LEO Is Here!

Brownstone Sculpted Lion Guarding the Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue, Pittsburgh (LEO Design)


LEO is here!  It's 23 July, the first day of LEO—namesake, of course, of my favorite shop, LEO Design.  It is also my X-tieth birthday, one I'd prefer to ignore.  (Don't we get a three year "birthday rebate" because of Covid?)

Instead, let me turn your attention to the regal lion, majestic embodiment of the LEO sunsign.

This winsome feline guards the deposits held at Dollar Bank on Pittsburgh's Fourth Avenue—once known as the city's Wall Street.  The bank was founded in 1855 and this handsome (and imposing) flagship location was built in 1871 (with 14,000 tons of Connecticut brownstone).  The original pair of lion sculptures were carved by 28-year-old German immigrant, Max Kohler (assisted by a 25-year-old Welshman, Richard Morgan).  In 2012, the original 140-year-old lions were moved inside the bank and this pair of exact replicas (by sculptor Nicholas Fairplay, assisted by Brian C.E. Baker) were installed on the exterior stone plinths a year later.

When Dollar Bank was founded in 1855, banking was outside the reach of the vast majority of Pittsburgh denizens.  High opening deposit requirements kept the steelworkers, factory labor, tradesmen and shop clerks (who constituted the majority of the Pittsburgh populace) from accessing financial services.  An account at Dollar Bank could be started with one dollar.  Furthermore, the bank opened its doors to all people: women, immigrants, people of color.  The first Black depositor was Alfred Gibson, a porter on a river boat.  And women (who represented 45% of the depositors by 1881) were protected by the bank's charter: the assets of married women were to remain the sole property of that woman—not her husband.  The bank's founder, Charles A. Colton, was a visionary and social progressive. By the time Colton died in 1881, Dollar Bank had grown to the be the biggest of 18 banks in Pittsburgh.  And the bank actually grew during the Great Depression.  

The bank was chartered as a Mutual Savings Bank which means it is owned by the depositors, not by outside shareholder-investors.  This arrangement allowed the company to focus on customer service, not share price or risky growth (and quick profit) to satisfy rapacious investors.  In some cases, this arrangement allowed the bank to avoid serious pitfalls—like the subprime mortgage failure of 2008—and follow a more conservative, stable growth strategy.

The moral of this birthday story is this: sometimes goodness, profit and beauty can exist together—when envisioned by the right person at the right time.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248