A while back I stumbled onto a website called “Defining Downtown at Mid-Century: The Architecture of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America.” A part of the Recent Past Network, the site aims to bring attention to the thousands of bank buildings constructed in downtowns around the country by the Bank Building & Equipment Corp. It also slickly combines advocacy for these buildings with a survey of many of the known buildings. In this way, it fits neatly into our recent discussion here on MissPres regarding the need to get out and find the buildings of the 1950s-1970s now so that we can start to get a handle on which buildings we should work hardest to preserve in the future. Otherwise, we will turn around and realize that a whole generation of buildings has been lost without a peep.
According to the company history on the website, the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation, which started as a cabinet shop in St. Louis in 1913, became a colossal in the bank building field by the 1940s, designing and building thousands of bank buildings around the U.S. in the post-World War II period until its demise in 1991. The company also pioneered the concept of drive-through banking, something I had never paid attention to until Thomas Rosell’s post about Claude Lindsley’s 1968 bank in Ocean Springs.
The “Building Directory” section of the Defining Downtown website is easily searched, and it contains four banks for Mississippi, one in Pascagoula and three in Columbus. Each entry has at least one photograph, and some even show original renderings. The text also often helpfully explains these buildings, which because they are Modern or New Formalist or at least NOT Greek Revival, are sometimes not easily explained in the architectural language with which we Mississippi preservationists are familiar. For instance, for the Cadence Bank in Columbus, built in 1973 and a building which frankly I have completely looked past on my trips to Columbus, there is this entry:
The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation had architect Charles B. Guariglia design this four story structure for the National Bank of Commerce in Columbus. The architecture of the building has two tendencies. One is to draw you in by directing your path to where the “banks” of windows and doors are located in the building, marking the entry points. The second tendency is that of drawing your eye vertically up. While the thick, cantilevered roof may seem to be too heavy for the structure, the system of thin horizontal arms, reach up and out to support and hold it in place.
Simple, but very helpful in forcing me to look at the building (and other buildings like it) with new eyes.
I was reminded of this website again recently after taking pictures of the Delta National Bank in Yazoo City (right in downtown, on Broadway). The plaque for this nice New Formalist bank finished in 1965 very helpfully noted that the architect was Perry Langston and the contractor was the Bank Building & Equipment Company. While my description can’t match the one above, I was drawn to the sophisticated classicism of this building, even before I saw the plaque. While using columns and a pilastered facade, it’s not a blind or clumsy re-interpretation of Mississippi’s famous white columns. It’s an angular, maybe even a little edgy building, and I really love the wide overhanging roof with a very slightly stepped corbelling effect. While New Formalist buildings are often symmetrical, this one isn’t, still managing to convey classical proportions nevertheless.
I notice that the MDAH Historic Resources database shows six known buildings for the Bank Building & Equipment Corp: three of which that aren’t on the Defining Downtown list: this Yazoo City bank, the Bank of New Albany (1969-70) and the Trustmark Bank in Laurel (1969). Maybe we can get those buildings photographed too and added to the Defining Downtown list for Mississippi!