The State Bank building is easily one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, and for now has the most beautiful interior downtown.
The site had previously been land owned by pioneer settler Simeon Lee, the namesake of Lee Street.
The Des Plaines State Bank, founded in 1905, was Des Plaines' oldest financial institution and was then located in a distinctive Arts and Crafts style building on Ellinwood Street, built in 1915, which also replaced a later post office. Curiously, after this building was converted into a grocery store when the bank left, it was remodeled to give it a Greek revival look. It looked more like a bank after it no longer was one.
In 1926, Des Plaines was rapidly expanding; the highway system had brought in a lot of new people. New buildings like the Des Plaines Theatre, Masonic Temple, and First Congregational Church were going up or planned, and new subdivisions were filling out. So it was time for a new home for the Des Plaines State Bank.
They chose the architectural firm of Wolf, Sexton, Harper, and Treaux to design their new building. The firm is now best known for St. Charles' landmark Hotel Baker. Wolf, Sexton, Harper and Treaux chose an unusual, but attractive look for the building. It is classical in massing and material, with the standard temple look of a bank, but with Spanish detailing. After all, Greek temples don't have arches; that's a Roman invention.
The Spanish comes through in the details, where you see the arches flanked by slender, twisting columns. Then there are the Beaux Arts swags and cornice, and some Art Deco inspired details; in all, the building's architecture fits in perfectly with the Theatre and Temple.
The main banking room had a buff colored terrazzo floor, 16 bankers' cages flanking a 68'x27' lobby, and a coffered plaster ceiling. The large safe with a sixteen inch thick door at the center was by York Safe & Lock Co. of York, PA. The second floor contained eighteen offices with reception rooms; altogether, the building was projected to cost $250,000.
It opened June 11, 1927, but the Des Plaines State Bank didn't last too much longer. The depression hit on Black Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929; on June 13, 1931, the bank failed and closed its doors for good.
As a result of the depression, Des Plaines was able to build a new City Hall, Police/Fire Station, and Library, on the site of the old Des Plaines Library at Miner and Graceland, where the police department parking lot is now. Of course, this necessitated a temporary home for the library, and what better place than the still-unoccupied State Bank building? The library was located there from 1936 until the new building opened July 30, 1937.
In July, 1937 the bank building was purchased by people who had been depositors in the State Bank; they proposed to rent the main floor out. Instead, First National Bank, located in the old bank building on Miner and the adjacent Gillespie Printery since 1913, opened its doors there Oct. 1, 1937.
It appears that few changes were made, aside from covering up the old State Bank signage with a neon sign and black background; the mast atop the building was also gone by this time. First National remained there for 20 years, until they moved to new, larger facilities at the southeast corner of Lee and Prairie on Nov. 9, 1957.
As First National moved, the Des Plaines National Bank was already waiting in the wings. The rapidly growing city could use another bank, so they seized the opportunity; having organized the previous year, the new bank opened only five days after First National.
As they moved in, they planned to change the building with air conditioning, additional parking, redecorating and remodeling, drive-in banking, and 5,000 safe deposit boxes; it's unclear how many of these were accomplished how quickly, or where they planned on adding drive-in banking.
They definitely did add big, obtrusive red neon signs around the building, and embarked on a $150,000 'modernization' program in July, 1961. The architects responsible - and I use that word deliberately - were the local firm of Holmes & Fox, who later designed the Des Plaines Civic Center.
The original doorway, topped with a decorative metalwork cartouche and Spanish detail, was replaced by a plain glass door. The fine ironwork lamps on either side of the lobby were removed. A walk in lobby teller window was added for longer hours than the main lobby. The marble and iron banker's cages were replaced by unbarred counters of rosewood plastic laminate. The lanterns were removed and the ceiling was covered by a lowered drop ceiling with acoustical tile, fluorescent lighting, air ducts, and a sound system.
I'm really glad I've never seen a picture of the interior from this era.
In the late 1960s, Des Plaines National was looking to leave the building for larger quarters. When they hired Holmes & Fox to design their new auto bank branch at Lee & Perry, it was built with foundations so a multi-story headquarters could be built atop it without affecting operations. Obviously, this never occurred.
To make matters worse, in 1971 the bank added their "heart line" message center, an electronic ticker showing the time, temperature and messages. As you can see, this was incredibly ugly and obtrusive.
In 1974 the bank again hired Holmes & Fox for further remodeling, when railings and platforms in the interior were removed to make staff more accessible, and more safety deposit boxes were added.
By 1984, all that work was not aging well, and planning began for a restoration, of sorts, by Harris, Kwasek & Associates. On the outside, all the signage was removed, the opaque glass above the dropped ceiling was changed to clear, and the muntins were changed to black. The front windows were changed to match the rest of the windows. The marble was also cleaned.
On the interior, the lobby was essentially gutted except for the coffered ceiling. The most drastic change was that the windows on the south wall were bricked in and a mezzanine balcony was added for the entire length of the banking hall. Detailing was added such as a sculpted balcony face, brass railings and balustrades, and planters.
Overall, the effect is very sympathetic to the original interior, but really, the only parts of the original left are the ceiling and the safe. Even the applied moldings on the walls are gone.
In 1988 the bank's name was changed to Plainsbank of Illinois, as an Elk Grove branch was added, and in 2001, it was sold to First Banks, which added much smaller signage to the building and later added a walk-up ATM.