The vintage interior of a 1927 bank building that’s now home to a CVS

Repurposed buildings are the story of New York City real estate. New businesses moving into and taking over the space of a defunct company is nothing unusual.

But sometimes it can be startling—especially when the old company was housed in a fortress-like brick and limestone building resembling a Greek temple and as tall as a tenement, and the new business is a CVS.

That’s the case with a former bank branch on Amsterdam Avenue and 96th Street. Opened in 1927 as the East River Savings Bank and enlarged in 1932, the building is the kind of imposing edifice popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries with financial institutions that banks don’t construct anymore.

Neo-Classical in style with columns facing the street on two sides, the sober, solid building was meant to convey that your money and valuable were safe. In an era with fewer financial regulations and more bank failures, this must have been quite reassuring to potential customers.

The inscriptions above the bank’s entrance were meant to reassure customers as well. “Quotations from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln celebrating the virtues of saving decorate the bank’s principal facade, while Theodore Roosevelt’s words graced the West 96th Street facade,” notes the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s report.

The exterior of the bank has had landmark status since 1998, not long after the East River Savings Bank and a subsequent bank closed their doors, leaving the building empty.

The interior, however, is a different story. Off to the sides of the store shelves are some remnants of the former bank—perhaps very decorative entrances, or maybe areas where customers queued up for bank tellers.

A row of vintage wood phone booths (minus the phones, unfortunately) with those iconic folding doors are hidden behind an umbrella rack and halloween candy.

A bank clock with Roman numerals is set inside a lovely iron railing above the ice cream section, under florescent lighting and security cameras.

The CVS moved into the former bank building at least a decade ago, so it’s odd that they never bothered in all that time to renovate the interior. I’m not complaining; it’s a treat to see these remains of early 20th century New York City.

This isn’t the only old bank building repurposed for a drugstore chain. Downtown on Spring and Lafayette Streets, Duane Reade colonized another stunning old-school bank…also once home to an East River Savings Bank branch.

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18 Responses to “The vintage interior of a 1927 bank building that’s now home to a CVS”

  1. Marion B Says:

    Corner of 8th/14th had 3 banks. Now one is CVS, one is Museum of Illusions, and one remains a bank. The first two have had several tenants since the banks closed. I remember a carpet store, spa, and supermarket at least.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I used to live near this corner and I remember the carpet store and spa—I think it was a men’s spa. One of these bank buildings was a Balducci’s for a few years.

  2. bloomingdaler Says:

    It’s all still there. Above the dropped ceiling, marble pilasters soar up to a magnificent coffered ceiling. Maybe it’s waiting to become a bank once again in the future…… or at least a much more elegant CVS.

  3. Carrie Says:

    A history professor of mine once pointed out that in America, the early banks were built like temples, to assure immigrants that their money was not just safe but sacred. And also in America, the local churches (not Catholic) were built like houses – small, one storey, wooden, friendly – to reflect the nw country’s separation from established religions. So the banks are now destroyed (e.g. the architectural gem on Cathedral Parkway near Broadway demolished and replaced by an expensive high rise and grocery store) and the churches are growing in size and style and cost, except for the storefront churches, of course. Real estate values have replaced religious importance.

  4. Nancy McGuire Says:

    I believe that the now CVS on 14th st. and 8th. Ave. was, formally, a bank.

  5. GC Says:

    On 14th and 8th there’s another cvs in an old bank building with amazing high domed ceilings and Greek columns etc.

  6. GC Says:

    On 14th and 8th there’s another cvs in an old bank building with amazing high domed ceilings and Greek columns etc.

  7. velovixen Says:

    I love that clock.

    You make a great point about the exterior architecture: that it was intended to convey security and stability. I also find the interiors of those old bank branches interesting: Their spaces, with their high ceilings and arched doorways make me think the men who commissioned them envisioned cathedrals of capitalism.

  8. petlover1948 Says:

    There is a Rite Aid (I think,) that was a bank on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood

  9. Gary Says:

    I was going to bring the Duane Reade to your attention but I see you got it in at the last moment!!

  10. Bill Wolfe Says:

    When I was living in Brooklyn while attending City College in 1980-81, I did my banking at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, located at 1 Hanson Place, near the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. After consulting Google Maps, it appears the building is still there, but I don’t think it’s a bank anymore. That bank truly conveyed the sense of entering a temple of money.

  11. Marco Romano Says:

    Many of the old banks in this country imitated Greek temples. Mammon is what many Americans worship.

  12. carlagolden Says:

    Is the Montclair Children’s School in the upper portion of the building over CVS? I see the name on the corner over the CVS sign.

  13. What the figures on the doors of a Third Avenue Gap store tell us about the building | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] all over New York City have been repurposed for other businesses—here’s one on the Upper West Side that now serves as a CVS, and another on Lafayette Street that’s become a Duane […]

  14. Lynne G Says:

    Hi Esther,
    I always enjoy your stories of ephemeral NY even though and especially because I have moved to Florida which has very little ephemeral beauty. :((
    I also have your amazing book and was at a tea you spoke at up in Connecticut about 5 years ago.
    I don’t know how much you get out to Brooklyn but in Bay Ridge there is a beautiful bank building on Bay Ridge Parkway (75th St.) and 5th Ave. It is still used as a bank but it was originally the Lincoln Savings Bank which still has the original huge painted murals and quotes from President Lincoln decorating the walls. I used to study the paintings as I waited on line for the teller! Try to check it out if you can. It’s beautiful!
    Thank you for your always interesting observations and stories!
    Lynne

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for the support Lynne! I would like to see this Lincoln Bank building, especially because of the interior you described. Hopefully I can get out there in time for a Presidents’ Day post, assuming the murals and quotes are still there.

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