Perpetual Building Association (1953)
Washington, D.C.Working with the Perpetual Building Association, the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America set out to change both the perceptions of modern architecture in Washington, D.C., and at the same time pioneer branding for the banking industry through design recognition. The design of the Washington D.C. Perpetual headquarters was arrived at as early as 1941, but the scarcity of needed materials such as Carnelian and diamond gray granite and limestone were delayed until after World War II when they were available.
The seven-story structure included a mix of exterior materials including limestone, concrete, glass and metal panels, and aluminum. For the interior, bright colors were mixed with marble panels, terrazzo floors, and fluorescent lighting. The architects of record are listed as W.G. Knoebel for the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation and Robert O. Scholz of Washington, D.C. However, the in house designer was the last brainchild of Earl Davenport before he left the company. The building permit application for design and construction was submitted in 1951 by the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation. Scholz was locally known for the design of the 1928 Gothic Revival Alban Towers in Washington, D.C., now listed in National Register of Historic Places. For the building's grand opening, Bank Building & Equipment Corporation President Joseph B. Gander attended ceremonies along with many other dignitaries, and there was a television tour to show the first modernist commercial building in the city.
Upon completion, the building included over 100,000 square feet of office space making it reportedly the largest savings and loan association building of its physical size it the country. At the time, Perpetual Building Association had already been known as the largest association nationally in terms of assets as well, excess of $130 million. Plans described the layout of the building in the following fashion: First floor - lobby, offices and balcony; Second floor - bookkeeping and files departments; Third floor directors' room, a public meeting hall, and a cafeteria for employees; Fourth, fifth and sixth floors will be rental space; and, the basement will be used for auto parking.
The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation promoted the new $3 million building as "an exciting new kind of architecture for the nation's capital." Importantly the ad also cites how architects had indicted the staid architecture of Washington, D.C. and how it compared unfavorably to the progressivism of the great capitals of Europe and Latin America with fresh, creative architecture. The interior was appointed with functional modern beauty including vertical blinds of white nylon which could be operated by push-button controls, sixteen teller windows without the old-style cages each of which was connected with the bookkeeping department by pneumatic tube.
Several smaller branch banks model on the D.C. flagship design followed in locations in the surrounding suburbs. The D.C. Perpetual was to be the prototype for smaller branch banks, recognizable for their unique materials, windows, and colors. But even as the flagship structure and headquarters, the building was demolished in the late 1980s.
This branding concept had been attempted previously though only successful on a local/regional basis. Influential bank designers Alexander Walker and Leon Gillette designed a prototype bank for the National City Bank of New York branches. This was one of the very first banks that sought a corporate identity through its buildings. For these buildings, Walker and Gillette discarded classical detail and focused on the recesses and projecting lines since no columns or pilasters existed.