American Bank Note Company Printing Plant
|American Bank Note Company Printing Plant|
View from Lafayette Avenue
|Alternative names||American Banknote Company Building, The Penny Factory|
|Location||Hunts Point, The Bronx, New York City|
|Address||1201 Lafayette Avenue, Bronx, NY, US|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Kirby, Petit & Green|
The American Bank Note Company Printing Plant is a repurposed printing plant in the Hunts Point section of The Bronx, New York City that is occupied by a business incubator. The building was built in 1909 by the American Bank Note Company, which occupied it until 1985. In addition to printing paper documents, stamps, and currency, the plant also minted coins, and was thus known by local area residents as The Penny Factory.
The building has subsequently changed hands several times, undergone a series of renovations, and been granted landmark status, it now houses a business incubator and serves as one of the cornerstones for a revitalization of the Hunts Point area. It is one of two structures in the city built by the American Bank Note Company in the early 20th century; the other, the American Bank Note Company Building in Manhattan's Financial District, housed the corporate offices.
The building occupies the block bordered by Garrison Avenue, Tiffany Street, Lafayette Avenue, and Barretto Street; the block is roughly pentagonal, with Barretto curving to form two sides.
- 1 History
- 2 American Bank Note era
- 3 Post Bank Note era
- 4 Transportation
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Up until the late 19th century, the land where the Banknote building stands was part of the Village of West Farms in Westchester County; the area that is now the Barretto Street block was part of the estate of Edward G. Faile, where the Faile Mansion (Woodside) was built in 1832. Faile lived there until his death in 1870, after which the house continued to be occupied by his family.
The area was annexed to New York City in 1874. In 1904, the estate, comprising 1299 lots, was sold to the Central Realty Bond & Trust Co for about $1,000,000. By 1908, the estate had passed into the hands of a George F. Johnson (possibly the businessman George F. Johnson), who sold the Barretto block to American Bank Note. The announcement in Engineering News stated: The estate was razed in 1909 to clear the lot for construction of the Banknote building.
... American Bank Note Co, Warren L. Green, Pres., has bought from the George F. Johnson's Sons Co. a tract of 123 lots, in the Hunt's Point Section of the Bronx. On this site it will erect a building which will group under one roof its printing plants, now in Trinity Pl., on Sixth Ave and elsewhere in the city. The plan will afford employment for 2,000 hands, and eventually there will be work under its roof for at least 5,000 persons. About $2,000,000 will represent the cost of ground, building and its equipment; the property to be improved by the American Bank Note Co. comprises all of that on the northly side of Lafayette Ave, from Manida St. to the tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R. and all of that on both sides of Garrison Ave. from Manida St. to Lafayette Ave., besides many contiguous parcels, excepting 18 lots in Manida St. The combined frontages of the tract of land acquired by the bank note company is 1,475 ft. To furnish adequate freight facilities for this big plant, the railroad company will extend sidings from its Hunt's Point station to the property and erect a suitable freight house.
Sunnyslope Mansion and Printer's Park
The area has another, coincidental, connection to the printing trade. Richard March Hoe (1812–1886) had an estate a short distance north of the Faile estate. Hoe was an inventor who patented the rotary printing press in 1846.
In 1904, a portion of the Hoe estate was turned into city streets, several named after historical figures in the printing industry. Aldus Street (four blocks to the north) was named after Aldo Manuzio. Guttenberg Street (with two t's) was named after Johannes Gutenberg; it was renamed East 165th Street in 1911, the same year the Banknote Building was completed. Hoe Avenue runs north from what is now Bruckner Boulevard.
At the intersection of Aldus Street and Hoe Avenue is Printer's Park, which marks the site where Richard Hoe's house, Brightside, was located. Richard's brother, Peter Smith Hoe, also had a house (Sunnyslope) on the same estate; this building still stands at the corner of Faile Street and Lafayette Avenue, three blocks east of the printing plant. The structure currently houses the Bright Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church.
American Bank Note era
The American Banknote Company had their original printing plant at 78-86 Trinity Place, in downtown Manhattan. In 1908, the company purchased a full block of land in The Bronx to build a new plant, seeking less expensive real-estate than could be found in Manhattan; the architecture firm of Kirby, Petit & Green (which also designed the downtown headquarters) was engaged for the design.
On November 21, 1908, the New York Times reported on the purchase of the property on its front-page; the total cost for the project was estimated at $2,000,000. Kirby, Petit & Green were said to already be preparing preliminary plans.
