33 Liberty Street, 1919–1924, 1935

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Despite the departure of many financial institutions from Lower Manhattan, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York continues to operate on Liberty Street. Established by the United States Congress in 1913, the Federal Reserve works with the Treasury Department and private banks to shape monetary policy. The largest of 12 regional divisions, the New York Fed serves the Second District, covering parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Occupying an entire city block, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was constructed in two stages, beginning in 1922. Though the first stage, filling most of the trapezoidal block, was dedicated in November 1924, the seamless William Street addition (with its rounded turret at the corner of Maiden Lane) was completed more than a decade later in 1935. Loosely modeled on Italian palaces of the early Renaissance period, such aesthetics give this immense building a fortress-like character, recalling the powerful Medici family that helped launch modern banking systems. Faced with rusticated blocks of smooth Indiana limestone and textured Ohio sandstone, the ground story contains long rows of arched windows protected by handsome iron gates.

Grand yet understated, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was designed by York & Sawyer. This prolific architectural firm was responsible for more than 50 banks, including such New York City Landmarks as the former Bowery Savings Bank, Greenwich Savings Bank, Central Savings Bank and the Brooklyn Trust Company. For this prestigious project, they called on the master Arts & Crafts designer and metalworker Samuel Yellin. Born in Russia, during the 1920s and 1930s this blacksmith’s Philadelphia studio produced some of the early 20th century’s most expressive ironwork. At the Federal Reserve, possibly the largest commission in his career, Yellin created the remarkable wrought-iron lanterns that flank the double-height main entrance, as well as the writing tables, tellers’ windows, and related metalwork that enliven many of the interiors. He later designed gates, grilles, and handrails for the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Below the sidewalk (and the waterline) are five levels of underground vaults. Cut into solid rock, these immense rooms contain great quantities of gold, much of it owned by the Federal government and the central banks of foreign nations. The vaults, as well as other interiors, can be viewed during public tours of the building. For individual and group reservations, contact: https://app.newyorkfed.org/tours/challenge.jsp

– Matthew A. Postal