Most Harlem residents know about (or lived through) the era of disinvestment, redlining, and white-flight that disfigured Harlem in the second half of the 20th century. Many also know that this time was a time of countless fires that started from squalid living conditions, unmaintained building systems, apathy, simple arson, and calculated insurance fraud.
The photo below of the building just west of the Apollo theater shows (in the 1940’s tax photo) an occupied 4-story commercial building with a few open windows and busy pedestrian traffic:
Note how Ella Fitzgerald is playing in the Apollo.
40 years later, however, in the 1980 tax photo, you can see that this commercial neighbor of the Apollo has been devastated by fire. You can literally see through the building to the back (126th Street) and the plywood hoarding (not the contemporary green Department of Buildings green) blocking access.
The Corn Exchange Sign – Brooklyn
While the Corn Exchange Bank was founded in 1853 at 67 Pearl Street in Manhattan, most Harlem residents think of the Corn Exchange building on East 125th Street:
Historically, this building looked similar, but slightly different:
The bank was an outgrowth of the old Corn Exchange, where merchants met and arranged cereal grain prices with farmers. Corn Exchange merged with many smaller banks in the late 1800s, which gave them offices across the city and into the city of Brooklyn (not yet merged into New York City). These acquisitions and other outposts enabled the Corn Exchange to inaugurate the branch banking system in New York City in 1899.
In 1907 a Flatbush Avenue branch opened and this faded ‘ghost sign’ remains in Brooklyn:
In 1954, Corn Exchange merged with Chemical Bank to form Chemical Corn Exchange Bank. When Chemical merged with New York Trust in 1959, the words “Corn Exchange” were dropped. Chase Manhattan merged with Chemical in 1995.