Classic revival: PNC Bank works hard to restore Mellon

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Mistakes can be so hard to erase.

PNC Bank is making an ambitious attempt to restore some of the former glory to the old Mellon Bank Building at the Downtown corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street. The Classical-style 1924 granite edifice, designated as a city historic structure, has not changed much on the outside, but its once-magnificent interior was decimated by a renovation in 2000.

The urban design error that gave the building a short career as a Lord & Taylor department store took away all but four of the 20 soaring columns clad in Italian marble that created a stunning, 62-foot atrium. The glorious banking floor once considered the finest between New York and Chicago was carved up into retail space.

That project destroyed too much so it won't be possible to recreate the awe-inspiring interior, but PNC will make significant improvements as it prepares to use the building as a call center for 800 employees. Bland dry wall will be removed to reveal hidden windows, and a treasure trove of discarded marble, brass fixtures, bronze chandeliers and 1,200-pound marble check-writing desks will be dragged out of storage in the basement and put to new uses.

The future of this building will never match its grand past, but PNC Bank deserves the community's thanks for attempting to turn back time as best as it can.

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