This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
Framed images of trains, planes, ships and hot-air balloons punctuate the ornate nickel silver doors of 20 Exchange Place, the former City Bank-Farmers Trust Company Building. Located at both corners of William Street, as well as on Hanover Street, these impressive bas-reliefs were designed by British sculptor David Evans. Originally, the west doors opened to a magnificent domed rotunda and executive offices, and the east door to a more intimate marble banking hall used by the Canadian Bank of Commerce until the late 1980s. Cross & Cross, who were responsible for many notable Manhattan buildings including Tiffany & Company’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue, were the architects. Founded in 1822, Farmers Loan & Trust Company became part the National City Bank of New York in 1929 — the same year that construction of this fine skyscraper began.
Completed two years later, in 1931, this understated 59-story Alabama limestone tower rises from an irregularly shaped trapezoidal plot in which none of street facades are the same length. 20 Exchange Place tends to receive less attention than most other Art Deco skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan, perhaps because of its location one block south of Wall Street, but also because it lacks an striking vertical element or spire. Nonetheless, upon close inspection, there are many architectural details for us to savor and enjoy. In addition to the metal doors, giant-sized granite coins representing the nations where National City Bank maintained branches ring the double-height main entrance; bronze reliefs symbolizing the fields of architecture, engineering, mechanics and navigation embellish the cast-metal window guards around the base; and fourteen expressionist-style stone heads stare down from the 19th floor setback. Dubbed the “titans of finance,” these large ornamental features also serve to obscure the building’s exhaust vents. Among the more unusual features was a pneumatic tube system for inter-office mail and telegram delivery, a central reservoir for pumping liquid soap to the washrooms, and a shooting gallery for pistol practice.
National City Bank, a predecessor to Citibank, which for many years owned the neighboring Merchants Exchange Building at 55 Wall Street, moved its headquarters to Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in 1956. Today, most of 20 Exchange Place has been converted to residential use. The entrance lobby on Exchange Place remains especially impressive. Decorated with exotic marbles and colorful mosaics, the polished elevator doors, which incorporate figurative female reliefs, are early examples of white metal, a light-colored alloy combining nickel and copper.
– Matthew A. Postal