Jarmulowsky’s Bank

Located at 54 Canal Street, this 12 story classical-style bank was built by architects Rouse & Goldstone for Sender Jarmulowsky in 1912. Jarmulowsky established his banking business on the Lower East Side in 1873 and was operating at this location by 1878. Here, recent immigrants could set up bank accounts, send remittances, and buy steerage tickets for their European relatives – in Yiddish. The bank quickly became a household name among Jews on both sides of the ocean.

According to legend, Jarmulowsky added the capital to the top of the building (now removed) so that it would be the tallest in the neighborhood. His original plan had not included this detail, but the Forward Building down the street on East Broadway went up simultaneously and was slightly taller than his bank prompting the architectural change. The bank become a testament to Jarmulowsky’s success as a businessman and reflected his prominence in the Jewish community of the Lower East Side.

Jarmulowsky died in 1912 shortly after the bank was completed, and his sons took over the business. unfortunately, they lacked their father’s business acumen and mismanaged the business. In 1914, at the start of World War I, the bank closed as many depositors made “runs” on the bank to get money to help their families in Europe. According to the New York Times, 2,000 people demonstrated in front of the bank. 500 people stormed the house where son Meyer Jarmulowsky lived, forcing him to escape across tenement rooftops. Jarmulowsky’s sons were indicted for banking fraud and the bank closed.

The State of New York took over the bank in May 1917 and auctioned it off.

In 2009, Jarmulowsky’s Bank building was designated a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building is currently (2015) being restored and the temple at the top will be rebuilt.

Discussion Questions

  • What can you tell about the building by looking at this photograph?
  • What makes a building a landmark?
  • Examine the detail of the building pictured below. What do you think the carved images symbolize?
  • Compare the historic photograph above with the building’s current appearance on Google Maps. What is similar? Different?

Detail, Jarmulowsky’s Bank. Photograph by Rachel Rabhan.

Classroom Extensions

  • Banks were critical centers for immigrants. Just as Jarmulowsky’s Bank served Jewish immigrants, Banca Stabile on Grand Street met the needs of the Italian immigrants. Visit the website of the Italian American Museum located in the Banco Stabile building to learn more. Compare and contrast the Jewish and Italian experience.
  • Read the NY Times article chronicling Jarmulowsky’s escape from a mob of angry depositors in 1914.
  • In 2009, Jarmulowsky’s Bank was designated a Landmark. Read the report and learn more about the building and landmarks process. Discuss what makes a building worthy of landmark status. Have students research other buildings they think deserve landmark status and make the case for their designation.