When I first came to Beacon, New York two years ago, it was this building that lived with me. It was this building that asked me to come back.
Proudly, it dominates the end of Main Street. The former Mechanics Savings Bank is typical of the grandiose, Neoclassical architecture you see in banks across the USA built before the 1930s (as a side note, this reminds me I must soon go back to Columbus, Indiana: a city that helped rewrite the twentieth century banking architecture of America).
Its entrance archway is over three storeys high: taller than any building near it. The architecture tells you that this building is here to stay. That your money is safe with the Mechanics Savings Bank. It will be here forever.
But architecture is rooted in its time—look at the medallions at the top to either side. A muscular worker’s arm is wielding a hammer. It screams of the early decades of the twentieth century. We’ve since become so accustomed to seeing this kind of symbol on Soviet buildings that we regard it almost as a cliche of socialist architecture. And yet here it is, on a bank in the United States. It may seem odd to us, but this kind of decoration was commonplace in the USA. Think of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (1932-33). You can even see reflections of this style in the statue of Atlas in front of Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.
The Mechanics Savings Bank wanted its customers to believe it would be there forever. But it wasn’t. Construction on the bank started in 1928 or 1929, shortly before the Stock Market Crash. Just a few years later, the bank ceased to exist: in 1935 it merged with the Matteawan Savings Bank, forming the Beacon Savings Bank.
Some time around 1960, the building was bought by the Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church and has since then been used as their place of worship. What was once a bank has found new life as a house of god.
Mechanics Savings Bank
Address: 139 Main Street, Beacon, New York