The Phoenix Financial Center a.k.a. Western Savings and Loan
W.A. Sarmiento, Exterior Architect and Ralph Wyatt, Interior Architect with Frank Martin, InteriorsBy Alison King
The Phoenix Financial Center was originally envisioned by valley real estate developer David H. Murdock as a natural outcome of the economic boom and development in uptown Phoenix during the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was intended to house Pioneer Bank of Arizona and the Home Savings and Loan Association. W. A. Sarmiento, a former draftsman for internationally acclaimed architect Oscar Niemeyer and accomplished architect also in his own right, was selected for the commission. Originally envisioned as two facing curved towers flanked by two rotundas below, the project suffered through several phases of development as the economic tides turned.
Sarmiento persisted through the first two phases of development and lives to this day curious if there are any plans for completing the second tower, though it is highly unlikely after the economic downturn of the 2010s.
In the first phase of development (shown at right) the South Tower was built to ten stories and the two rotundas were erected in 1964. The Driggs family of bankers took over the second phase of the project for occupation by Western Savings & Loan in 1967, then completed the remaining stories of the tower (shown below) around 1972. In 1975 Mr. Sarmiento was awarded recognition by the City of Phoenix for the design of the iconic Financial Center that today helps define the city's largely low profile and indistinct skyline. The south rotunda serves as a visual pivot-point at the corner of Central Avenue and Osborn Road. The inverted arches originally held gold-anodized metal screens in a swag drapery shape offset from the windows, but they have since been removed and replaced by interior vertical blinds. The tower's north elevation features grooved gold-anodized columns. Gold accents are found throughout the interiors. The plaza and the property's plan has been compared by local design historian and architect Don Ryden AIA to the United Nations headquarters in New York (by Le Corbusier) and the National Congress Complex in Brasilia (also by Niemeyer). Often mistakenly called "The Punchcard Building" by locals, the architect has denied that the 12-inch vertical slot windows in the southern facade were anything more than elements designed to make the building more efficient and keep workers' eyes on their desks, not the vistas of downtown. According to an advertorial in 1967, the complex was home to over fifty firms including Standard Oil, Sperry Phoenix, Univac Computers and Transworld Airlines in addition to being the Western Savings & Loan headquarters.
Midcentury Marvels: Commercial Architecture of Phoenix 1945 - 1975. City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office and Ryden Architects, Inc., 2010.
New Dimensions in Dramatic Designs, Western Savings Souvenir Pull-out insert in Arizona Magazine, January 1967.
Author's interview with building property manager Bob Hufford, August 2011.
About W.A. Sarmiento on Defining Downtown at Midcentury website accessed September 29, 2011, article moved to Recentpast.net
Phoenix Financial Center by Donna Reiner on Defining Downtown at Midcentury website accessed September 29, 2011, article moved to Recentpast.net.