Plans to move from the existing downtown location had been underway for three years, with the decision to move to this site being made more recently. At the time, American Bank Note had a capitalization of $10,000,000. In addition to the several printing locations in New York City, they also had plants in Boston and Philadelphia, it was expected that the Trinity Place plant would be sold.
Not unlike the uplift in real estate values that would be driven, a century later, by the renovation of this building, the initial construction was estimated to increase taxable values in the neighborhood by $5 million within the next two or three years.
The Times report on May 23, 1909, that construction was "almost ready to begin" described a structure only somewhat similar to what was actually built; the common theme between the two was the frontage along Lafayette Avenue, where the engraving and lithographing departments would be housed. The unused design included two additional wings, running along the Tiffany and Garrison sides of the property, enclosing a storage building in the V-shaped central area; each of these wings was an independent structure, with all four buildings interconnected. Also common to the design described by the Times, and that which was actually built, was a single entrance on Lafayette Avenue, which the Times described as an "unusual detail ... made necessary by the character of much of the company's business". It was anticipated that 2,500 to 3,000 people would be initially employed, with the facility being sized to accommodate growth to 5,000.
The initial 1911 construction consisted of only two buildings; the long office wing along Lafayette Avenue, and the large press building, at right angles to the Lafayette wing.
A detached garage was built at some time after this at the corner of Garrison Avenue and Barretto Street, it was expanded to twice its original size in 1928, to provide space for ink production. In 1912, architect H. W. Butts added a single-story addition along the Barretto Street side of the property (what is now known as the Barretto Street wing) to hold a laundry and pulp mill; the laundry building was raised to three stories in 1928, by architect Oscar P. Cadmus; the space was used for additional presses and a machine shop. All of these structures are part of the landmark designation.
In addition to the buildings on the landmark block, American Bank Note built a number of other buildings in the immediate area. In 1913, there was built an employee welfare and research building on Lafayette Avenue, on the other side of Barretto Street, also designed by H. W. Butts. A distribution center was added in 1925 and a paper storage warehouse in 1949; these additional buildings are mentioned (exact location and current disposition unspecified) in the Landmarks Preservation Commission report, but explicitly excluded from the landmark designation.
The building was completed in 1911, it was used until 1986 for printing bank notes, stamps, stock and bond certificates, checks, traveler's checks, letters of credit, lottery tickets, food stamps, and other financial documents. Although the plant printed money for countries around the world, it was best known for producing currencies for Latin America, including Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, and Cuba.
Typical of printing plants, the building has an open floor plan, concrete floors, and high ceilings, to accommodate large presses; the original building was smaller than the current configuration. The five-story wing along Lafayette Avenue contained offices and workrooms for plate preparation. A three-story wing was at right angles to that, with larger open spaces, heavier floor slabs, and taller ceilings to hold the presses. What is now known as the Barretto Street wing was not part of the original construction; the site included 200 presses, a private restaurant, hospital, laundry, machine and carpenter shops, and laboratories where special inks were formulated.
The exterior façade of the building is brick, with a structural framework of steel, allowing for wide unbroken arches filled with glass; such large windows, unusual for the time, allowed daylight to flood into the building, necessary for visual inspection of detailed and colored printing work. Although incandescent lighting had been available for 30 years, modern tungsten lamps were a new invention at the time. In 1919, the plant employed 2000 workers. In the 1960s, the plant was processing over 5 million pieces of paper a day, and printing half of the securities of the New York Stock Exchange.
Engraving and counterfeiting departments
The company employed what were said to be the world's most skilled engravers, some of whom came from families which had been in the business for three or four generations.
One of the more unusual job titles at the company was counterfeiter; the job entailed attempting to produce copies of the company's own products; when attempts were successful, better engraving, paper, or inks were incorporated into the products, to increase the difficulty of fraudulently reproducing the documents. The counterfeiting office was in the tower (behind locked doors). One official counterfeiter was William F. Ford; his son, Will Ford, was chief engraver in 1958, having been employed by the company for forty-six years.
On March 20, 1977, the building was damaged by a FALN bombing; the explosive device was placed outside the building, near the Lafayette Avenue entrance. Damage included broken windows as high as the fourth floor; this was one of two FALN attacks that day, the other being to the FBI Manhattan headquarters. A letter from the FALN stated that the Banknote building was targeted because it is "one of the chief tools of capitalistic exploitation"; this was the fifty-first attack attributed to the group in the previous three years.
The next day, a second bomb threat against the building was phoned into the Daily News; this turned out to be a hoax by a local resident who was distraught over personal issues. The man drove up to the building while the police were sifting through rubble from the previous day's attack, announced that he had a hand grenade, and dropped it; the grenade failed to explode and was found to be a harmless practice device.
