Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'd like to withdraw a quarter-pounder . . .

Author Camilo Jose Vergara published a great slideshow of bank conversions from around the Northeast and Midwest on Slate a day ago, lending some mass-market appeal to a favorite topic of historically-minded bloggers, including Forgotten NY and yours truly. Of the mighty old banks that now do retirement duty as restaurants, clothing outlets, or strip clubs, Vergara writes "they were designed to impress and reassure." His piece ends with a rumination on the changing function and design of local banks and branches, accompanied by two photos of a former KFC being converted to a Capital One branch. "No longer needing to appear solid, permanent, and respectable," he muses, "a bank now can be housed in a flimsy former fast food outlet."

In a reversal of Vergara's closing example, the former Lincoln Savings Bank at Nostrand and Church is now a very sturdy-looking McDonald's. The quintessential "flimsy fast food outlet" has made a habit of building big in certain cities, but this particular iteration of the golden arches struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. First, they kept the original entrance, a stately wrought-iron and glass vestibule that leads into the former lobby. Secondly, while it's no suprise that they re-branded the place (arches abound), the red-and-yellow McDonald's flag flying from the impressive main flagpole struck me as a bridge too far. By all means, cover the windows, deck the halls, and paper the facade with your logo--but why not fly, I don't know, the American flag from your flagpole? It's not as though McDonald's has every shied away from embracing its All-American image.

It seems worth mentioning that in defense of Vergara's thesis, some rather unspectacular bank buildings are close by. At least we know our happy meals are safe in the vaults.