Thursday, May 21, 2009

Business Senselessness

Canal Street’s Jarmulowsky Bank building is a stop on the Museum’s new walking tour, Immigrant Soles. Here's a short history.

In 1873 prominent philanthropist and Russian immigrant Sender Jarmulowsky founded a bank on the Lower East Side. Through his astute business sense and community connections the bank grew, and in 1912 Jarmulowsky erected a structure at Orchard and Canal Streets magnificent enough for his successful company.

Unfortunately, Jarmulowsky died less than a month after the building was completed. Even more unfortunately, his bank failed only two years later, leaving thousands of its depositors penniless. Jarmulowsky himself had little to do with the bank's downfall. His seemingly risky business practices - granting loans to clients based on personality rather than financial standing - proved successful.

It was two of Jarmulowsky's sons who caused trouble, making bad real estate investments and mismanaging the institution they had inherited from their father. As World War I raged in Europe, crowds of Lower East Siders rushed to withdraw money for family across the Atlantic. Having squandered the bank’s funds, the Jarmulovskys couldn’t make good on their clients’ deposits.

Two thousand people demonstrated in front of the bank. Five hundred people stormed the house where son Meyer lived, forcing him and his family to flee over the rooftops. Shortly after the State took over the bank in May 1917, the Jarmulowsky sons were indicted for banking fraud and the bank closed. The building, however, still remains.

Over the Rooftops

Below is a 1914 NY Times article chronicling Meyer Jarmulowsky's escape from a mob of angry depositors. A brief summary: crowds gathered around the banker's home on Fort Washington Avenue, demanding their money. Fearing for his safety, Jarmulowsky scampered from his rooftop onto a neighboring apartment house, descended into the building's basement, and dashed across the street into a waiting cab, narrowly avoiding capture by the protestors.

Click to enlarge

Family Drama

Sender Jarmulowsky's descendants (at least those that made it into the NY Times' extensive archive on the family) were as prone to scandal as their ancestor was widly successful. Not only were sons Albert and Meyer indicted for fraud after forcing their father's bank to close, but a third son was sent to Bellevue's psych ward. And then there was a grandson who was jailed for stealing $1,625 from a jewelery store manager, and (perhaps the strangest of all) a granddaughter, Bertha Clark, whose elopement to a linen salesman in 1911 dragged her family into a messy lawsuit. When the couple was kept apart for 17 days by Clark's furious parents, the groom demanded $100,000 in retributions.


  1. Nice history. This building is also featured in the electronic exhibit at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. What is the building now, condos?

  2. The building is currently vacant and not protected by landmark designation. Prior to the current financial crisis, there were rumors of it being converted into a hotel. It is now for sale – the asking price is $37 million.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!

  4. A postscript to your entry: Sender's granddaughters were Dorle Jarmel Soria, co-founder of the classical music label, Angel Records (she died at the age of 101 in 2003), and Faie Jarmel Joyce, founder of Joyce Shoes. Sender's great great grandson lives in Brooklyn.


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