Alexander Sender Jarmulowsky (1841-1912) was born in Russia, in an area that is now part of Poland and moved to the United States in 1873. He rose from being a penniless orphan at age 3 to becoming a Talmud prodigy to ending his life as a wealthy Lower East Side banker and “macher.”
Mr. Jarmulowsky bought steam ship tickets in bulk and sold them to other immigrants at a reduced price prior to his family moving from Germany to the United States. Once in NYC, he opened an office at 54 Canal Street, an immigrant “bank” that provided a place for loans, deposits as well as the continuing sale of ship’s ticket. He made his wife a full partner in the business, which usually was not done at that time.
The bank was a huge success from the day it opened. Yiddish and Russian speaking tellers helped with transactions for the newly arriving immigrants. The bank was open all day on Sunday, a day when every other bank was closed. This allowed Sabbath-observant Jews to take care of their financial needs on the weekend. The bank survived survived bank runs in 1886, 1890, 1893, and 1901, always paying 100 cents on the dollar.
In 1887, he and other prominent businessmen in the community came together to create the Eldridge Street Synagogue. This was the first time that America’s Eastern European Jewish immigrants built a synagogue from the ground up. He also helped found a synagogue on the Upper East Side as well as giving to multiple Jewish hospitals and charities.
He opened the Jarmulowsky Bank building at 54 Canal Street at Orchard in 1912. The beautiful Beaux Arts façade featured a rooftop Greek tempietto which also served to hide the building’s water tower. It competed with the nearby Forward Newspaper Building for the title of “Tallest Building on the Lower East Side.” Jarmulowsky died less than a month after the building opened. The bank closed in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, when people were sending money home to Europe instead of investing in New York City and its bank. The building remains, but will become office and retail space. The dome which was torn down in the 80s, has been restored.