, Architects.  It is a three story corner bank building with painted limestone façades on two elevations and with brick on the south side and rear.  It has a flat roof with a dentillated parapet with carved stone frieze in bas relief.  There are four pilasters on the front façade, two of which flank a monumental two-story, arched center entrance with a massive bronze doorway with grilles. 



Pelham National Bank Building, 1 Wolfs Lane, in 2014.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

When the Pelham National Bank Building opened on September 14, 1929, one of its most significant features was several tons worth of bronze castings used as architectural and decorative features including the monumental two-story arched center entrance.  The bronze work was cast by the Eagle Bronze Works of Mount Vernon, New York.

The Eagle Bronze Works was established in 1919 by Pelham resident L. John Gulatsi who has had many years' experience as a bronze craftsman.  In 1924, the company took over the Henry Bonnar Bronze Company of Mount Vernon, a firm which had existed for fifty years.  The entire Bonnard organization of skilled bronze workers became associated with the Eagle Bronze Works.  The Eagle Bronze Works became widely-renowned for the craftsmanship and quality of its work.  

In addition to its bronze work at the Pelham National Bank Building, the company crafted bronze pieces installed elsewhere in Pelham.  For example, it cast the memorial tablet in the foyer of Pelham Memorial High School, a tablet at Memorial Park, and the tablets installed on the First Fire District headquarters.  It also cast a bronze bust of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt that American Legion Post 50 presented to Pelham Memorial High School during the 1920s.  

The company also cast significant works that were installed in locations throughout the United States.  For example, it cast elements of the Bronx War Memorial at the entrance to the Bronx Parkway, the Spanish-American War Memorial in Mount Vernon, and the Ledgard Flagpole at Yale University.  It cast the beautiful bronze ticket windows, rails, and other bronze features incorporated in Grand Central Terminal and the aluminum tower of the Standard Oil building in New York City.  

At the Pelham National Bank Building, the company cast the bronze ornamental grillwork and features associated with the massive outer doors.  It crafted two bronze tablets on the outside of the building and a dedication tablet within the foyer.  It also crafted the bronze work on the tellers' cages, and the screen in front of the huge safe deposit vault.  Indeed, by the time of its work for the Pelham National Bank Building, the Eagle Bronze Works already had crafted similar bronze castings for a host of other banks including the Mount Vernon Trust Company, The American National Bank in Mt. Vernon, the Guarantee Trust Company in Atlantic City, and the South Norwalk Trust Company in South Norwalk, Connecticut.

It is difficult to ignore the beauty of the bronze works that form an important part of the Pelham National Bank Building each time one passes the lovely structure.  The Eagle Bronze Works, formed by Pelhamites, is responsible for that beauty.



John T. Brook in About 1925 When He Became President of
Pelham National Bank. 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 on Image to Enlarge.

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"Bronze Work In New Bank Building Manufactured At Eagle Bronze Works
-----
Several Tons Of Metal Used In Casting Of Bronze Work For Pelham National Bank Building.  Two Prominent Pelhamites At Head Of Company

Bronze plays an important part in the decoration and security scheme of the new Pelham National Bank Building.  All the bronze work in the new building was designed and manufactured at the plant of the Eagle Bronze Works, Inc., in Mount Vernon.  This firm has earned an enviable reputation for the production of bronze for banking houses, and its work has been used in construction of many of the outstanding banks and public buildings in the Eastern states.

Pelham has a marked interest in the work of the Eagle Bronze Works, Inc.  Two of its chief executives made their homes in the Pelhams for many years, and are well known here.  L. John Gulatsi, president, and his son Richard L. Gulatsi, 1st vice-president and treasurer, until recently made their home on Eighth avenue.  The latter a veteran of the World War, was for two years commander of Pelham Post No. 50, American Legion.

Inspecting the new bank building, one is first impressed by the ornamental grillwork in bronze at the outer doors.  Two bronze tablets outside, and the dedication tablet within the foyer are examples of the tablet work of the Eagle Bronze Works.

Bronze work on the tellers' cages, and the screen in front of the huge Safe deposit vault afford another example of the widely diversified work of the company.  Similar work has been installed for the Mount Vernon Trust Co., The American National Bank, in Mt. Vernon; the Guarantee Trust Co., in Atlantic City and the South Norwalk Trust Co., in South Norwalk, Conn.

The ticket windows, rails, etc. in the Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and the aluminum tower of the Standard Oil building in New York City were also produced by the Eagle Bronze Works.

Here in the Pelhams there are several examples of the work of the Gulatsi's.  The memorial tablet in Pelham Memorial High School, the tablet at Memorial Park in North Pelham, the tablets on the First Fire District fire headquarters were cast at the company's plant.  

Not alone is their work confined to bronze building construction.  The company has repeatedly received high commendation for its portrait and monument work.  The bronze bust of Col. Theodore Roosevelt which was presented to Pelham Memorial High School by the American Legion, is a striking example of the portrait work.  Then, too, there are innumerable monuments and statues which have been erected throughout the Eastern states which have been not only manufactured but many of them designated also by the craftsmen at the Eagle Bronze Works.

Notable among these are the Bronx war memorial at the entrance to the Bronx Parkway, The Spanish-American War memorial in Mt. Vernon and the Ledgard flagpole at Yale University.

The company was recently commissioned to design and cast a bronze tablet to be erected at the new Brazil bridge in South America.  Distant orders include the bronze work for the new sub-treasury building in San Francisco; the city hall building in Cleveland, the public library in Detroit and a new bank in Honolulu.

In addition to its own staff of designers the Eagle Bronze Works does work for all the leading sculptors in the United States and many in foreign countries.  It is highly recommended by the country's greatest architects, and its officers are frequently called in to assist with the preliminary plans in designing the bronze work for construction of public buildings.

Bronze work figures largely in the safety scheme of bank construction.  Its great strength and tenacity make it of great value for the construction of banking screens, and grills at tellers' cages, vaults in counting rooms, and silver and fur vaults.  Few other metals apply themselves so readily to architecture and design and have sufficient strength to assure security.

The Eagle Bronze Works was established ten years ago, by L. John Gulatsi who has had many years' experience as a bronze craftsman.  Five years ago the company took over the Henry Bonnar Bronze Co. of Mount Vernon, a firm which had existed for fifty years previous.  The entire Bonnard organization of skilled bronze workers became associated with the Eagle Bronze Works.

Recently a new plant was opened on Bleeker street, Mt. Vernon and it has been there that all the bronze for the new Pelham National Bank building was designed, cast and finished.

The officers of the company are as follows:  L. John Gulatsi, president; first vice-president and treasurer, Richard L. Gulatsi; second vice-president, John R. Gould; third vice-president, Warren R. Fiske; secretary, John Fesler.  Jacob F. Arnold is plant manager."

Source:  Bronze Work In New Bank Building Manufactured At Eagle Bronze Works -- Several Tons Of Metal Used In Casting Of Bronze Work For Pelham National Bank Building.  Two Prominent Pelhamites At Head Of Company, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 13, 1929, p. 26, cols. 1-3.  

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I have written before about the Pelham National Bank, its failure during the Great Depression, and the Pelham National Bank Building.  For examples, 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.

Mon., Apr. 13, 2015:  Obituary of John T. Brook, Jailed After Failure of the Pelham National Bank.

Fri., Jun. 05, 2015:  Another Pelham Mystery: Why Was the Planned Site of the Pelham National Bank Building Moved?

Fri., Aug. 14, 2015:  The Massive Real Estate Boom of the Roaring Twenties in the Little Town of Pelham.


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