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"This used to be a money bank," said Yuko Nii, founder and artistic director of the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center (WAH), "but now it's an art bank." And so the fabled and convoluted history of the building at the corner of Broadway and Bedford continues on.

The building at 135 Broadway was built in 1860 as a bank for the wealthy citizens living in the area. Williamsburg at the time was so exclusive that a private ferry was needed to come across the East River. Of course, the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge in the early 1900's changed that and wave after wave of immigrants settled on this side of the river. In 1910, the building's second and third floors became a business school, while the first floor remained a bank. It would remain a bank - surviving through several name changes - until the late 1980's saw the closing of the Kings County Savings Bank. By then the building had been designated as an historical building in the National Registry.

Nii stumbled across Williamsburg while looking for a cheap place to live and fell in love with the building. After protracted negotiations, she finally acquired it and set to using the space to help local artists and the neighborhood.

The first floor still retains the chandelier and bank clocks from its former life, and is bordered in dark wood. The second floor is a large exhibition room with high ceilings, beautiful molding, two rows of columns, and tall windows on the south and east sides of the building. The third floor is larger still, and reminds me of an old gymnasium. This is the floor where society balls used to be held during the 1800's, with the likes of Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and Havemeyers dancing the night away.

Off to the side of the second floor room is a smaller room that Terrance Lindall, president and executive director of WAH, uses as his private library-cum-knick-knack-room. Oddities from a fortune-telling machine (like in Big) to the mounted head of a three-horned goat to a sarcophagus bookshelf fill the room. Upstairs near the attic lies the "treasure room." Rarely seen, it contains furniture from the time of the Napoleonic Empire, documents to and from Napoleon and his family, a relic statue from 1410, rare codices and manuscripts from the 15th century, and much more. This collection is destined to be part of the Williamsburg Museum that Nii and Lindall plan to open after renovation permits more exhibit space.

The Museum will display the treasure room items as well as the permanent collection WAH has been collecting from notable artists and local artists. It will also continue to host the varied shows for which it has become famous.

Nii emphasizes the concept of connecting cultures. WAH's mission is to "show as much art as possible. I want this center to bridge the local, national, and international scene. I want the shows to expose Williamsburg artists to other art - outside art - apart from what they see every day in the neighborhood. Hopefully this will open their minds about different concepts they haven't thought about and create interaction, exchange, stimulation."

For stimulation, there are three shows coming up at the WAH Center from February 9 through March 3. The opening reception for all shows is Saturday, February 9th, from 4-6pm.

"Escape from Alkatraz" - Sponsored by the Slovenian Ministry of Culture
(Artists from Slovenia: Bostjan Drinovec, Grega Mastnak, Damjan Kracina, Katarina K. Toman, Mojca Zlokarnik, Kristina Lazetic - Kiki, Ziga Kariz, Tobias Putrih, Primoz Pugelj, Milan Golob, Andrej Brumen Cop, Ursa Toman, Luka Drinovec, Bostjan Plesnicar)
(Slovenian artists in New York: Emil Memon, Milan Viyosevic)

Fifty drawings from the Seismo-graph series of Fabrice Covelli


OTHER EVENTS: Poetry reading by Gary Spradling and Experimental Music organized by Ladislav Czernek

For more information, please visit: http://www.wahcenter.org or call 718.486.7372

-- Grant Moser

Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | February 2002 | Issue 23
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