Modern Phoenix Neighborhood Network

Banking on Progress: The History and Future of the Valley National Bank Buildings in Phoenix, Arizona

Story and Photos by Walt Lockley  
 

Background

Introduction

Featured VNB Branches

Indian/Central Branch
Walter Bimson Indian/Central Rehabilitation
Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Henry Branch
Banking Competitors Tempe Dome Branch
Bank Locations & Status Safari Branch
Resources and Links Christown Branch
Feedback & Urban Lore Los Arcos Branch
Indian/Central Branch
Opening Day Brochure
Ajo Al's Branch

The Valley National Bank Branches

Between 1950 and 1970 the most powerful banker in the Southwest commissioned dozens of branch offices in the Phoenix metropolitan area; they appeared from nowhere, like pretty dice rolled out on a hot, empty tray. The city grew up around them, between them, because of them.

Since the 1930's Valley National Bank and Walter Bimson had driven the explosive expansion of the Phoenix area with a liberal lending policy, attracting Midwestern transplants, and promoting the city with imagination and flair. The strategy worked brilliantly. Bimson built a Growth Machine.

In the 1960s, this imagination and flair took the form of outlandish and entertaining banks all over the Valley, made possible by a unique combination of the mid-Century Zeitgeist, the climate, the Phoenician self-image, and money. Some conservative citizens clucked into their cornflakes that this was terribly improper and verging over into banks-as-vulgar-roadside attractions. Into the realm of show-biz. Whatever. They probably banked at boring banks.

Now well past the year 2000, the banking business has changed and this building genre has largely outlived its usefulness. Of course you don't have to go to the bank anymore. Like the elaborate movie palaces of the 1920s they're socially unnecessary and their heyday was brief. To be truthful only a handful of the hundreds of these branch banks are worth giving any attention, and we're covering six of them in this special edition of Modern Phoenix devoted to the topic of Recent Past Preservation.

Ah, did we mention some of these buildings are endangered? Another one bit the dust on February 10, 2007, as Arizona State University realized its expansion plans on top of the gold-domed branch at Apache and Rural Roads..

A word from the Editor:

We're starting this Recent Past Preservation discussion in Phoenix with these privately-owned but publicly-loved institutions because they belong to virtually none of us except in our collective nostalgic memory. These are the buildings where our fathers banked. They are where we started up or own savings accounts. They are landmarks. They are places of implicit trust built between generations -- which is why their deterioration is particularly heartbreaking.

The trouble is that much of the midcentury modern architecture around the Valley -- one of our greatest unnatural resources if you ask those in the know -- elicits either great affection or greater apathy. Many of the Midcentury Modern buildings that perch on the bleeding edge of Recent Past Preservation are those that haven't quite reached that magical 50-year mark -- the age when a building stands a greater chance of having endured the test of time and being worthy of keeping.

In some cases, however, the buildings have been repurposed, rehabbed or otherwise kept intact. Our exclusive interview with Hoskin Ryan Consultants of the 2nd Avenue and Indian School bank branch goes to prove how much a little respectful hindsight and visionary foresight can go toward keeping these institutions around.

In the pages that follow we hope that you are able to form your own opinion on this portfolio of local architecture.

The journalist I have elected for this ambitious research project, Walt Lockley, is a passionate critic of architecture. In keeping with the editorial character of ModernPhoenix, Walt was invited to freely express his assessment of the state of some of these buildings. While Walt and I may disagree on some points, I uphold his right to an opinion and do so knowing that it was fueled by an amazing amount of primary source research. We welcome his bright, effusive and sometimes scathingly critical dismissal of the buildings he has researched. Here's to you, Walt. Phoenix will never be the same because of what you have done.

 

Struggles with Midcentury Modern Bank Preservation Efforts

Is the 44th & Camelback Bank Branch next?

Upcoming meetings to save 44th & Camelback

Phoenix Neighborhood Coalition - Download a petition

Walt Lockley's NPR interview about 44th and Camelback

We Must do a Better Job of Preserving History by Jim McPherson

44th/Camelback File Sharing box

Opus West Corporation "Building Beyond"

Phoenix Modern Threatened by David Brown

Save Our City in Java Magazine [PDF]

Phoenix tries to save the loss of another bank in Preservation Online

Matthew King's

photographic account of seeing the Buckminster Fuller gold dome removed from the VNB bank on Feb 10, 2007

Alison King's photographic and narrative account of the day she visited the ruins of Washburn Piano

Discussion about Washburn Piano on ModPhx dating back to 2005

Efforts to save the gold domed bank

Gold domed roof spared in ASU construction

Doomed Dome Disappears

Losing Tempe Dome - Do you see a trend? by Jim McPherson

 

Banking on Progress: The History and Future of the Valley National Bank Buildings in Phoenix, Arizona

Story and Photos by Walt Lockley  
 

Background

Introduction

Featured VNB Branches

Indian/Central Branch
Walter Bimson Indian/Central Rehabilitation
Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Henry Branch
Banking Competitors Tempe Dome Branch
Bank Locations & Status Safari Branch
Resources and Links Christown Branch
Feedback & Urban Lore Los Arcos Branch
Indian/Central Branch
Opening Day Brochure
Ajo Al's Branch

©2006 Walt Lockley and Alison King