Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS)
Backstory and Context
The Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS) establishment occurred in 1831 as a "safe depository for the earnings of working people" and whose primary business centered on mortgages and offering loans to home builders. The emergence of WSFS speaks to the Philadelphia-area's creation of savings society banks: mutual savings and savings & loans associations. The first two arose in Philadelphia in 1816 and 1831, with three more nearby, including WSFS in 1832, by the 1850s. The mutual savings idea eventually spread throughout New England with much success. Construction on the historic, Neo-Classic-Revival WSFS Building finished in 1920, which replaced an earlier WSFS structure completed in 1886.
Inspired by similar institutions in England and Scotland, the success of the member-owned Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (1816) and Oxford Provident Building Association (1831) helped launch savings societies whose focus involved Americans of modest means. Savings society banks helped people purchase homes, save for retirement, and open small businesses. Savings societies thrived in the Philadelphia region and eventually throughout the nation until the Savings & Loan (S&L) crisis of the 1980s and 1990s; only a few savings societies operated by the end of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, WSFS survived the Great Depression and S&L crisis. WSFS now serves as the largest and longest-standing locally-managed banking facility in the Greater Delaware Valley. Moreover, WSFS Bank stands as one of the nation's ten oldest banks continuously operating under its original name.
WSFS emerged in 1832, one year after Oxford Provident in Philadelphia. By 1886, WSFS needed a large structure in downtown Wilmington to accommodate its growing customer base as Wilmington enjoyed an industrial and population boom. By 1920, Wilmington enjoyed continued growth, although its economy had largely transitioned from one centered on industries such as iron and leather to one focused on chemicals, the automobile, and a plethora of white-collar professional jobs. The historic building, which opened in 1920, speaks to the city's and WSFS's continued growth as its lot size doubled that of the 1832 structure.
In fact, while some banks folded, several banks enjoyed profound success after World War I and into the "Roaring '20s," and bank's architectural designs often conveyed their success. The general massing of the WSFS building is akin to a Greek temple, featuring colossal Egyptian Revival columns. (A modern addition exists on the south side of the building, and renovations have altered the interior.) In 1932, even as the Great Depression created financial hardships for the nation and its banks, WSFS celebrated its 100th anniversary by adding a 60' x 90' mural to its lobby created by N.C. Wyeth; the mural is one of the six largest murals in the United States.
In 2007, WSFS Bank moved its corporate headquarters from its historic location on 838 N. Market Street to a modern skyscraper on 500 Delaware Avenue. The landmark bank underwent a conversion in 2015 into an apartment building, meeting the Historic Preservation committee's specifications. The building is now known as Market Street Village, but the Wilmington Savings Fund Society name remains prominent.
"City History." The City of Wilmington, Delaware. wilmingtonde.gov. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://www.wilmingtonde.gov/about-us/about-the-city-of-wilmington/city-history.
Hoffecker, Carol E. Wilmington, Delaware: Portrait of an Industrial City, 1830-1910. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1974. Digital copy found at delaware.gov. https://archivesfiles.delaware.gov/ebooks/Wilmington,_Delaware_Portrait_of_an_Industrial_City.pdf.
"Market Street Village." BPGS Construction. bpgsconstruction.com. Accessed February 1, 2021. https://www.bpgsconstruction.com/property/mkt-village-838-n-market/.
Mason, David L. "Savings Societies" The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. philadelphiaencyclopedia.org. Originally published by Rutgers University in 2015.
"Nomination Form: Wilmington Savings Fund Society, 838 North Market Street." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. January 30, 1985. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/7ac4da71-1883-4adf-9525-197d53e606c5.
Zimring, Franklin E., and Gordon Hawkins. "Crime, Justice, and the Savings and Loan Crisis." Crime and Justice 18 (1993): 247-92.
By Matt Glanden (Mglan1980) - Self-photographed (taken with a Kodak CX7530), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17262233