The building at the southeast corner of Prairie Avenue and Lee Street is easily overlooked today, but in its time it was state of the art. It is the 1957 First National Bank of Des Plaines building.
Recently sold to the Greek-American Restaurant Association of America, the building stands poised to again play an important role in the community. It will soon house Plato Academy, a small private school that is currently located in Morton Grove.
The bank, founded in 1913 and housed since 1937 in the former Des Plaines State Bank building, was bursting at the seams. As Des Plaines experienced dramatic growth and many new subdivisions were created, demand likewise rose for banking services. In particular, First National found a need for more auto facilities, both parking and the new innovation of drive through banking.
First National acquired the house of Dr. A.M. Purves, one of the bank's officers, next to the smaller First Federal Bank, and in January, 1956 announced plans for a spacious and thoroughly modern two story bank, its third building, with almost double the square footage of the old bank.
Local architect Charles Edward Stade, better known for designing dozens of churches nationwide (including Immanuel Lutheran Church, Christ Church, and Saint Mary's Church in Des Plaines) designed a "conservatively modern" building incorporating all the latest modern conveniences in banking to draw in the newest residents of suburbia.
It would be spacious, yet low-maintenance.
In addition to complete air conditioning, two drive up windows, and a walk up window, First National would also include a safety deposit vault in the basement, so that patrons could access it outside normal building hours. It would be fluorescent lighted, carpeted, and soundproofed. Architecturally, it drew from Prairie School influences with its wide eaves, flat planes, exposed brick and limestone as well as the modern style, with ribbon windows, a glassy foyer, and Walnut formica.
The new building evidently served First National well. Within a few years, it expanded to the second floor, and continually upgraded its facilities. A new, larger auto bank was opened across Lee Street. First National remained in the building for 20 years, until the new First National Bank was built across the street in 1977.
First National was a prime supporter of the ambitious and mostly unsuccessful downtown revitalization efforts of the 1960s and 1970s, and so became an anchor tenant in the Superblock project, including the Des Plaines Mall. At one point during planning, the building was offered for use as a new City Hall.
Today, the building, used mostly for offices, hardly looks dated. Visually, it has a lot in common with the much newer Des Plaines Public Library. New owners have invested in the building, with a new parking lot, roof, improved landscaping, and interior renovations.