Post Bank Note era
In 1985, the building was purchased by Walter Cahn and Max Blauner and was repurposed as the Bronx Apparel Center; the purchase and renovation costs totalled $8.3 million. The apparel center only occupied 146,000 square feet (13,600 m2) (of the 425,000 in the building), and housed a number of tenant companies in the clothing and fabric industry. During this period, the building was also used for storage and artists' lofts, and The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance. Other tenants included a wine cellar, a homeless shelter, and a photography studio.
The building was purchased by Taconic Investment Partners in 2007 for $32.5 million, who invested another $37 million to renovate the structure. Taconic sold the building to a partnership of two real estate investment firms, Madison Marquette and Perella Weinberg, for $114 million in 2014.
Following the initial sale of the building real estate values remained low in the area; as developers started to move into the area and the building changed hands several times, the value of the property increased and rents began to rise. This caused a number of controversies with community organizations.
In 2002, Lady Pink organized a group of female graffiti artists to paint a brick wall on the Barretto Street side of the property; the group revisited the site for several years. In 2013, the wall was torn down by the new building owners.
One of the earliest post-Banknote tenants was The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance; when Taconic Investments purchased the building, the Academy was forced out due to rising rents. There were also squabbles about being forced to pay penalties to break their lease.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission started holding hearings in 1992 to consider designating the building as landmark. Landmark status was approved in 2008. Landmarks Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney was quoted in the official announcement as saying:
The plant is notable not only for its commanding presence in the neighborhood and from other vantage points in the Bronx, but also for the sweep of multistory arcades across the front façade and its nine-story medieval-style tower.
The announcement also cited a "monumental arcade", the "Gothic-inspired details", and the "crenellated parapet of the central tower" as significant architectural features; the building design emphasizes security by deliberately limiting access to a single entrance, despite having over 1,500 feet (460 m) of street frontage. The Real Deal describes the building as "one of the most architecturally distinctive office properties in the Bronx". Benika Morokuma, of the Municipal Art Society described the building in her testimony supporting the landmark designation:
The facade of the plant is a clear example of the expressive factory design of the New York City around the turn of the twentieth century [...] The austere and huge horizontal massing of the main part of the printing facility and the Gothic tower, which emphasizes the symmetry of the main façade on Lafayette Avenue, create an arsenal-like appearance and contribute to create sense of security that is closely associated with its line of business.
Wildcat High School
JVL Wildcat Academy operates one of their two campuses in the Banknote Building; this is an alternative school for students who have dropped out of the regular public school system. The school occupies three floors in the building, and includes the school's Culinary Internship program, the student-run JVL Wildcat Café and a hydroponics garden; the space was renovated using a $1 million grant from the Charles Hayden Foundation.
Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance
The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance had their first home in the Banknote building, with a 70-seat space for performances and workshops; the Academy served as the home for the Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre, a dance company with roots in Latino and LGBTQ cultures.
When the Academy moved into the Banknote building, they occupied previously vacant space and were given a long-term, low-rent lease, they served as an anchor tenant, attracting a number of other artists, who occupied spaces ranging from 600 square foot (56 m2) studios to entire floors. After fourteen years, they were forced to move out of the building in 2012 due to rising rents. In October 2013, they found a new home in St. Peter's Episcopal Church, three miles away in Westchester Square.
Bronx Business Incubator
In 2010, the Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator began operations in the building, occupying 11,000 square feet (1,000 m2). Small business and startups rent small amounts of space (as little as just one desk), with access to shared facilities such as meeting rooms, and a reception area. Leases are available on a month-to-month basis; the incubator targets startups in the fields of new media, technology, biomedicine, healthcare and professional services.
As of 2018, the building is directly off Bruckner Boulevard, and three blocks from the Hunts Point Avenue or Longwood Avenue subway stations; the Penn Station Access project (currently in the planning stage) will provide Metro North access from a new Hunts Point station. Bicycle access is via the South Bronx Greenway.
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Fortress-Like Hunts Point Complex Manufactured Paper Money, Stock Certificates, Bonds, Checks and Letters of Credit for Nearly 75 Years During the 20th Century
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Bright Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church.
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Sunnyslope, an unusually handsome Gothic Revival manor house surviving in the Hunt's Point section of the Bronx, was built in the early 1860s on a 14.6-acre estate belonging to PeterS. Hoe in what was then a rural district of Westchester County.
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one of the chief tools of capitalistic exploitation.
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one of the most architecturally distinctive office properties in the Bronx.
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Hunts Point’s historic BankNote building will continue to be home to the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School, at least until 2022.
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