Donna Reiner, a local historian and a good friend of Get Your PHX, has written many articles over the years for the Arizona Republic and others about what came before us. We use her services when we list properties of historic significance to help us tell the stories behind the homes.
We are happy that Donna is allowing us to re-publish some of her articles on a monthly basis. If you or your business ever needs a historian, let Donna know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phoenix began its speedy sprawl across the desert following World War II. Commercial enterprises, including banks, often accompanied the residential developments. These bank branches left a remarkable legacy of modern commercial architecture.
Major ﬁnancial institutions such as Valley National Bank, First National Bank, Arizona Bank, Western Savings, and First Federal Savings, sought architects who would create distinctive buildings for their branches. Bold architectural designs in conjunction with new materials created some of the Valley’s most iconic buildings.
Most branch banks built during this period were freestanding, one-story, ﬂat-roofed buildings located on busy street corners for easy auto access. Some included commissioned art work, an open interior, color on the walls, coordinated furniture and carpeting, and lots of natural light. Banks were, indeed, beautiful inside and out, and attracted the newest customer, the housewife.
Several of these mid-century modern branch banks were especially memorable, like the Valley National Bank “mushroom” branch at 44th Street and Camelback Road. Now a Chase Bank branch, security guards are used to people taking photos of the exterior. Although no pictures are allowed inside, it’s worthwhile to venture in.
The extant, custom designed bank buildings in Phoenix are indeed stunning. While many of these buildings continue to serve as banks, some have new lives as restaurants, offices, and stores. Two of the better known former banks, now restaurants, are The Vig at 6015 N. 16th Street and Federal Pizza at 5210 N. Central Avenue.
Unfortunately, recognition of the importance and subsequent preservation of these mid-century banks in Phoenix has been problematic. Some owners have painted what have always been white buildings nondescript shades of brown. The result is now they look like their neighbors rather than distinctively standing out from all the rest on the strength of their whiteness. Others have been boarded up for years, waiting patiently for visionaries to find a new use for them.
We hope you search out and enjoy our remaining mid-century modern branch banks which stand as a monument to when unique design was important to the business.