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The Special is More Special

One of the special things about New York City is its architecture – a visual treat, particularly in a young nation defined largely by suburban sprawl. Wonders abound in the city, however, since 9/11, security has become much tighter, and buildings with extraordinary interiors, such as the Woolworth Building, are often, sadly, off-limits to the visitor. Sometimes, events are held in such a space or the building serves a public function, affording the attendee with a special treat – seeing the interior while going about one’s business. Places like Grand Central Station or the New York Public Library, both of which are worthy of a visit just for admiring the architecture.

On October 20, 2010, I wrote Brooklyn’s Got Magic about the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place (and its conversion in 2008 to luxury condominium apartments). It is one of the borough’s architectural icons and can be seen from afar. I have used it as a landmark for as long as I have lived in New York. It was once the tallest building in the borough – 37 stories and 512 feet tall. The clock faces, 17 feet in diameter, were the world’s largest when they were installed and remain among the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world.

Although the structure itself and exterior warrants accolades and superlatives, it is the interior that really shines. And, remarkably, until a week ago, I had never been inside. While in Brooklyn, a friend suggested that we drop in to visit the Brooklyn Flea Market, which has occupied the lobby of the building for the last few years. I was astounded. Apart from perusing the merchandise, attending the market affords a rare glimpse of an amazing interior space. Everyone is aglow at the opportunity to visit. Here is what the New York Times had to say:

One of the great urban experiences New York offered this winter was the Brooklyn Flea in exile. When the weather turned cold, the market moved indoors to One Hanson Place, bringing along its motley host of antiques dealers, artists, designers, vintage-workboot purveyors and–let’s get to the point here–food vendors.
One Hanson Place is an almost deliriously lavish setting for a flea market. Shoppers trying on old Borsalinos and inspecting new art prints huddle beneath spectacularly rich mosaic ceilings in a crazy, echt-New-York mishmash of Byzantine, Romanesque, Art Deco and who knows what else. … The food now is found downstairs in the vaults, behind the kind of enormous heavy doors banks had when robbers still stole things like cash and bars of gold.

Who knows the accessibility of such a space in the future? The savvy visitor or resident who loves architecture will put places like this on their must-see list because now, more than ever, The Special is More Special.

2 Responses to The Special is More Special

  1. This looks like a cathedral and was once a bank. The Cathedral of Mammon. Where’s Reverend Billy when you need him?
    That said, it is a beautiful space and the stalls of merchandise look perfectly at home there.

  2. Leslie Gold says:

    A couple of year’s ago I was excited to watch an episode of tv’s ‘White Collar’ which had many scenes filmed in the beautiful and ornate Williamsburgh Savings Bank. I learned that the bank is actually in Ft. Greene, and that the floor of the bank is constructed of 24 different varieties of marble! Lucky us that this piece of architectural history has been preserved.

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