Weylin B. Seymour, historical Figure Whom The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building will be Renamed for

RetratoScreen shot 2015-04-11 at 10.04.15 PMScreen shot 2015-04-11 at 10.04.43 PMScreen shot 2015-04-11 at 10.05.11 PM Screen shot 2015-04-11 at 10.05.41 PM Last night as I was walking into Peter Luger’s on Broadway I was taken aback by the beauty of the newly renovated Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building. It was all lit up with many different colored lights, but I will return to the renovation later in the post. I did some digging and found out that the building is going to be renamed in honor of a fascinating Brooklyn historical character named Weylin B. Seymour. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/nyregion/a-landmark-restored-from-mosaic-marble-floor-to-grand-dome.html#slideshow/100000002764019/100000002764021 Seymour was a much loved Brooklyn matchmaker ( I mean the romantic kind) who envisioned a building that became the bank. 18 November, 1768 –3 July, 1869) was a well-loved social, cultural and political figure of importance in the Williamsburg and early New York community. He was a famous party host and was known for his matchmaking skills. He died aged 101. Weylin was an only-child and grew up in a Dutch influenced household. He spent his days drawing, writing stories and learning to cook with his mother, Mrs. Helen Seymour. She was a very talented chef and it’s known that Weylin was always very inspired by both his parents. Weylin’s grandfather was an English sailor, who disembarked in 1664 when Director-General Peter Stuyvesant surrendered the colony of New Netherland to the English. Weylin’s father, Mr. Louis B. Seymour worked as a veterinarian, specializing in horses. Throughout his career he also worked as a baker, a driver, a policeman and a priest. He died in 1780 on a fishing trip. Mr. Louis B. Seymour’s death remains a mystery and his body was never discovered. Mrs. Helen Seymour began hosting guests in the family home. She later became well-known in New York for these events. The food, drinks and decorations, plus the playing of musical instruments and dancing were all topics of discussion in Manhattan and beyond. Once his mother became a widow, the young Weylin B. Seymour wanted to support her. He applied for many jobs but was mostly unsuccessful in his applications. Eventually, at the age of eleven, he found work as an assistant at a barber shop. Weylin was able to pick up on the subtle signs of attraction between potential couples. This skill was honed at a very early age. During his time at the barber shop, after listening in on a conversation about relationships, Weylin suggested a potential match between client and shoemaker Mr. Roy Albany, and New York hat designer, Bethany Beaver. The match was a success and the two were married shortly afterwards. Encouraged by his accomplishment, Weylin introduced a second barber shop client to a different woman. This match was another success. Weylin B. Seymour quickly found fame as a matchmaker in New York and turned his matchmaking skills into a moneymaking business. Continuing to help his mother, he sold Mrs. Seymour’s catering and celebration arranging services as a side product. Weylin B. Seymour amassed a large fortune at an early age and he bought his first house at the age of 22. He was known at this time for holding lavish gatherings and parties featuring live music and lavish catering. His fame stretched overseas to Holland and England, where royals and nobles would often request his matchmaking services. Weylin declined all offers to leave New York. It is said that he was superstitious and believed leaving the city would end his lucky streak. He also believed that if he left New York, the couples he had already brought together would break up. Eventually, as New York City grew in popularity, people from other countries came to visit Weylin. Many matches would occur, while others left still single. Weylin instilled hope in his visitors and many who were unsuccessful at first decided to move to New York in order to keep looking for love. Weylin B. Seymour never married and had no children. His closest friends have divulged he was not concerned about finding such things for himself. It is said that he was so traumatized by his father’s sudden death and his mother’s grief, that he was happy to live without the fear of losing anyone else close to him. Instead, Weylin settled for helping everybody else around him and creating a happy, extended family for himself in New York. The truth about his private family life remains uncertain. Until the late 1860’s, the parties and celebrations Weylin held for his clients were held in several different venues around New York. Weylin was inspired by the Vanderbilt House to open his own venue – a busy private event space he saw often in Manhattan. Plans were set in motion when New York’s famed architect, George B. Post arrived in the city. Weylin B. Seymour died of natural causes at the age of 101 on 3 July, 1869. His death came shortly after architect Post had started to work on the building plans. He died a much-loved and respected public figure, in spite of having never married. Prior to his death, Mr. Seymour told many of his closest friends of his wish for the building to be used to help ensure the growth and happiness of the Williamsburg community. His wish was granted when George B. Post continued to work on the building plans, influencing its birth as the landmark Williamsburg Savings Bank. Artist Peter B. Wight designed all interior decoration and art, including the main dome’s fresco. The matching initials of Weylin B. Seymour and the Williamsburg Saving Bank are displayed on a unique style monogram logo reading ‘WBS’. This logo engraved in many different materials, including iron, wood and glass in the building’s High Victorian Gothic interior art. Now on to the building itself. The Wiliamsburgh( Yes with an h!) Bank Building is one of the most impressive post-Civil War buildings in New York City and is one of the finest examples of the French Academic style. It was finished in 1875.  