What do you get when you combine a butcher, a safe maker, a brewery owner, a furniture dealer, and a cigar maker? The founding board of Germania Bank.
Germania Bank opened in 1869 on the Bowery, a street dominated by German immigrant businesses. The Bank resided in several locations on the street before settling and constructing its home at 190 Bowery in 1898.
Tasked with designing a new building for Germania Bank, noted German-American architect Robert Maynicke settled on a Beaux-Arts style. The structure’s simplicity, cleanliness, and strength were meant to convey the stability and security of the bank itself.
Likely faced with the anti-German hostility of World War I, Germania Bank filed a petition to change its name to Commonwealth Bank in 1917. Under the new name, it continued to grow and expanded into branch banks in 1923. Four years later, the Manufacturers Trust Company acquired Commonwealth, and finally merged with Hanover Bank in 1961.
Despite the name changes, mergers and acquisitions, 190 Bowery continued to operate as a bank branch until the mid-1960s. Photographer Jay Maisel, the current owner, bought the property in 1966 for $102,000. This was a steal considering that most real estate agents value the property somewhere between $40 and $50 million.
When Maisel acquired the property, it was already in a state of disrepair, covered in garbage, soot, and human waste. Since then, the lower floors of the façade have served as a canvas for the neighborhood’s vandals and street artists, including notable figures like Keith Haring.
One would not know it from the present condition, but the six-story, 72-room building is still, somewhat amazingly, a single family home.