By Rick Moriarty |

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Syracuse, N.Y. — Three years ago, community leaders showed Pathfinder Bank executives a parking lot on Syracuse’s West Side, in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. They hoped the bank would build a new branch there.

But the executives were more interested in the building already on the property – a century-old mansion that once was the home of a prominent family but in recent years had sat vacant and fallen into disrepair.

Now, the small commercial bank headquartered in Oswego is putting the finishing touches on a $2.2 million transformation of the old mansion into a bank branch like no other.

On the first floor, a former living room at the front of the home has been turned into a bank lobby, but it still looks much like a living room. On one side are two teller stations. On the opposite side of the room is a restored fireplace that once helped to heat the home.

Another room on the first floor will serve as the branch manager’s office. The lower portion of the room’s walls feature restored wooden wainscoting, while the upper half is covered with original fabric wallpaper. The office also has what no other branch manager’s office within Pathfinder’s network has — a fireplace.

The office, which Pathfinder is calling its Southwest Branch, will open this spring at 506 W. Onondaga St. It will be the bank’s fourth office in Onondaga County and 10th branch overall.

In addition to traditional banking services such as mortgages and investment services, the branch will offer programs targeted to neighborhood residents and business owners. They include low-cost checking, and micro personal and business loans.

It also will offer free financial literacy classes to teach people budgeting, basic banking and how to establish credit.

“This location is important because, honestly, there are not very many financial institutions in this area,” said Shynique Gainey, a 17-year banking industry veteran who grew up in the neighborhood and has been named manager of the new branch. “I think this location will do well to bring opportunity to the underserved.”

Gainey said she is eager to help young people from the neighborhood establish their first banking relationships.

“I’ve seen people start with a savings account and in three- or four-years’ time, they come back and say they want to purchase their first home,” said Gainey, who most recently served as supervisor at Empower Federal Credit Union’s downtown branch. “I like to give people that hope.”

Designed by prominent Syracuse architects Archimedes Russell and Melvin King, the two-story, 4,786-square-foot home was built in 1910 for George C. Hanford, founder of G. C. Hanford Manufacturing Co. (now Hanford Pharmaceuticals). At the time, West Onondaga Street was lined with the homes of some of Syracuse’s most affluent families.

Hanford mansion under construction
Workers pause for a photo during the construction of the Hanford mansion at 506 W. Onondaga St. in Syracuse in 1910. (Onondaga Historical Association)

Hanford died in 1930. The home, a five-minute drive from downtown Syracuse, remained in his family until osteopathic physician Frederick lrving Gruman bought it in 1942. Gruman used it as his home and office until 1950, when he began using it exclusively as a medical office.

Gruman sold the home to the Automobile Club of Syracuse in 1969. By that time, West Onondaga Street had undergone major changes. Affluent families left the area as urban flight took hold.

In the years since the Automobile Club called it home, the mansion housed various other businesses and organizations. In recent years, it sat vacant and fell into disrepair.

In 2019, Pathfinder began looking for a location for its second Syracuse branch. Community leaders showed Pathfinder officials a property behind the mansion and suggested the bank build a branch there.

But Jim Dowd, Pathfinder’s chief operating officer, said bank President and CEO Thomas Schneider and Regional President Calvin Corriders noticed the dilapidated mansion in frontof the property. Theydecided that saving the building and turning it into a branch office would be better for the neighborhood and make for a unique setting for the bank.

“We hope to be a cornerstone of the growth in this area,” Dowd said while giving | The Post-Standard a tour of the nearly completed renovations.

The branch plans to hire up to seven people to work at the office, at least one of whom is expected to be bilingual.18

Former Syracuse mansion converted to bank aims to help local residents

Walking into the branch is like stepping into a grand, early-20th century mansion — because you are.

VIP Structures, the project’s general contractor, began work on the building last summer. Much of the home’s original, intricate wood paneling, doors and trim somehow survived the decades since residential use of the mansion ended in 1950. All of it has been carefully restored.

The home’s turned staircase suffered major damage when someone broke into the building and set fire to it in January 2021, about six months before the renovations started. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire, but not before many of the staircase’s treads were burned. The damaged treads have been replaced to match those that survived the fire.

The fire also left a stained glass window above the stairs covered with soot. The glass was cleaned by Brennan Stained Glass Studio in Syracuse and now looks as good as new.

The home’s second floor, which once contained bedrooms, now has offices for the bank’s mortgage and investment officers and a conference room where financial literacy classes will be held.

A remote drive-through teller station will be built in the rear of the property. It will be connected to the mansion through underground pneumatic tubes. A drive-up ATM also will be installed in the rear of the property. Access to both will be via a driveway off West Onondaga Street that will exit onto Slocum Avenue.

Ed Griffin-Nolan, who turned an old mansion next door into a spa and massage studio 15 years ago, said he has been thrilled to see the old Hanford House come back to life after watching it “just go down and down and down” for years.

“Having a building come back to life that looked like it was dead means a lot,” he said.