The Historic Corn Exchange Bank Building in East Harlem




The newly renovated Corn Exchange Bank Building, 81 East 125th Street, East Harlem

The total transformation/renovation of the historic Corn Exchange Bank Building is one we would hope for all of our historic sites. It was a work of love topped with true dedication to the project by a man who saw the building in its deteriorating state every day as he passed by on Metro North that runs alongside Park Avenue on his way to work. But let’s start from the beginning, because this historically Landmarked building has quite a history.

Designed by architects Lamb & Rich, 81 East 125th Street was originally the flagship for the Mount Morris Bank,  founded in 1880. The building also included six apartments on four floors (named ‘The Morris’) above the commercial space, later converted to offices.

Corn Exchange Bank c. 1982 well before the fire that destroyed the roof and top two-floors, and beef the city demolished all but the first floor. Image via Library of Congress. Contributor name, Camilo Vergara, photographer

In 1913 the Mount Morris Bank merged with the Corn Exchange Bank, and in 1954 merged with Chemical Bank to become the Chemical Corn Exchange Bank ~ operating at that location until they moved in the mid 1960s.

After ten years of poor maintenance and back taxes, the city took possession of the building in 1972. Even though the building was in poor condition, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, and in 1993 it was named a NYC Landmark.

photo Wikimedia Commons ~ the building was sealed in 1987 to help protect against more vandalism.

A local activist purchased the building for $10,000 after a fire in 1997 took the roof and top two floors. Her hope was to renovate and open a culinary school. Due to lack of funds, she would never see this dream. Instead, the building was declared unsafe in 2000 and the city once again, repossessed the building in 2009 ~ demolishing all but the first floor (image above).

Corn Exchange Bank Building in 2013

Enter the man on the train…. who happened to be a local developer. His company, Artimus purchased the building in 2012 with the intention of restoring the building to its original beauty. In 2013, the neighborhood watched as the $17 million renovation began.

The exterior was to keep the integrity of the original building with red Philadelphia brick, copper moldings and slate roof. The interior would be fully modern and LEED certified.

The building sits on the corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue, next to the Metro North Station, one block from the Lexington Avenue #4/5/6 subway station and two blocks from the Lenox Avenue #2/3 subway station.

Closeup of the detail work on the exterior of the building

While East 125th Street has now become a work-in-progress for developers, this was the first major project at the time, aside from the renovation of a firehouse located at 120 East 125th street that is now home to the community arts group, CCCADI.

Watercolor ~ Corn Exchange Bank Building by AFineLyne

Below is what the Corn Exchange Bank Building looks like today, with Metro North Station directly next to the building on Park Avenue. On the other side of the station (to the east) is the twelve-story historic Lee Building, purchased in 1979 for $40,000 and sold in 2016 for $48 million.


After renovation in 2018

The penthouse, which can be seen above with three floor-to-ceiling windows facing south, has a wraparound terrace (below) along with a stunning view of the city.

Penhouse wraparound Terrace

Below, view from the terrace outside the penthouse on a rainy night.

View from the penthouse terrace

Its first tenant, The Ginjan Cafe’, will open its doors in August 2019. Artimus is also the owner of 82 East 127th Street, proposing a 214-foot-tall development. No completion date announced.

Check out what’s happening under  the tracks ~ Uptown Grand Central at The Plaza and East 125th Street, a work in progress. Don’t get lost ~ get a map of East Harlem.