“Capital of Capital”

The Museum of the City of New York looks at local temples of finance.

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Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of the City of New York


From the founding of the American economy to Occupy Wall Street’s critiques of the system, New York City has been the epicenter of nearly every financial boom or bust in the country’s history. A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, “Capital of Capital: New York’s Banks and the Creation of a Global Economy,” opening Tuesday 22, explores how NYC fueled economic growth around the world, while also leaving an imprint on the metropolis itself. “[The show] looks at how the New York banking sector created and intertwined with the growth of the city itself,” says Sarah Henry, the museum’s chief curator. “The banking history of New York is defined on its landscape.” To prove her point, Henry highlighted some of these monetary monuments—both glorious and ignoble—mentioned in the show.

Trinity Churchyard
Stop here to pay your respects to Alexander Hamilton, who founded the Bank of New York in 1784 before George Washington appointed him the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury. MCNY prominently features the founding father, in a John Trumbull portrait. You’ll also be able to read about Hamilton’s financial dealings in letters and documents, such as the papers detailing a major loan he engineered from the Bank of New York to the U.S. government in 1789. Broadway at Wall St (trinitywallstreet.org). Mon–Fri 7am–4pm, Sat 8am–3pm, Sun 7am–3pm; free.

Branch Bank of the United States
Architect Martin E. Thompson designed this 1825 Greek Revival financial temple to convey the business’s sturdiness and strength to New Yorkers, who were still wary of depositing their earnings. The imposing limestone structure was one of the earliest examples of classically inspired bank buildings in the city. The original facade now anchors the glassed-in Charles Engelhard Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St (212-535-7710, metmuseum.org). Tue–Thu 9:30am–5:30pm, Fri–Sat 9:30am–9pm, Sun 9:30am–5:30pm; suggested admission $25, seniors $17, students $12, members and children under 12 free.

Williamsburgh Savings Bank
Erected in 1929, this was the tallest building in the Kings County until the Brooklyner apartment complex topped it two years ago. “In the 1920s, New York banks begin to create iconic headquarters and build towers that broadcast their institutions,” says Henry. Its domed clock tower and the vast banking hall embraced the Art Deco trend popular in Manhattan’s high-profile Bank of Manhattan Trust and the State Bank and Trust buildings. One Hanson Pl at Flatbush Ave, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

New York Stock Exchange
When the stock market tanked in October 1929, frantic traders crowded the floor of this 1903 George Post structure, while stunned crowds gathered outside. The exhibit displays an authentic ticker and its tape from Black Tuesday, showing the massive sell-off as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted. It also showcases the Buttonwood Agreement that founded the exchange in 1792, as well as its constitution. 18 Broad St between Exchange Pl and Wall St

Germania Bank Building
This grand Beaux Arts edifice, designed by Robert Maynicke in 1898, once served as the neighborhood depository for the large German community on the Lower East Side. But when photographer Jay Maisel bought the place in 1966 (for a mere $102,000), he turned it into a canvas for street art. “The exhibition has a whole slew of interesting bank buildings that are now serving very different functions, some of them very unexpected,” says Henry. 190 Bowery at Spring St

“Tracking the Credit Crisis: A Time Line”
In March 2009, the Museum of American Finance, which occupies the Bank of New York’s former headquarters, turned its focus to our current economic woes. A color-coded wall tracks the meltdown, beginning with Mortgage Lenders Network USA and ResMae Mortgage filing for bankruptcy in 2007, and the subsequent fallouts and bailouts. Every few months, museum staff updates the sobering display with unemployment numbers, the Dow Jones index and continuing recovery efforts. 48 Wall St at Hanover St (212-908-4110, moaf.org). Tues–Sat 10am–4pm: $5, children under 6 free.

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