Anyone who has studied even a little architectural history sees that it is heavily influenced by Renaissance architecture. Dominating the space is a hundred and ten foot high dome with a beautiful muraled vault that contains an abstract design. In the richly colored mural, a radial pattern of rays extend from a center cap to a border with stylized floral motifs and geometric designs, with gold leafing used throughout. The New York City Landmarks Commission noted Wight’s knowledge of English aesthetic decoration, particularly of Owen Jones: “Among the ‘English’ qualities of his designs are the flat, unshaded, boldly-outlined colors which emphasize the two-dimensional qualities of the wall surfaces and the geometric constructions and conventionalized representations of flowers and other natural objects.” Bank trustees invited four architects to submit design proposals for the new building: James H. Giles, Gamaliel King, Peter B. Wight, and George B. Post. Post’s Renaissance Revival design was selected, while Wight’s “more conventional Second Empire style project placed second.” The design was chosen, in part, because the “grand banking hall and high dome dominating the Williamsburg skyline made a statement about the Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s wealth and importance.” Post’s design “is generally considered to be one of the earliest examples of academic Renaissance classicism in American architecture,” serving as a precedent for future temple type banks, including McKim Mead & White’s Bowery Savings Bank of 1895. The original 1875 ground floor plan includes an entrance vestibule, domed banking hall with a U-shaped tellers’ counter, and, in the rear, a vault as well as offices for the President and Cashier. Dark granite columns with white marble capitals and bases and Néo-Grec polished bronze grilles are some of the opulent features of the main banking hall. Two great designers worked to make the building a landmark and an architectural gem. GEORGE B. POST  (1837-1913)and PETER B. WIGHT (1838-1925) George Browne Post was born in New York City and studied civil engineering at New York University. Post established his own practice — following a six-year partnership with Charles D. Gambrill and six years in collaboration with Henry H. Richardson — beginning in the late 1860s, and was heavily influenced by contemporary French architectural theory and design, taught by his mentor Richard Morris Hunt. In 1905, two of Post’s sons joined his firm, which had offices in New York and Cleveland. His most notable extant works include the New York Stock Exchange, the City College of New York, and the Wisconsin State Capitol. Peter Bonnet Wight was born in New York and graduated from the City College of New York. After working in both Chicago and New York, Wight gained public attention with his winning competition design for the National Academy of Design in New York, constructed between 1863 and 1865, which “played a major role in establishing the High Victorian Gothic style in this country.” Wight also designed interiors, including furnishings, fixtures, and stenciled wall and ceiling patterns. He later established a fireproofing company and wrote for major architectural periodicals. The neighborhood decayed and so did the bank. It was sold to another bank and stopped being a bank in 2010. Now an multi-million dollar renovation has brought the building back to its earlier glory.  The $27 million project was begun by Juan Figueroa, developer of the New York Loft Hostel in Brooklyn, and is now directed by Carlos Perez San Martin, his cousin. Mr. Figueroa has sold his shares in the venture. There were 17 levels of scaffolding and 150 people at a time cleaning the walls and stripping paint, and workshops inside the building for carpentry and patina finish for brass hardware. What makes the space even more remarkable is that it has a companion rotunda, with a different dome; one crowned by an oculus of stained-glass skylights. This was added in 1908 so that men and women could bank in separate halls. The two halls were divided by Sheetrock when Mr. Figueroa and Mr. Perez San Martin took over. The newer hall had been leased to Williamsburg Family Services in the late 1970s or early ’80s, but was long abandoned and strewed with debris. The few surviving panels of the skylight had been taken down to the basement. Sandstone walls were painted white. Decorative walnut and mahogany woodwork was painted green. The hand-cut mosaic floors of the two banking halls were badly damaged, as were floors of encaustic tile elsewhere in the building. Most of the decorative hardware was gone. The bird-cage elevator was stilled. Dust had accumulated so exactly along the lines of the framework behind the dome that Mr. Perez San Martin thought the dark spokes were part of the original mural. A cleaning and restoration by Sandra Spannan of See Painting revealed otherwise. New encaustic tiles were ordered from the English firm Craven Dunnill & Company, which still had the molds and colors necessary to match the existing floors, Mr. Perez San Martin said. The walls and woodwork were stripped and restored. It was too expensive to have giallo Siena marble hand cut into mosaics in Italy, so the developers bought large blocks of the stone and shipped it to Lebanon for cutting. Reproductions of the “WSB” doorknobs and hinges were made in India from wax casts taken of the originals in Brooklyn. Even the bird-cage elevator was revived, after the developers agreed to install sprinklers around the open enclosure, at the request of the Buildings Department. Only a few such elevators are still operating in the city, agency officials said. The New York Landmarks Conservancy is so impressed that it not only is giving the project one of its Lucy G. Moses Preservation Awards, but also is holding the May 6 award ceremony under that jewel box of a dome.

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