What the figures on the doors of a Third Avenue Gap store tell us about the building

The front doors caught my eye first. Heavy and bronze, these two doors at the entrance of the Gap store at Third Avenue and 85th Street feature intricate carvings and curious allegorical figures reminiscent of ancient Greece.

On one door, a woman balances a locomotive engine in her left hand and grips a caduceus in the right. Behind her is a sailing ship, and beside her head are the words “commerce and industry.”

The man on the opposite door holds a staff with a beehive at the top. In his other hand is a key, and at his feet a cornucopia. “Finance and savings” is inscribed at his shoulder.

Classical figures like these are pretty much the last thing you’d expect to find as you walk into the Gap. But the same set of doors also exist on the 85th Street side of the building, and the allegorical images offer a solid clue about what this unusually dignified building in the heart of Yorkville was built for.

The building was once the home of Yorkville Bank—an Italian Renaissance Revival structure built to serve this growing middle- and working-class immigrant neighborhood in 1905, according to a 2012 Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

The cast-bronze doors, fabricated by John Polachek Bronze & Iron Company of Long Island City, arrived after a renovation in the 1920s.

Four stories of limestone, brick, terra cotta, and granite, the building has the imposing, fortress-like look of a typical bank building from turn of the century New York City—when savings bank failures weren’t uncommon and financial institutions wanted to instill a sense of trust and strength to entice potential customers.

The allegorical figures are part of this strength and trust. The train the woman holds is a symbol of industry; the caduceus suggests commerce, according to the LPC report. The key in the man’s hands represents prudence, and the cornucopia is a sign of plenty.

The beehive is a traditional symbol of thrift, one found on the remains of other former bank buildings across Gotham.

Yorkville Bank’s rise and fall (above, about 1940) seem to mimic the rise and fall of Yorkville. A solid neighborhood bank in the first part of the 20th century, it merged with Manufacturer’s Trust Company in the 1920s. Business slowed as Yorkville’s German, Hungarian, and Czech immigrant communities dispersed and the neighborhood began its slow absorption by the Upper East Side.

The bank closed in 1990, after which it underwent a renovation into a more up-to-date commercial space. A year later, the Gap moved in.

Thankfully the Gap kept the doors, as well as the charming “YB” (Yorkville Bank, of course!) inscription above them.

Bank buildings 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 Reade.

[Fourth image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]

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13 Responses to “What the figures on the doors of a Third Avenue Gap store tell us about the building”

  1. andrewalpern Says:

    And what about the Bank for Savings at the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 14th Street and the Manufacturers Hanover Bank on the southwest corner.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I remember when one was a short-lived Balducci’s, and I think the other was a rug store. Their bank days were over by the time I moved to West 14th!

      • andrewalpern Says:

        That intersection is lively, what with the new building just finishing up on the southeast corner and the reopening of the little Jackson Square Park after its refurbishment. And of course until recently the northeast corner was also a bank.

  2. GC Says:

    Also the 14th and 8th CVS is in a marvelous old bank.

  3. Toni Rorapaugh Says:

    What kind of sign is the man in the picture holding? “1531 – 1 M” What does that mean?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m not 100% sure but I believe it notes the building’s lot and block and borough. It’s part of the tax photo collection—between 1939 and 1941 the city took a photo of every building in all 5 boroughs for tax purposes.

  4. countrypaul Says:

    Better to repurpose and retain (if not restore) than destroy these magnificent buildings. I sense that there will be a “third act” sometime after the garish “drug supermarkets” either move on or redesign themselves.

    And yes, the number signs the man is holding are the block and building numbers for that herculean photo-documenting task you mention. I don’t know what the numbers actually mean, but they are the identifiers of the building and its location. I forget how to access it, but a lot of those photos are available on line. Perhaps someone with more information than I have can post the link(s).

  5. Glenn Krasner Says:

    Amazingly, my girlfriend and I were walking by that GAP four years ago, and on the south wall of when you walk into store by the entrance, was a humongous Jean-Michel Basquiat painting on it. It had his painted signature on the lower left side, but it most obviously was a reproduction, as such a painting would be worth of $50 millon at this point!!! Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  6. velovixen Says:

    I would go to that Gap for the doors alone!

    It seems that old bank buildings were trying to convey the feeling of a fortress, as this post points out, or a cathedral–or sometimes both simultaneously.

    The elevated tracks somehow add to the effect.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ah, I forgot to mention the tracks that used to run all along Third Avenue above the bank! I always wonder how grimy buildings so close to the tracks were; I imagine the bank building with kind of a gray dusty coating.

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