The Northeast Savings Bank (NESB) building, located at 800 H Street NE, is indicative of both its financial use and banking history, but also retains architectural significance. It is a leading example of the Beaux-Arts style, as well as a well-preserved remnant of the many community and neighborhood banks that began to pop up in Washington’s neighborhoods during the early 20th century. Like other community banks, NESB was essential to its surrounding neighborhood and its residents.
Going as far back as the early streetcar companies, H Street NE began as a major commercial and transportation route. H Street became one of the most important transportation links in 1870 when it was chosen for the route of the Columbia Railroad Companies, which in turn would connect H Street to downtown. The new streetcar route spurred on the thriving commercial district with its ample businesses, and served a largely working class population, as the city had grown by one-third between 1910 and 1920.
A bustling area, the H Street commercial district was financially underserved, yet ever expanding. The requirement for a neighborhood bank would eventually lead to the establishment of NESB. Similar savings banks were established in DC in the early 20th century, due to the continuous spread of populations from the city center in tandem with the ease of transportation. Founded in 1915, under the supervision of Dr. Victor Esche, the first chairman of NESB, the bank would continue to grow as it served its thriving community, which led to the need for a new, permanent location.
The NESB building was designed by B. Stanley Simmons, who is known for his prestigious and elaborate architecture, such as the Beaux-Arts style National Metropolitan Bank. Simmons’ style also may have been influenced by Charles McKim, a practitioner of the Beaux-Arts style who contributed to the design of the highly-influential and wildly popular 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
The bank, which was constructed in 1921, is clad in limestone, and includes a highly-ornamented extruded main entrance on H Street, the bank’s primary facade. The entrance, which stands out from the symmetric, incised central entrance bay, is topped by a cartouche and two cornucopias, symbolizing prosperity. The entryway is bordered by tall metal sash windows, of which the east window retains its original arrangement. Each end of the H Street facade includes two pilasters with bases that are incorporated into and sit atop the granite water table, as well as capitals that include both Doric and Corinthian elements. A belt course separates the metal sash windows above from the main entrance below. The bank is crowned by a cornice of modillions and a parapet, which extends from the primary facade to the west elevation along 8th Street. The west elevation includes similar Neoclassical elements. Here, there is a secondary entrance, six incised metal sash windows, and pairs of pilasters – like those found on the front facade – that divide each window bay.
When designing these neighborhood banks, like NESB, the goal was to create a place that invoked ideas of doing business, financial stability, and architectural beauty, as well as fit into the aesthetic of other neighborhood banks. NESB’s Beaux-Arts style and Classical Revival features make it uniquely recognizable as a neighborhood institution. The building's design points to its financial use and is a remnant of the 1920s – a period of great prosperity right before the Great Depression.
As the Great Depression brought on a large amount of fear and distress within banks and amongst their customers, many depositors lost confidence and withdrew massive amounts of money. Because of this, in May 1933, NESB merged with Hamilton National Bank, and continued to operate through and after World War II, before it was acquired by the National Bank of Washington in 1954. After the closure of the National Bank of Washington in 1990, NESB was sold to Riggs National Bank, and would narrowly escape closure due to the improving economic conditions.
This location served as a Riggs National Bank until 2004, when it failed, due to ill-regulation and lack of compliance with anti-money laundering rules. It was sold and converted into a PNC Bank branch in 2005, and continues to operate as such to this day.
DC Inventory: October 26, 2023