What remains of an 1881 bank at Mulberry Bend

I’ve always been curious about the formidable entrance of this ordinary brick building at Mulberry and Mosco Streets in Chinatown.

This corner has an illustrious past. For much of the 19th century it was a particularly dicey part of the old Five Points slum known as Mulberry Bend (below, at the point where this former cow path literally bends).

By the turn of the 20th century it was a central part of the teeming “Italian Colony,” as some called it, aka Little Italy.

The building entrance is designed to communicate strength and power: marble columns, terra cotta ornamentation, steps that elevate visitors above the sidewalk, all topped by a mean-looking eagle with wings spread, ready to take flight.

What was this Greek temple–like entrance for, exactly? A bank.

Number 28 Mulberry was once the doorway for the Banco Italia, which in 1881 served the growing Italian immigrant community pouring into Mulberry Bend.

The founder was Antonio Cuneo (left), who arrived in the New York in the 1850s. (In the above photo with the oyster vendor, 28 Mulberry can be seen without its decked-out entrance.)

Cuneo made his money first by selling nuts and fruits from a pushcart, operating a grocery store and fruit importing concern that made him the city’s “banana king,” then buying up real estate.

Though Banco Italia’s showstopping doorway may have convinced many newcomers to open accounts there, Cuneo was something of a shady character.

“In 1887, a United States Congressional investigation found that the bank operated under a padrone system, a labor arrangement where the bank, for a fee, operated an agency in Naples that coordinated prepaid steamer tickets and requests for underpaid labor,” states The Big Onion Guide to Historic New York City.

This didn’t diminish Cuneo in the eyes of his community. When he died in 1896, hundreds packed St. Gioacchino’s Church on Roosevelt Street. An overflow crowd of mourners on the street was so large, a police detail was brought in.

The bank now houses a funeral home, and the ornate entrance seems strangely appropriate.

[Second photo: NYPL; fourth photo: NYPL;

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6 Responses to “What remains of an 1881 bank at Mulberry Bend”

  1. bobby knapp Says:

    At our face book page ‘The New York Photo Detectives’, we covered the classic street vender photo of that intersection and solved the mystery of the turn of the century Italian Pharmacy and doctor’s office, just across the street, on the NW corner Of Mulberry and Mosco Sts! Check it out! https://www.facebook.com/groups/1780786712241755/permalink/1962964254023999/

  2. Shayne Davidson Says:

    My father’s cousin, J. lee Dabbs, got in on the ground floor of Bank of America when it was founded as the Bank of Italy in San Francisco after the earthquake in 1904. He made a bundle of money, probably not all of it legally.

  3. Ken Sacharin Says:

    Uncle Sam was born here (i.e., there). In the 1830s, 27 Mulberry Street (an address which has been obliterated by today’s Columbus Park) was a tenement across the street from No. 28. No. 27 was a rendezvous for the feared Dead Rabbits gang. It was also the birthplace of Uncle Sam. In 1823, Daniel McLaren was born at No. 27. By the 1860s, McLaren, under the name Dan Rice, was America’s most famous clown. He once performed his act for Abraham Lincoln. McLaren’s costume featured his signature red-and-white-striped silk pants with velvet trim. Wearing these trousers, Rice became the visual inspiration for “Uncle Sam”. Uncle Sam has at least two more New York City connections. On March 1, 1810, Isaac Mayo, a 16-year-old midshipman on the U.S.S. Wasp, wrote a letter from his post at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in which he referred to the United States as Uncle Sam. A century later, James Montgomery Flagg based his image of Uncle Sam on Rice. Flagg created the most famous recruiting poster of all time–the World War I era ‘Uncle Sam wants YOU for the U.S. Army!’

    P.S. this is from herewas (herewas.com).

    P.S.S. I adore ephemeralnewyork. I have not missed a week in years!

  4. martha Says:

    I did a pen sketch of this lovely, ornate doorway last year, the Wah Wing Sang Funeral Home. I love it!
    https://midgeworks.com/2017/01/30/chinatown-new-york-city/

  5. Timothy Grier Says:

    Another interesting post. One nit – I believe it is the Banca Italia not Banco Italia.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    I went to a funeral at the funeral home there once…I vaguely remember that entrance.

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