Published: August 26, 2003
For Guidance Corporation, the company’s recent move into 30 Wall Street unites two notable lower Manhattan histories – that of Brown Brothers Harriman Bank, formerly of 63 Wall Street, and Seaman’s Bank of 30 Wall Street. Now, select pieces from the Brown Brothers Harriman collection of furniture, ranging from early American and Federal to Hepplewhite, find a home among the important architectural details of the old Seaman’s Bank Headquarters.
In addition, six years ago the company was lucky to discover and purchase out of an old warehouse in Jersey City some of the earliest black walnut sample tables that originated from Brooks Brothers’ first store, dating from the early Nineteenth Century. Now these pieces serve as the executive’s desks and boardroom table at Guidance. A collection of Herter Brothers furniture, purchased separately, also graces the CEO’s office.
Since 1988 Guidance Corporation has provided executive search, permanent and temporary staffing services to all areas in the finance sector. In 1992, in the midst of the last recession, Guidance realized the importance of diversification and the company branched into other specialties, becoming one of the largest medical, fashion and luxury goods personnel providers.
The company’s headquarters have always been in Manhattan’s financial district, and the company remains strongly committed to the Wall Street area. That commitment, combined with the antiquarian interests of the three senior executives, Robert Guida, CEO; Roger Ross, CMO; and Brita Edman, COO, results in an office space that provides a warm and welcome change from many corporate interiors.
Ross recognized the alternative options available for the company’s move, especially with newly renovated spaces in the Wall Street area. “There’s a place for modernism but not when you have a building like this available,” he explains.
Guidance’s first offices were at 43 Broad Street, but its next two moves to 80 Wall Street and then to 63 Wall Street would bring the company closer to where it is today, adjacent to the New York Stock Exchange and next door to Federal Hall, where President George Washington took his oath of office. The offices of Brown Brothers Harriman, which were at 63 Wall Street and recently moved to 140 Broadway, still contained the firm’s collection of Federal furniture, and it was there that Ross came to know about the notable collection. Guidance was delighted to purchase the remaining pieces when Brown Brothers Harriman decided to sell. Included were two mahogany bookcases containing a few hundred books, many autographed, belonging to W. Averell Harriman.
“We’ve always been committed to Wall Street, have always stayed here,” according to Ross. The decision to move to the old Seaman’s Bank building resulted in the connection made by Guidance’s real estate agents, Tom Reilly of Reilly Realty and Bernard Weinstabel of Insignia ESG who put the company CEO Guida in touch with Percy Pyne, owner of 30 Wall Street. Pyne’s two grandfathers were integrally involved with both the Seamen’s Bank and Citibank, and the family has been in property ownership in lower Manhattan for more than 150 years.
In a period of seven weeks, Ross and Guida designed what would be the new layout of the office space, using the building’s historic voice throughout, with walnut, oak and pine paneling, elaborate seashell crown molding and stone floors. When the company officially moved in on February 1, the collection of furniture completed the space.
Roger Ross, who has been with Guidance since 1992, recalls that his first taste for the antique was inspired by his parents, who took him on frequent trips to his mother’s homeland — Paris. Ross’s uncle was also a major influence, as he was the proprietor of Once Upon a Stove, a Manhattan restaurant that was known for incorporating antique architectural elements into its décor. Ross explains, “I grew up in Liberty, N.Y., in the heart of the Catskills when the huge hotel industry there was experiencing a severe decline. It was here that I would buy through attending auctions at 8/9 years of age with my parents pieces that were from my area.”
When his uncle encouraged Ross to search the Catskills for an authentic Nineteenth Century pharmacy, he stepped up to the challenge, negotiated the deal and presented his uncle with his find from a small town in the Catskills. While Ross’s first collecting passion was bitters bottles, today the executive enjoys collecting in several different categories of paintings and furniture.
Today, the corporate headquarters of Guidance are furnished in not one period, but in a range of styles, from Eighteenth Century American tea tables to Twentieth Century seating furniture by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Clients and employees are just as likely to encounter a late Seventeenth Century American tall-case clock as they are an 1815 Hepplewhite sideboard and a late Nineteenth Century Herter Brothers table. The lobby will add an eclectic touch to Guidance’s headquarters, with Mies Barcelona chairs set among the restored fireplace, pilasters and dramatic crown molding.
“It was important to us to create a ‘home away from home’ for all who enter the office as well as work here,” says Ross. Ross found much of the furniture locally, though frequent trips to France have resulted in plans to add a Modernist flavor to the lobby. A lead statue of the Greek goddess Ceres marks the entrance of Ross’s office. It is thought that the statue, one of a set of four seasons, first came to New York in 1810 as ballast on a clipper ship, and has remained on Long Island in the same family until just recently.
“It was love at first sight,” Ross said of the old Seaman’s Bank. “We knew we had to have this place. It had great bones, and we were happy to work with them.”
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