The Greek-temple-like former Mellon Bank on Smithfield Street Downtown was stripped of much of its grandeur when it was turned into a Lord & Taylor department store more than a decade ago. Last month, PNC Financial Services Group announced that it plans to convert the building into a call center and restore as much of its old glory as possible.
I stand across the street, under the old Kaufmann's clock, and stare at the iconic Mellon Bank building -- corner of Fifth and Smithfield -- recalling youth, aliveness, the world-is-my-oyster decades ago when I rushed through your brass doors, walked across your shiny marble floors and casually glanced at your Ionic columns five days a week, eight hours a day. Even then, I revered your classic antiquity, your vitality, your brass teller cages. Even then.
Now, your decaying facade scowls back at me; brass doors locked, windows dirt-encrusted, stone pillars cracked and crumbling.
The recent ad, Oh My, Lord & Taylor, in New York Magazine, set off an explosion in my head, a painful reminder of the destruction and pillaging of this sacred landmark to harbor a New York department store. Lord & Taylor, you moved right in with glitz and fanfare: Opening Day! Gifts for All! Models gliding down the brass-railed staircase.
The fatal blow came, though you lingered only a short while. You gingerly lifted your fashionable skirt and calmly stepped over the fallen bodies in your shiny red stilettos, then rushed across the Italian marble floors and swiftly exited through the stately brass doors. You never looked back.
Oh My, Lord & Taylor, you started a domino effect. Throngs fled through the revolving doors. Desolation spread like wildfire, up and down Fifth Avenue. Some went down screaming like condemned prisoners, others went quietly. The people stopped coming, the doors stopped opening, the echo of the empty streets filled the air.
Reluctantly, the crowds migrated to the asphalt malls in the burbs. Lots A, B, C and D, food-court hamburgers, salads, sushi, smoothies, boat rides and car rides 50 cents a minute and bubble-gum machines as tall as you, Sonny. Victoria's Secret, The Gap and Apple Store side by side, and miles to go before I stop.
"I thread your eyebrows, lady."
"How about a nice massage?"
Little Victor and Eli run to the mall play area with the slides and ladders. "No, no, we don't want to leave yet," they cry. People stop to gape at the giant Easter bunny slouched on a tall white chair surrounded by fake paper tulips of Pantone colors, his paws hanging down resting on long legs -- unusual pose for a rabbit. A mother perches her baby, pigtails in pink ribbons with matching tutu, on his shallow knees. Bunny's paws never move. His brown marble eyes scan the crowd, while people gather to smile at the scowling baby. Camera girl violently shakes a tiny pink rabbit back and forth. Laugh, laugh, laugh, she cries in desperation. The child is slipping. Catch her, she's falling, someone screams to the rabbit, a cold, motionless figure, as mother rescues the crying child.
It's getting harder and harder to remember trolley rides to the city, shopping for prom gowns and laughing down Fifth Avenue. No more Santa Land, Lilac Time, Peacock Lane ...
Gone, all gone.
Oh My, Lord & Taylor, you never shed a tear.
Lorraine Bridy is a writer and a volunteer coordinator for Hekima Place, an orphanage for girls in Kiserian, Kenya. She lives in Mt. Lebanon.