In the Vault

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110 east 42nd street has witnessed the bustle of business as Bowery Savings Bank and, then, the swirl of society as Cipriani 42nd Street. But the invitation on the entrance is a constant—“A MUTUAL INSTITUTION CHARTED 1834 TO SERVE THOSE WHO SAVE”—though, perhaps, the meaning of “save” has come to accommodate the spirit of “philanthropy.”

In 1921, Louis Ayres (an architect with York & Sawyer) drew from the Italian Renaissance to design, “easily the most sumptuous of its kind the country, departing sharply from the old architectural idea of the modified greek temple as the proper model for a savings bank.” The scale of the construction is grand, but the aesthetics are detailed.

Throughout the space—which has been preserved by Cipriani 42nd Street—there is a spectrum of symbols that serve as emblems of the business of banking. Combined, they offer a narrative that stems from a variety of origins, including masonry and mythology. For example, a beehive denotes “industry” while a crab means “protection” and a cornucopia means “abundance.” Framing the windows for tellers (which continue to read instructions, such as “Place Valuable in a Safe Deposit Box”) are icons carved in brass and wood: roosters were intended to remind about the importance of habits, and squirrels with their nuts were intended to emphasize saving. (Of course, this was an era where greed was gauche and banking was defined by its virtues, like discipline and wisdom.)

Cipriani 42nd Street (across from Grand Central Terminal) is replete with riches that are beckoning to be discovered…