At the southeast corner of Bowery and East 3rd Street, within the recently designated Bowery State and National Register of Historic Places District, sits the Bowery Hotel, designed by Matt Markowitz Architect, PC and built in 2002-2004. Maybe you’ve stepped in for an event, or maybe you’ve enjoyed a meal at Gemma, the hotel’s Italian restaurant that has become a local hot spot.
If you’ve happened to take a close look at the exterior of the building, you may have noticed that in the upper right corner of the north façade, there is a small sign with a 1954 date. Logic would lead you to conclude that the building was constructed in that year. However, this lot housed a garage up until 2003, at which time the building was torn down to make way for the current single-story edifice. Gemma did not move in until 2007.
But before the Bowery Hotel/Gemma and the garage, the site was occupied by the remarkable Dry Dock Savings Bank building designed by architect Leopold Eidlitz in 1875. Unfortunately, the building succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1954 and was replaced with the garage/gas station, part of which has been retained on the corner, hence the “1954″ marked in the current restaurant’s parapet.
The Dry Dock Savings Bank was built in the Ruskinian Gothic style, with the “Czech-Slovakian touch of the Pulvethurm Powder Tower of the architect’s native city [Prague].” The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide published in 1894 describes the bank as “enhanced by the setting of the building on its irregular site and the treatment of the detail throughout” and the “skill with which the whole mass is made to converge and ‘pyramidize’ to the corner tower… makes the building an object to be grateful for… Whatever the future may have in store in this way, the Dry Dock Bank will remain an ornament to New York.”
The bank building was constructed on the Bowery ward’s boundary because it was more accessible to customers. Originally located near the East River shipyards, this site became the bank’s third location. Erected among nondescript buildings, only three years after its completion it became masked by the Third Avenue el train. Sadly, the bank and other buildings along the Bowery became a “jumble of shops, eateries, bars, flophouses, and cheap entertainments.”
The Bowery’s decline was fast-tracked in 1916, when new express and local tracks were built. Until the el was removed in the mid-century, blight was cast upon the entire street. This likely led to the bank’s office move uptown to 742 Lexington Avenue in 1937. For almost the next two decades, the Dry Dock Savings Bank was utilized as a branch, and it was sold in 1954 when the branch moved a few blocks over to 111 Second Avenue.
Assessed at $175,000, the four-story bank building was sold to the L. B. Oil Company, Inc. in 1954. Columbia’s New York Real Estate Brochure collection holds some marketing materials for the “substantially constructed building,” which advertises 23,550 square feet of space and reveals floor plans of the spectacular structure.