Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

MultiStories: Three Times a Bust – The German National Bank

The bank was at the center of a corruption scandal which eventually led to an overhaul of Pittsburgh city government.



Address: 313 Sixth Ave.
Stories: 9
Height: 125 feet
Built: 1889
ArchitectS: Charles Bickel & John Brennan

→ Granite walls lack a steel frame;
skyscraper technology arrived in the 1890s
→ Stained glass Hessian coats of arms in upstairs bay windows
→ Painted “ghost sign” still visible from Wood Street


 

 


Images courtesy Mark Houser
 

Standing like a slender castle with its parapets and rough-hewn arches, the structure at the corner of Wood Street and Sixth Avenue looks built to survive stormy weather. A good thing too, since it has been the scene of three separate bank failures.
 


Antique postcard shows the original bank interior
 

German immigrant Christopher Groetzinger opened a leather tannery on the North Side in 1851. His son, Adolph, bought and expanded the business, which made high-end shoe soles; the younger Groetzinger also became president of the German National Bank of Pittsburgh, one of the first federally chartered banks in the city. The bank prospered as immigration snowballed; in 1889, it began construction of a new Downtown building. Drawn up by German-trained architect Charles Bickel, the Romanesque edifice paid homage to H.H. Richardson’s much-praised new county courthouse.
 


A bribery scandal in 1908 upended Pittsburgh City Council and the bank 
 

A decade later, the bank was forced to close when Groetzinger declared bankruptcy and resigned. It reopened only to become the scene of the crime in a colossal city corruption scandal. In 1908, Councilman John Klein paid a visit to inform the bank’s new president, William Ramsey, that for $15,000 he could arrange for German National Bank to be designated a city depository. Ramsey had his cashier withdraw several large bills from the safe and place them on a desk in front of Klein, whom they then left alone in the office. When they returned, the bills and Klein were gone.
 


Bank president Ramsey during the trial
 

But the brazen official flashed his wad of cash around a bit too much, and one startled harness dealer tipped off the city auditor. Klein was arrested, along with Ramsey, the cashier and six other councilmen. Several trials and investigations later, a jaw-dropping 98 of the city’s 155 councilmen were indicted for graft. Public outrage led to a reform crusade that replaced the elephantine city assembly with the nine-member body that remains today.
 


A business card from the newly-opened bank
 

The bank was liquidated, its former headquarters converted to offices known as the Granite Building. A new owner modernized the sidewalk façade along Sixth Street for storefronts in 1928. In 1986, Pennsylvania’s largest savings and loan, Atlantic Financial, made the building its regional headquarters, replacing the storefronts with smooth granite walls and arched windows reminiscent of the originals. Four years later, Atlantic lost $602 million in the savings and loan crisis; its assets, including the Granite Building, were sold off. 
 


Hessian coats of arms appealed to German customers
 

By 2005, when Shaler native, journalist and author Holly Brubach bought the building, it was vacant except for a beauty supply store. She had it gutted for upscale condos; then came the recession. Efforts to make it a boutique hotel could not secure financing, so Brubach plans to turn it back into offices next year, with a restaurant or retail space on the ground floor.  

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Taking place at Construction Junction, the spring pop-up market from Handmade Arcade will feature 30 local makers selling home decor, clothing and art.

The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

There’s four different ways to apply — do you qualify?

Kennywood Earns Designation as Certified Autism Center

With noise-cancelling headphones and sensory bags, park officials hope its summertime fun can be accessible for more families.

For Three Days, Sesame Street Will be in Pittsburgh

Kids can join Big Bird, Elmo and more Muppets as Sesame Workshop plans three days of events during a stop in Pittsburgh in June.

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Picklesburgh to Double in Size for Its Fifth Year

Nation’s top speciality food festival to spill out onto Ft. Duquesne Boulevard.

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Is Your Pittsburgh Street on This Year's Road Repaving List?

The City of Pittsburgh has announced its street paving plan for 2019. You’re one click away from finding out if your street or route to work is on the list.

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

A graffiti-decorated cake, a sequined jacket for the groom and a violinist playing hip-hop covers wowed guests at this Strip District wedding.

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

Look for New Mexican cuisine, customizable chicken and more as half of the Pittsburgh Galley Group concepts change in the next few months.

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Featuring innovative indoor animal shelters designed by local architects and artists going up for auction, the event at PerLora raises money for Animal Friends.

The 400-Word Review: Hellboy

The cult comic character gets a reboot in this R-rated action flick.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

The City's Free Grass Cutting Service is Back for Its Second Year

There’s four different ways to apply — do you qualify?

Comments

Kennywood Earns Designation as Certified Autism Center

Kennywood Earns Designation as Certified Autism Center

With noise-cancelling headphones and sensory bags, park officials hope its summertime fun can be accessible for more families.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Comments

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

Look for New Mexican cuisine, customizable chicken and more as half of the Pittsburgh Galley Group concepts change in the next few months.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

Comments

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

The pop-up laser tag arena takes the mechanics of online video games into a undeniably cool setting.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Comments

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Patience, persistence and taking what the game gives is critical in Round One.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

A graffiti-decorated cake, a sequined jacket for the groom and a violinist playing hip-hop covers wowed guests at this Strip District wedding.

Comments

Matching Bridesmaids’ Dresses May Be a Thing of the Past

Matching Bridesmaids’ Dresses May Be a Thing of the Past

Brides choosing one (or several) different colors, but leaving the design up to the bridesmaids, help attendants feel comfortable within their own budget.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Get the Scoop on Up-and-Coming Crafters at Show and Sell

Taking place at Construction Junction, the spring pop-up market from Handmade Arcade will feature 30 local makers selling home decor, clothing and art.

Comments

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Featuring innovative indoor animal shelters designed by local architects and artists going up for auction, the event at PerLora raises money for Animal Friends.

Comments