Updated Nov. 13
When Philadelphians are lucky, our historic buildings live many lives, and the 150-year-old Northern Savings Fund building just got a new reincarnation.
Once famed in the local party scene as Stephen Starr’s nightclub “The Bank,” the Frank Furness-designed property at 600 Spring Garden St. has been taken over by Di Bruno Bros. Called Banca, in keeping with the gourmet food company’s Italian heritage, the space celebrated its grand opening last week.
“Everybody had their stories about The Bank,” Bill Mignucci, vice president at Di Bruno’s, told Billy Penn. But now, “we could Di Bruno-ize it.”
It’s the first dedicated catering venue for the Philadelphia cheese authority, which took over the building in the spring and spent the last six months on renovations. Mignucci said they chose the Northern Savings Fund because of its look, legacy and size.
“You can’t build a building like this,” he said. “You can never recreate this. The bones of the building are so strong and they become part of the story, part of the atmosphere.”
Di Bruno’s redevelopment of the bank, which was built in 1872 and placed on the Historic Register a century later, comes at a time when the Spring Garden corridor is seeing a huge boom.
A block to the east, Yards Brewing and Target have taken over a former furniture storage space. A few blocks in the other direction, a warehouse at 990 Spring Garden has been flipped into hub for arts, events and office space, and is now home to Roy-Pitz Barrel House and soon-to-open Lucky Well BBQ. Across the street, 915 Spring Garden is being reimagined as an artist makerspace and small-business property more than 100 years after it was built in 1909. Triple Bottom Brewing opened its loft-style brewpub there in September. (Those last two spaces are owned by Arts + Crafts Holdings, which also owns the Northern Savings Fund property.)
Reimagining historic properties as entertainment venues has become increasingly accepted as a route to preservation, and Banca joins a host of hospitality spaces carved from legacy buildings across the city.
Wanamaker’s Crystal Tea Room and Cescaphe’s revamp of the Fairmount Water Works were at the vanguard of the current movement. Then there’s the Metropolitan Opera House in North Philly, built in 1908, which reopened with slate of nationally-famous acts as The Met last December. The Divine Lorraine, built in 1892, was renovated in 2017, and is about to welcome a swanky new Italian restaurant called Cicala. Further up North Broad, plans for the Art Deco-style Beury Building include apartments, restaurants and a hotel.
Banca’s transformation has yielded a one-floor public event space that’s 2,300 square feet and can host about 150 people. It’s not huge, but the intimate size is in-line with the Di Bruno’s brand of catering, said sales manager Dan Love.
“Having a big ballroom or having a big loft space kind of thing is really not the DB style,” Love told Billy Penn. “The DB style really is a lot of richness, and warmth, and a familial kind of feeling.”
The Northern Savings Fund building shares similarities with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which was constructed around the same time. Its 31-foot ceilings create an open feel, while Di Bruno’s designers also created a tucked away bar and seating area for a truly intimate experience.
“We’re not trying to be the biggest caterer in the city,” Mignucci said, “but we’re trying to be one of the better ones.”