Story and photos 2006 Walt Lockley. Additional photography 2006-2016 Modern Phoenix LLC.

The Valley National Bank Branches

Between 1950 and 1970 the most powerful banker in the Southwest commissioned dozens of branch offices in the Phoenix metropolitan area; they appeared from nowhere, like pretty dice rolled out on a hot, empty tray. The city grew up around them, between them, because of them.

Valley National Banks in Phoenix Arizona

Since the 1930's Valley National Bank and Walter Bimson had driven the explosive expansion of the Phoenix area with a liberal lending policy, attracting Midwestern transplants, and promoting the city with imagination and flair. The strategy worked brilliantly. Bimson built a Growth Machine.

In the 1960s, this imagination and flair took the form of outlandish and entertaining banks all over the Valley, made possible by a unique combination of the mid-Century Zeitgeist, the climate, the Phoenician self-image, and money. Some conservative citizens clucked into their cornflakes that this was terribly improper and verging over into banks-as-vulgar-roadside attractions. Into the realm of show-biz. Whatever. They probably banked at boring banks.

Valley National Banks in Phoenix Arizona

Now well past the year 2000, the banking business has changed and this building genre has largely outlived its usefulness. Of course you don't have to go to the bank anymore. Like the elaborate movie palaces of the 1920s they're socially unnecessary and their heyday was brief. To be truthful only a handful of the hundreds of these branch banks are worth giving any attention, and we're covering six of them in this special edition of Modern Phoenix devoted to the topic of Recent Past Preservation.

Ah, did we mention some of these buildings are endangered? Another one bit the dust on February 10, 2007, as Arizona State University realized its expansion plans on top of the gold-domed branch at Apache and Rural Roads..

Valley National Banks in Phoenix Arizona

A word from the Editor:

We're starting this Recent Past Preservation discussion in Phoenix with these privately-owned but publicly-loved institutions because they belong to virtually none of us except in our collective nostalgic memory. These are the buildings where our fathers banked. They are where we started up or own savings accounts. They are landmarks. They are places of implicit trust built between generations -- which is why their deterioration is particularly heartbreaking.

The trouble is that much of the midcentury modern architecture around the Valley -- one of our greatest unnatural resources if you ask those in the know -- elicits either great affection or greater apathy. Many of the Midcentury Modern buildings that perch on the bleeding edge of Recent Past Preservation are those that haven't quite reached that magical 50-year mark -- the age when a building stands a greater chance of having endured the test of time and being worthy of keeping.

Valley National Banks in Phoenix Arizona

In some cases, however, the buildings have been repurposed, rehabbed or otherwise kept intact. Our exclusive interview with Hoskin Ryan Consultants of the 2nd Avenue and Indian School bank branch goes to prove how much a little respectful hindsight and visionary foresight can go toward keeping these institutions around.

In the pages that follow we hope that you are able to form your own opinion on this portfolio of local architecture.

The journalist I have elected for this ambitious research project, Walt Lockley, is a passionate critic of architecture. In keeping with the editorial character of ModernPhoenix, Walt was invited to freely express his assessment of the state of some of these buildings. While Walt and I may disagree on some points, I uphold his right to an opinion and do so knowing that it was fueled by an amazing amount of primary source research. We welcome his bright, effusive and sometimes scathingly critical dismissal of the buildings he has researched. Here's to you, Walt. Phoenix will never be the same because of what you have done.



©2006 Walt Lockley and Alison King


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