Modern Phoenix Neighborhood Network
Story and photos 2006 Walt Lockley. Additional photography 2006-2016 Modern Phoenix LLC

 

The Safari Branch

We'll dub this the "Safari" branch because this Valley National Bank branch was built close to the former Safari resort property, on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Highland.

It dates from about 1967 and was designed by Frank Henry and another architect named Alden Barsted, working for the firm of Weaver and Drover. The original bank was far simpler and more classically clean-lined and glassy and modern, with a kind of dramatic tension created by its simple apparent fragility, and its placement within a garden behind those precast concrete fins. They originally went all the way around the building. Mr. Henry called this one "horribly disfigured", which I first thought was an exaggeration.

It's not. It's been mangled. Slowly.

Most, if not all, of the VNB's had integral art. The Indian School & 3rd Branch had a large stained-glass mural, etc. Along with all the original integral custom-designed furniture and fixtures this one had a metal mural, 20 feet long, 8 feet high, celebrating the "History of the Coin", by the Ditsons. Unfortunately, gone.

 

To mentally restore the building, imagine it totally surrounded by a fence of those cast concrete fins, suggesting kind of a stylized castle. They were the work of local artisan Perry Wells, the same guy responsible for the concrete mushrooms at the 44th & Camelback branch, who did his castings carefully, in stages to allow for proper curing, and all indoors. Imagine the surprising garden -- the best feature of the existing structure -- extending equally on both sides.

The original building consisted of three enclosures under a single roof, with breezeways in between, elegantly cutting the design into three glassy pavilions under one roof, inside the garden, inside the outer walls. You should mentally erase those diagonal anchors on the north and south end. Striking, but they don't belong. You should erase that red coloring in the below photograph, restoring the clarity of the clerestory band of windows and making the roof float again. You should peel off the slump-block and the stucco on the street side and re-orient the building away from the street and back towards its meditative, self-complete self.

Valley National Bank would have occupied this, with some rental space on the side, from 1967 through no later than 1994, when its assets were bought by Bank One. (There's also a complete basement under it, says Mr. Henry, a Cold War-era bomb shelter.) Another architect "got ahold of it", and it was an Earl's Restaurant for awhile.

In 1997 it was marked for demolition by the Hilton company and survived, partly because of neighborhood protests from the nearby condos. The Hilton would have blocked their view of Camelback.

So, with land values skyrocketing around it, the high-margin retail phase began, and that's where we are now. The breezeways have now been filled in to yield additional square footage rentable to tenants like salons, modern furniture stores and the Safari condo project.

And they keep fiddling with it. Until a few months ago, the 'billboards' on the north and south end of the building were some translucent orange material, something like plexiglas, lit from within. They've been recovered with bronze-ish rust-ish panels. The old way, the building had a much more toy-like, plastic-retro, almost tactile effect. Wish I had pictures of the old design just to demonstrate what a big difference that small difference makes.

The nice people at Haus let me in, before their official opening, to let me photograph the old vault. They would have liked to use the original vault door as a design element, but it was so ugly and vandalized they had to cover it up, and cut another door through six inches of concrete.

 

On the bright side, the branch retains a lot of its character, the enclosed garden is beautiful, it's an entertaining and intriguing presence in this particular part of town, and -- it's still standing.

 

Story and photos 2006 Walt Lockley. Additional photography 2006-2016 Modern Phoenix LLC