Saturday, August 29, 2015

Former Rogers Park National Bank, Clark and Lunt

The building at the southeast corner of Lunt and Clark is a 1917 Classical Revival bank with an Art Moderne facade along Clark Street.   Your first thought should probably be "What the heck?" But why this happened is interesting. 

Most of the historic info below can be found in articles published by the Chicago Tribune, accessed through the website of the Chicago Public Library.  Some information about neighborhood banks is taken from the Neighborhood Bank Buildings Landmark Designation Report published in 2007 by Chicago's Historic Preservation Division in the Department of Planning and Development. The postcard image of the Rogers Park National Bank prior to renovations was taken from the Illinois Digital Archives.

This view is looking South.
In the winter of 1917 the new home for the Rogers Park National Bank was under construction. It was designed by firm of Vitzthum and Teich in the Beaux Arts tradition.  Its cladding was polished granite and grey Indiana limestone.  Beaux Arts-style buildings generally relied on the Classical Revival architectural vocabulary, which was selected to convey an image of permanence and stability.   There was a surge of buildings designed in this style after publication of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, which used the same vocabulary to illustrate recommended improvements to Chicago.  The Rogers Park National Bank observed the massing of other nearby commercial development, but it's use of monumental columns and expensive materials placed it an entirely different class.  The bank was constructed at a cost of $75,000, which would translate to roughly $1.3 million today.

As Chicago expanded it became a city of neighborhoods, each with its own commercial and economic life.  At the time Illinois law prohibited banks from opening multiple branches in an attempt to prevent monopolies.  Instead, independent neighborhood banks were developed to address local needs for financial services, building and business loans.

Neighborhood banks were typically sited at the key intersections of commercial districts, and became prominent landmarks.  Clark and Lunt was adjacent some of the earliest commercial and civic development both before and after Roger Park's 1893 annexation to City of Chicago.  Later the new Phillip State Bank and Trust (of a similar monumental design) would locate at the northeast corner of the same intersection.

Apparently the last good photo I took of this corner was in 2008.  It hasn't changed much.
 The Great Depression led to the end of the Rogers Park National Bank, as it did for many other banks.  In September of 1931 the bank was ordered closed by the board of directors.  Heavy withdrawals were given as the reason.  The bank had nearly $400,000 in deposits, but that  wasn't enough to reassure their depositors that their money was safe.  A receiver took over the bank, and was responsible for distributing its assets to depositors and stock holders.  In February of 1939 the bank building was offered for sale.  It was purchased later that year by Simon Simanski, who went about maximizing the value of his new bargain property.  

By December of 1940 the building had been drastically renovated, incorporating the adjacent building to the south under a new Clark Street facade designed by the firm of Lowenberg and Lowenberg.  This was a comprised of cream and turquoise terra cotta tiles.  The former separation between the buildings can be seen above as a wide band between the two groups of second floor windows.  Originally this contained a vertical strip of glass blocks, which has since been infilled.    The detailing is a streamlined version of the Art Moderne style, with minimal references to historic ornament.  This was seen as a good way to modernize a building, and was probably fairly inexpensive.  The portion of the building along Lunt had its windows reduced in size or infilled, but was mostly left alone.  An additional 1-story storefront was added to the east, completely filling the lot.

I wonder if there are any remaining interior details related to its banking history.  If so they may be buried deep underneath the alterations.  In 1940 the building looked pretty much as it does today.   In 1945 it was the site of a double murder, but that will have to wait for a different post...

You can find another post about the Rogers Park National Bank at the Forgotten Chicago website.

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