54 Canal Street, 1912

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

Sender Jarmulowsky was born in present-day Poland. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1870s, settling, like many Eastern European Jews, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His bank grew to become a major neighborhood institution, serving mostly working-class immigrants. Jarmulowsky was a rich man and a major philanthropist who in 1886 helped finance construction of the lavish Eldridge Street Synagogue, which stands several blocks away. His death, which occurred soon after the bank’s new building was completed in May 1912, was mourned as a great loss by the city’s Jewish community. Under his sons, however, Jarmulowsky’s bank struggled and was closed by state authorities in 1917. Auctioned off in 1920, in subsequent years the double-height banking hall was home to a succession of banks, while the upper floors were mostly leased to textile and garment manufacturers.

At 12 stories, the Jarmulowsky Bank was once the tallest building on the Lower East Side. Rising from the southwest corner of Orchard Street, this was the site where Jarmulowsky first launched his business in 1873. A dramatic statement of one immigrant’s achievement, only the 11-story Forward Building at 175 East Broadway, built for the Yiddish-language newspaper that same year, rivaled it. Viewed as an isolated pair, these early skyscrapers expressed diametrical worldviews. While the Jewish Daily Forward used its journalistic platform to promote socialism, Jarmulowsky was a life-long capitalist who in all likelihood viewed political change as unnecessary.

A rare commercial commission by the prolific residential architects Rouse & Goldstone, the former bank building was designed in the neo-Renaissance style, with a rusticated limestone base and terra-cotta crown. Above the curved corner entrance is a handsome clock, which is ringed by multiple rosettes (the top one may represent the Roman god Mercury) and is flanked by two nude seated figures. Executed by an unidentified sculptor in delicate low relief, the left figure grasps a caduceus, a staff that traditionally represents peace and commerce, while the right figure holds a pickax, possibly symbolizing industriousness. These stoic young men are flanked by commercial imagery, including a clipper ship, a coiled rope, a metal gear, and a linked chain. The top of the building originally featured an impressive domed tempietto. Fifty-feet tall, this prominent architectural feature was removed in 1990 and is presently being recreated as part of the building’s conversion to a hotel.

– Matthew A. Postal