Fri | Apr 28, 2017

‘Bank’ on heritage

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2015 | 9:00 AM
The high arches atop the Victorian columns of Scotiabank's King Street Branch lend old character to the façade of the building.
The high ceiling, infused lighting, marble floors and countertops, along with the retro photos at Scotiabank's King Street branch pack character.
The intricately designed vault door that was imported from the United States in 1889 stands strong at the Scotiabank's King Street branch.
Linley Reynolds, branch manager at Scotiabank, King Street, with an artist's rendition of the branch building.
Pièce de résistance ... intricate inlays adorn the vault door.
Functional and artistic – the vault door.
A painting highlight old-time Jamaica, one of the many pieces of artwork at Scotiabank, King Street.
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Imagine climbing a flight of stairs made of marble - the white shiny stone with black inlays. The flight opens up to a grandiose ceiling rising, and you find yourself in a hall surrounded by white marble, which also extends to the columns and countertops. No, this not transcending to romanticised poetry, nor by any figment of imagination is this a dream. This is a bank.

Cold, hard currency and financial instruments are the last things that would come to anyone's mind in this early-20th century building - the King Street branch of Scotiabank, to be exact. A grand Victorian structure in downtown Kingston.

"Not only does our branch boast a number of beautiful art pieces from a wide cross section of Jamaican artists," said Linley Reynolds, branch manager, King Street. "The building itself is an impressive piece of art and a Kingston landmark."

The flamboyance of the faÁade and the interiors takes one on a walk down the memory lane. The colonial architecture giving character to the space and a testament to Jamaica's rich banking history, as well as a hub of trade and commerce.

"The architecture is described as Spanish Colonial. The marble flooring and countertops add to the general beauty of the building," Reynolds said.

Complementing the character of the building, replete with the arching ceiling and recessed lighting, are paintings depicting facets of the island's life - from the marketplaces, towns, people, and colours of the streetside markets.

NATURAL TO SHOWCASE ART

"Our company is so ingrained into the country," said Rosemarie Pillner, executive vice-president, operations and shared services, Caribbean North, Scotiabank, "it felt natural to showcase and share our culture, and one of the most efficient ways is through art."

The history of this building, which has housed the banking operations since the turn of the 20th century, might be as dramatic as the turn of events that made the bank to be at that location. It was after the earthquake of 1907, which flattened most of Kingston and destroyed the original branch. The bank was relocated to the present property.

According to the records, the King Street site was secured for £10,000 - a hefty price tag at that time. The property has 104 feet of frontage on King Street and a depth of 150 feet; the lot was next to the government property where the Treasury would be located.

Downtown Kingston was the choice location for the first branch in 1889. It was the hub of Jamaica's commercial activities. Scotiabank rented the downstairs of a building at the corner of Church and Port Royal streets before moving to the present location. Housed in the Spanish Colonial building, it was opened in 1909 and heralded as a "pioneer in post-earthquake reconstruction".

Meandering through this time warp, one comes across the piËce de rÈsistance embedded on the wall - the vault door and the safe, which, after more than a century, packs the same sheen and character.

The iconic Mosler Safe Company vault made by the now-defunct Hamilton, Cincinnati-based company, whose safes and vaults were known for their strength and precision, is one of the finest examples of human engineering, a marriage of functionality of art in raw, cold steel.

The levers and locks and bearings interspersed with flowering vines and embedded panels. This vault door stands as a testament to a company that produced some of the finest safes and vaults in the world. It is said that throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most financial institutions swore by a Mosler safe.

An eclectic combination of a historic structure, iconic and functional art, this building on King Street stands grounded as it sees the chapters of history change from the horse-drawn carriages to the torque and horsepower of the cars zipping past, or as American artist Andy Warhol said: "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art".

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com