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New London urging Citizens Bank to save historical artifacts

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New London — Citizens Bank is moving out of its historic home on 63 Eugene O’Neill Drive to a different location in New London next month, and local historians are concerned it's taking a bit of the city's history with it.

The majestic interior of the former Savings Bank of New London was, until last month, adorned with reminders of New London's whaling past — paintings, a model ship and even nautical-themed trash cans. They have since been removed — their whereabouts unknown.

One of the larger paintings caught the eye of New London Maritime Society Director Susan Tamulevich. It depicts a whaling scene — small whaleboats at sea harpooning a whale, one boat upended with larger whaling ships in the background.

Tamulevich sent an unanswered letter to Citizens Bank Regional Manager Michelle Mercado last month inquiring about the New London-related objects and offered a space at the Custom House Maritime Museum on Bank Street for the painting.

“We would very much like to have this work at the Custom House Maritime Museum and have a wall in our main exhibition room ready. This is after all, the Whaling City,” Tamulevich wrote.

Tamulevich also offered the bank sponsorship opportunities in exchange for loan of the painting.

“The Custom House is a relatively new museum begun just 35 years ago. Much of New London’s whaling heritage was dispersed before we began. We hope that New London will not lose this wonderful whaling scene,” she wrote.

Her cause is being championed by Mayor Michael Passero and New London Landmarks Executive Director Laura Natusch.

“I hope that as you leave, you’ll give the city this one last gift,” Natusch said. “These artifacts and artworks are part of New London’s cultural heritage, and nowhere else will they be as appreciated or as meaningful."

Passero followed with a letter to Citizens on March 4 saying the Maritime Society would be an excellent steward.

The origin and age of the items from the bank is unknown, but locals suspect they were in the bank when Citizens moved there in 1993. Tamulevich said one generic ship painting and model of the clipper Flying Cloud are not specifically tied to New London, as far as she knows, but still interesting.

She suspects the large whaling scene painting, which was on the left wall as one entered the bank, is possibly the work of artist Lauritz Sorensen.

The older portion of the bank building at 63 Eugene O’Neill was constructed in 1852 as the home of Savings Bank of New London, according to a history provided by New London Landmarks. Wings were added later and the current façade was designed by architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly.

Old Lyme-based real estate development company Readco purchased the building in 1999 and has been leasing the space to Citizens. The city is considering leasing the space from Readco as part of a consolidation plan for city offices.  

Reado CEO Michael Lech said terms of the agreement with Citizens were that all property and tenant improvements are left to Citizens, he said. They have the right to remove them, he said.

While he has no legal say in the matter, Lech said his wish would be that the items be left in the hands of New London and somewhere they can be enjoyed by the public.

“These antiquities represent the rich tradition of New London. It would be a magnanimous gesture on the part of Citizens Bank to show the same kind of commitment to New London as its citizens have shown to them.”

A representative from Citizens Bank did not return calls or emails from The Day. A sign posted on the door of its Eugene O'Neill branch announces to customers that the branch will close at 2 p.m. on April 5. The bank will reopen on April 8 at 470 Bank St.

g.smith@theday.com

 

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