Jamaica Savings Bank, Elmhurst Branch (1968)

Jamaica Savings Bank, Elmhurst Branch
89-01 Queens Blvd.
Queens, New York, New York
Date of Construction: 1968
Architect: William F. Cann for Bank Building & Equipment Corp. of America
Designation: None

The Elmhurst Branch was commissioned by the Jamaica Savings Bank in 1966, the year the bank was celebrating its centennial, and was completed by 1968. The William F. Cann Company and the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America, both of St. Louis Missouri, were asked to design this small branch bank. Seeking a unique design that would stand out on Queens Boulevard among urban congestion, the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation chose to employ a hyperbolic paraboloid of thin-shell reinforced concrete that covered a column-free interior.

Supported by a pair of concrete piers, the copper-clad roof spans 116 feet, reaching a height of 43 feet above the main entrance. From several angles, the design shows the influence of noted architects Eduardo Catalano, Felix Candela and Eero Saarinen at the Yale Ice Arena. But at Jamaica Savings Bank, its small-scale neighborhood commercial use sets it off as an eye-catching model of mid-20th century engineering.

Whereas the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building as historic, in good condition at 37 years old and long before redevelopment plans and demolition permits are in hand, the New York City Council overturned the designation by November 2005 with several in the public declaring that the building was mediocre architecture or even 'ugly.' Unfortunately, the bonafide modern architectural influence shown in Cann's design for the Elmhurst Branch has not been taken to heart by the public through the traditional designation process. But if a more successful means to provide preservation tools and/or incentives to younger or underage landmarks may be available on the local and state level, it could provide a positive means to continue to bring preservationists, building owners, and policy-makers together for the common good.

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission's report expertly documents the history and architecture of the Elmhurst Branch of Jamaica Savings. To that end, a great deal more information can be found in this document.

Photo Credit: Michael Perlman