Clio Logo

This historic New York building was completed in 1923 and served as the home of the Italian Savings Bank. The building was later old in 1942 and became a funeral home, and while the signage for the bank was removed at that time, the building's history serves as a reminder of an era when East Harlem contained a high concentration of Italian immigrants. The signage for Italian Savings Bank has been removed along with two stories of windows under the archway. The building now holds the R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home and is part of the East Harlem Historic District, listed in the National Register in 2019.

Undated photo of Italian Savings Bank by Wurtz Bros. (NYPL)

Building, Black-and-white, Window, City

By the 1930s, the Italian-American population in East Harlem numbered three times as many as lived in the "new" Little Italy in Lower Manhattan near Mulberry Street. Many of the nearly 90,000 in East Harlem lived in tenements, many of which still lacked indoor toilets, a bathtub, or a shower in the 1930s. The tenements were raised during urban renewal in later decades and replaced with higher-rise public housing. Italian immigrants had occupied Harlem since the 1870s, mixed with mainly Irish, Jewish, and German immigrants, but became concentrated from 96th to 125th Street, east of Lexington Avenue, in what came to be called "Italian Harlem." The community added a Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in 1884, on 115th Street and Pleasant Avenue. The church's annual Feast of the Virgin Mary festival on July 16th ran for 120 years without interruption, and brought thousands of visitors to East Harlem.

The Italian Savings Bank was founded in 1896. The new building to be built on E. 116th Street was designed by C.P.H. Gilbert. "Cass" Gilbert also was the architect for the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan. The archway of the Italian Savings Bank is modeled after Roman triumphal arches. Corner pilasters support an entablature that now reads "R.G. ORTIZ FUNERAL HOME" in blue lettering, topped by dentil molding. Behind the pilasters are double columns supporting a round arch decorated with a keystone and rosettes. The original doorway remains, with pilasters supporting a triangular pediment.

The Italian Savings Bank had two branches in the 1920s; the other branch was near the other Little Italy neighborhood, at Spring and Lafayette Streets (64-66 Spring St.), and was built by 1915. President of the "Italian Savings Bank of New York City" in 1915 was Joseph N. Francolini; Pasquale I. Simonelli was Secretary. By 1922, Mr. Simonelli had become the bank's President; Bernard J. McCann was Treasurer. The bank had over 25,000 open accounts as of January 1st 1922, with an average account balance of $568.

The Italian Savings Bank merged with Maiden Lane Bank and East River Savings Bank in 1932; only the third bank name survived. The combined bank had five branches in Manhattan. The bank building on E. 116th Street was sold in 1942 and became a funeral home whose customers were mainly Roman Catholic Italian-Americans. The undertaker at this location in 1948 was Felix A. Farenga. As the population changed, with many Italian-Americans moving out and a combination of several Hispanic ethnic groups moving into East Harlem, business slowed for the funeral home. The owners sold the building in 1977. The current business, R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home, serves the local mainly Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Mexican residents; it was established in 2008.

CCNY Journalism Program. Harlem's Hidden History: The Real Little Italy was Uptown, Harlem Focus. July 27th 2016. Accessed November 29th 2021.

Ephemeral New York. Manhattan's one-time biggest little Italy, Ephemeral New York. blog. February 14th 2011. Accessed November 29th 2021.

Historic Districts Council. Former Italian Savings Bank, Six to Celebrate. Accessed November 29th 2021.

Murphy, Austin S. East River Savings Bank: 125 Years of Service to the People and the City of New York. New York, NY. Newcomen Society in North America, 1973.

New York State Banking Department. Annual Report of the Superintendent of Banks Relative to Savings Banks, Trust Companies ... for Year Ending December 31, 1921 . Volume Legislative Document no. 24. 1922. Albany, NY. J.B. Lyon Company, 1922.

Robins, Anthony W. Intensive-Level Historic Resource Survey of East Harlem, New York County, New York City. New York, NY. Thompson & Columbus, Inc. for Landmark East Harlem and CIVITAS Citizens, Inc., 2017.

Stevens, Frederick Bliss. History of the Savings Banks Association of the State of New York, 1894-1914. New York, NY. Doubleday, Page, 1915.

Supreme Court of the State of New York. Mamie Lisanto Ferraiolo v. William O'Dwyer et al. Supreme Court Proceedings, New York County, Fol. 523, vol. 12338, Reg. 289, 1 - 39. Published September 7th 1949. Google Books.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Collections, Photos of NYC: