Creatively repurposed bank buildings

What to do with an old bank building?
Originally posted April 8, 2019.

Last week nostalgia swept over me as I stepped inside an architectural masterpiece. An elegant survivor from banking’s bygone era of marble and polished brass, the entire building suggested strength, security, and longevity, all needful symbols for the early 20th century when people weren’t too sure about their banks. I pulled open the massive double doors suspended between towering marble columns, strolled across a checkerboard of brightly polished marble floor tiles, pulled up a chair to a marble-top check-writing stand …

… and ordered from the wine list.

The place was Cleveland’s fabulous, aptly named Marble Room restaurant. It occupies the lobby that once housed National City Bank and, before that, Guardian Savings and Trust. The 126-year-old building, downtown Cleveland’s first steel-frame skyscraper, rose under the direction of Harry Augustus Garfield, son of none other than President Andrew Garfield.

Photos from Marble Room website and Instagram page.
Used without permission. I doubt they’ll mind.

Digital banking fan that I am, even I must admit there is one thing a digital bank cannot do when it moves or ceases operations: It can’t turn into a knock-your-socks-off restaurant.

I have gone on the record as to the continued relevance—for now, anyway—of brick and mortar bank buildings. Still, it’s a fact that branches have closed with the growth of mobile banking. It’s nice to see the buildings not demolished but repurposed.

Vingtage buildings

Vintage bank buildings are a natural fit for restaurants and hotels. In a delightful piece for Bankrate, Mitch Storm lists five bank properties repurposed for the hospitality industry: the Bedford Restaurant (Chicago), CityFlatsHotel (Grand Rapids), Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel, Bank Brewing Company (Hendricks, MN), and events center Gotham Hall (NYC). Respectively, these buildings now house Home Bank & Trust, Michigan National Bank, Colorado National Bank, Bank of Hedricks, and Greenwich Savings Bank.

Not far from where I live, Salt Lake City’s Continental Bank Building went through a series of financial institution mergers and acquisitions until Kimpton acquired and transformed it into Hotel Monaco. The lobby houses Bambara Restaurant (recommended appetizer: the Blue Cheese House Cut Potato Chips), while the vault houses a bar named, appropriately enough, The Vault.

Classic bank buildings needn’t morph only into upscale restaurants. The restaurant chain that took over an Old National Bank office in Muncie, Indiana, reasoned that to raze the building with its gorgeous canopy would constitute a crime against aesthetics and history. The result is what just might be the most unique Taco Bell you’ll ever see. Not to be outdone, a McDonald’s restaurant has taken up residence in the lobby of Brooklyn’s old Lincoln Savings Bank.

The hospitality industry aside, Storm’s list of repurposed bank buildings also includes: Keystone Trust Co. (Harrisburg), First National Bank (Kansas City), National Bank of Spring City (PA), Bank of Manhattan Trust (NYC), and First National Bank (Columbia, PA). These have yielded their places to, respectively: an art museum, a public library, a private home, a Duane Reade drug store, and an Apple Store. I guess you could sort-of count the Apple Store as a digital bank. But only sort-of.

David Haas, writing for Storycuse, reports that erst bank buildings of Syracuse, New York, house everything from churches to stores. The Central Penn Business Journal points out repurposed bank buildings sporting the likes of petting zoos, bakeries, arcades, video game stores, and an escape room. That last makes uncommon sense: What harder to escape than a bank vault?

You’ll find a Walgreens Pharmacy in an old vault in Chicago. A few years ago, you would have found a porn shop in what began life as New York’s Corn Exchange Bank building. On the flipside and contending for Most Mundane Repurposing Award is a vault in Ventura, California, that now serves as a retail clothing store dressing room.

My nomination for Most Poetic Repurposing Award goes to the space once occupied by Manhattan’s Italian Savings Bank. Today it houses the R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home. I hope the new occupant gave the bank a dignified sendoff.

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