A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Security Mutual
A Building with a Century of Service

Security Mutual Building, Binghamton. Built in 1904.

Two-story lobby and twin staircases.

Carved marble hunting dog above the main entrance.

Peregrine Falcon perched near the top of the building.
Eric grew up in Toronto, but it was after a flight into Binghamton in 2001 that he decided to settle down. For the next five years he lived with his family on the tenth floor of one of this city's tallest and most recognizable landmarks. Located on the corner of Exchange and Court Streets, it was ideal, providing a bird's eye view overlooking Courthouse Square and the downtown area. It was a perfect spot to raise a family, and with a never-ending supply of tasty pigeons, they would not go hungry!

Eric was just one of several Peregrine Falcons that over the years have called the Security Mutual building home. Artist and naturalist John Baumlin has studied the species extensively since they first appeared at the site in 1996. As Baumlin points out, "Peregrines normally nest on cliffs, and a tall building can satisfy their needs in the same way." But the Security Mutual is not just any "tall building."

Designed by Truman I. Lacey and son, this Binghamton "skyscraper" was built in 1904 to be the headquarters of the rapidly growing Security Mutual Life Insurance Company. It was a banner year for construction in Binghamton. Next door the Carnegie Library was just completed. The Press Building on Chenango Street was also built that year and consistent with the competitive nature of its owner, Willis Sharpe Kilmer, that structure was to rise 29 feet higher than the Security Mutual building.

Security Mutual stands as an elaborate expression of Beaux-Arts Classical architecture. The massive arch at the entrance was created in the image of the company's original emblem - a stone bridge spanning a river with a setting sun in the background. Originally, a radiating pattern of ironwork filled the upper portion of the arch further emphasizing the concept. The design is echoed around the windows of the upper floors where carved stone lion heads look out over the city.

Inside, the highly ornate two-story lobby is one of the most magnificent in the area. Finished in Pavonezza and Carrerra marble, the grand entrance features twin marble staircases that curve gracefully to the second floor. The domed ceiling is framed by architectural features and high above the entrance a marble sculpture of a hunting dog watches over the lobby. Some say it's the architect's dog, others believe it to be the family dog of the first company president, and although not quite as romantic, there is some indication that it simply exists as a symbol of fidelity for the insurance company.

The walls on each side of the lobby are faced with arches, where in 1983 the company commissioned local artists to paint murals depicting life in Broome County.

Magnificent woodwork, ornate fireplaces, vintage light fixtures, and even the original conference room table are found in the executive offices on the upper floors. A close look at the doorknobs reveals an intricate Security Mutual logo molded into the brass fixtures.

Updates and modifications have been made as technology and requirements have changed over the years, but where possible, original design elements have been maintained. Nowhere is the dichotomy more evident than in the mail handling system. Antique 19th-century mail chutes are found next to the elevators, where a 21st-century robot silently roams the aisles delivering inter-office mail.

No stranger to high technology, in 1969 the company erected a new sign on top of the building spelling out "Security Mutual Life," and long-time residents recall looking at the sign to get the latest weather forecast. Each day for the next four years telephone calls were made to the weather bureau, then neon lights in the initial letters, S, M and L, were switched on to indicate the forecast - green letters meant clear skies, gold indicated cloudy conditions, flashing gold meant a storm was brewing, and when they were white, snow was on the way.

It was a hot summer day in 1991, when across the street patrons of Windsor Tavern heard a loud bang. As reported in the Binghamton Press, "soon afterward a woman ran into the bar screaming, 'My God, the building is falling!'" The article continued: "More than 600 pounds of concrete fell off the Security Mutual building and crashed onto a Court Street sidewalk."

Luckily no one was injured when a chunk of decorative fašade fell from the northeast corner of the building, but the event sparked an effort to better monitor the condition, not just of this building, but all of Binghamton's aging structures.

Binghamton is rich in historic, architectural, and natural treasures. This building embodies all three - it is rich in history, an architectural masterpiece, and it provides security for some of this area's most fascinating wildlife. It also holds a distinction that very few commercial structures can claim. Since the day it was completed over a century ago the building has been continuously owned and occupied by its builder, Security Mutual, and continuously occupied by its first tenant, a law firm that would later be known as Hinman, Howard and Kattell. As stated in the company brochure, "the building stands today as a symbol of the strength and stability of Security Mutual Life."

In 1986, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, Security Mutual adopted a tag line: "Building on a Century of Service." How remarkable, that it is still being done from a building with a century of service.

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