Syracuse Savings Bank

Northeast corner of Salina and Erie

In 1876 General George Custer made his last stand at Little Big Horn and Alexander Graham Bell made the world's first telephone call inside his laboratory. It was also the year Syracuse Savings Bank completed the tallest structure in the history of Syracuse. With a tower rising 170 feet, it was the first office building in the city to be built with a passenger elevator.  For years visitors rode to the top of the tower to enjoy the view over the city.

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Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (original photo from Onondaga Historical Association) HABS,NY,34-SYRA,35-6

There was considerable competition for design of the new building.  Plans were submitted by: local architects Archimedes Russell and Joseph Lyman Silsbee; New York architects Joseph Hathorn and Frederick C. Merry; Rochester architect A. J. Warner and the Boston firm Cummings and Sears.  Joseph Silsbee's design was the one accepted and, at the building's completion, Silsbee installed his offices in the top of the tower, where they remained until the mid 1880's when he moved his growing practice to Chicago.

The authors of Architecture Worth Saving say the building's design "incorporates Gothic details, among which are the steep roofs and windows with pointed arches. The pail buff Ohio sandstone of the walls is decorated with bands of red sandstone between floors and at the spring line of the window arches." They say "it is maintained in virtually perfect condition."

The bank vaults and elevator were in the tower, banking rooms were in the basement and first floor; offices were in the upper stories. Construction was largely fireproof, and the finest of its kind at the time. The builder was John Moore, who also built the Colorado State Capitol. The cost of construction was $281,000 including $10,000 for the vaults, $20,000 for fireproofing and $5,300 for tile floors. A system of coordinated electric clocks was installed throughout the building by Charles Fasoldt of Albany.

The building has been renovated several times. Following the closing of the Erie Canal, the interior was cleared and rebuilt in the 1930's to reinforce the structure with steel framing.

The same banking institution, Syracuse Savings Bank, occupied this building for more than 100 years.  Today it is owned by Fleet Bank.

Comparing the 1886 and 2001 images, a number of changes are apparent. First, the building is much brighter in the current picture and the patterns in the stone are more evident. This is due, no doubt, to a recent cleaning. On the other hand, the patterned slate roof, once banded in red and tan, has given way to sheet metal; the awnings are gone and the iron cresting and weather vane no longer top the central spire. The first story appears to originally have had a rusticated (roughly cut) facade, but the surface is now smooth. The small circular windows near the roof line in the central dormers at the front and sides have given way to larger rectangular windows. It appears there was once stained glass in the first floor transom windows that is now gone. A stone and metal chimney has been removed that once emerged from the roof in front of the central tower.

Ever wonder why the east side of the building (facing away from Clinton Square) has no windows below the 5th floor?  The answer is in the earlier picture. The bank was built against an existing four story building, and this stood next to a building that was taller still. Syracuse Savings Bank was once the newcomer on the block, now it is the sole survivor.

In the new image you'll see the shadow of the War Memorial creeping up the wall to the right of the front entrance. The shadow wasn't there in the older picture because the War Memorial hadn't yet been built.

Notice the shoe-shine guy patiently waiting for business in 1900 under an umbrella on the corner of Salina and Genesee.

Click here to see the original Syracuse Savings Bank

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