A Building With A “Rich” History

10 Jul A Building With A “Rich” History

Our community is familiar with the majestic and enigmatic structure that has been home to Montclare Children’s School since 2000, and most of us are frequent customers at our local CVS branch. As the elegant, land-marked structure suggests, however, our building has an interesting past!

In 1925, The East River Savings Bank purchased two tenement houses at the northeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 96th Street. Once those tenement buildings were demolished, construction on the East River Saving Bank began and was completed in 1927.

According to the Daytonian , in 1927 the prevailing credence was that a bank “…structure must be one of great importance and simplicity. It must make on the depositors the impression of being a perfectly safe place to leave their money and valuables.” Thus, the “classic Greek temple” style was adopted, with the columns resting directly on the sidewalk rather than on pedestals as in the Roman tradition.

Even through the Great Depression, the East River Savings Bank not only survived, but flourished. On April 12, 1931 The New York Times announced that “to provide additional facilities…the site occupied by two old five-story flats on the avenue adjoining the present bank building on the corner will be utilized for an addition to the building.” The bank at the time had over $118 million in resources.

An armored car (left) sits before the newly-completed bank.
An addition five years later would double the size of the building / photo NYPL Collection


The architectural firm, Walker & Gillette, was hired a second time to design and oversee the expansion of the building. The result, which is what exists today, was a seamless addition, dedicated on April 2, 1932, doubling the size of the structure. One must look very closely to see where the addition connects to the original structure.

Costing a mere $530,000, the extension stretched northward along the avenue, adding three matching columns. Along the face of the parapet were carved quotations from Thomas Jefferson, “Save and teach all you are interested to save: Thus pave the way for moral and material success,” and from Abraham Lincoln, “Teach economy. That is one of the first and highest virtues. It begins with saving money.”

The Daytonian provides other interesting trivia about our building. The East River Savings Bank on West 96th Street provided the first major clue in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case, when detectives discovered a marked bill from the $50,000 ransom money deposited at the bank. “On April 4, 1932, the police got their hands on the first of the ransom notes,” reported The Times. “It was a $5 red-seal note that had been put through the East River Savings Bank at Amsterdam Avenue and Ninety-sixth Street.”

Most Montclare families are unaware of the fact that the Bank’s massive vault, with its unmovable colossal, steel door, still resides in our basement and now serves as a file storage room for our landlord.

By the 1970s, affairs took an unfortunate downturn for the bank which changed hands several times, first to River Bank of America and then to Marine Midland Bank, until the keys were ultimately handed over to CVS in 1998 and then to Montclare Children’s School in 2000.

Prior to the building being divided into multiple floors, you would enter through the bank’s commanding doorways that currently take you into CVS. Having lived on the Upper West Side for decades, I was fortunate enough to have visited the bank in its integral glory.

I vividly recall walking through those imposing doors and being in awe of how sunlight streamed through the elongated windows and gleamed on the polished marble surfaces. A cathedral of finance, the quiet sounds of commerce reverberated softly against the high ceilings and gilded molding. I felt like I had slipped into another era and had a silent wish that the building would always be there for future generations. How fitting that a preschool has taken residence in the building’s upper floors!

Today, if you stand outside and look at the height of windows on 96th Street, you can imagine how magnificent and imposing a structure this was in its early glory.

Thankfully, most of the graceful details of this landmark building were preserved and the banking industry’s loss was very much our school’s gain. We are exceedingly proud of our beautiful building and its nearly 100 year-old history on the corner of 96th Street.

Please take a moment to walk around our school and see if you can identify these beautiful accents and details, revealing hints of our buildings illustrious past.