AKA: Savings Bank of Puget Sound, Office Building, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Key Bank of Washington, Office Building, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - banks (buildings); built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Callison Architecture, Incorporated (firm); Graham, John and Company, Architects and Engineers (firm); Anthony Callison (architect); John Graham Sr. (architect/engineer)

Dates: constructed 1923-1924

2 stories, total floor area: 21,970 sq. ft.

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815 2nd Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104-1501

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Overview

The Bank of California operated its Seattle headquarters at 815 2nd Avenue from 1924 until the construction of its new building at 4th Avenue and Marion Street in 1974.

Building History

Seattle-based architectural firm John Graham and Company designed this reinforced concrete banking temple for the Bank of California, begun in 1864 by the colorful and corrupt San Franciscan, William Chapman Ralston (1826-1875). The Bank of California began expansion outside its original state in 1905, when it absorbed the London and San Francisco Bank which operated branches in the Pacific Northwest cities of Portland, OR, Tacoma, WA, and Seattle, WA; it incorporated as a national bank five years later, becoming chartered and overseen by the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. This temple of commerce replaced an earlier commercial outlet on the northwest corner of 2nd Avenue and Columbia Street. The Bank of California, seeking larger quarters, bought the Epler Block (1890) for $160,000 from the family estate in 05/1923, and demolished it during the last two months of 1923 and early months of 1924. Construction began immediately thereafter, concluding in 05/1924. Furnishing the interior took another two and a half months. A grand opening happened on 08/25/1924. The Bank of California centered its Downtown Seattle operations at this location from 1924-1974, when it opened a mammoth 150,000-square-foot facility, the Bank of California Building, occupying the block bounded by 4th Avenue, Madison Street, Marion Street and 5th Avenue; the Bank of California continued to use this building as a branch location until 1983, when it was purchased by the Savings Bank of Puget Sound.

The Savings Bank of Puget Sound was engulfed by Puget Sound Bancorp in 1986, a firm that was swallowed subsequently by the OH-based Key Bank in 1993 which was in the midst of a aggressive merger and acquisition cycle. Key operated in this space in 2012.

Building Notes

Located in the heart of Seattle's 2nd Avenue Financial District of the 1920s, the bank occupied a 6,960 square-foot lot and contained 21,970 gross square feet, 11,622 net. An article in American Architect noted said of the building's siting and construction: "The building is on an interior lot on one of the principal thoroughfares of Seattle, extending through to an alley, the grade of which is approximately 20 feet lower than that of the main floor and principal street entrance. It has a frontage of 60 feet and depth of 108 feet. Structurally it is of reinforced concrete, of the joist and thin slab type of floor construction; the only structural steel being that incident to the spanning of the main banking room for which light, story-high, steel trusses were employed." The architects faced the front facade in polychrome terra cotta "...of course texture in brown and white, the beauty of which is enhanced at night by flood lighting." Rooms were arrayed on two above-ground floors, a basement and a sub-basement, which housed heating equipment. The sub-basement had no boiler for heating, but rather used steam supplied by Seattle City Light. The basement contained cash and book vaults, a mail room, a women's rest room, and a recreation room, and was fitted to accommodate safety deposit boxes, although they were not present originally. The architects planned the building's upper floors around a grand banking hall, rising two stories, the center of which had a luxurious expanse of public space. Banks of steel sash windows on the east and west ends illuminated it with natural light. Bank officers occupied spaces near the entrance on the west wall. A row of tellers and cubicles for the letters of credit and exchange departments stood on the north wall, the savings department, auditor's office toward the east, and alcoves for the statements, collections, safe custody and notes departments on the south. Second floor galleries housed stenographers on the east side and a consultation room on the west; the galleries were not connected to each other but were accessed by two stairways placed in northeast and northwest corners. The interior was furnished in costly but subdued materials: "The bank screens, check desks, settees and the counters in the officers quarters are of Escolette marble with Black Belgian marble base. The floor is of Napoleon Gray marble tile with Black Belgian border. The wickers and grilles are of bronze in natural color and woodwork is of American walnut." (See "Seattle Washington, Branch Bank Building for Bank of California," American Architect, vol. CXXVII, no, 2466, 02/25/1925, page opposite plate 50.)

A number of architectural historians have disagreed over the date of this bank. Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery in their Guide to Architecture in Washington State: An Environmental Perspective, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980), stated that the building dated from 1916. In the 1986 Allied Arts of Seattle book, Impressions of Imagination: Terra-Cotta Seattle, (Seattle: Allied Arts, 1986), p. 61, it is asserted that the date of construction was 1909. In his Shaping Seattle Architecture essay, "John Graham, Sr.," (p. 91), Grant Hildebrand listed the date as 1923-1924. Heather McIntosh, who wrote an article entitled "Seattle's Canyon of Dreams: Preservation along Second Avenue" in the 05/2003 issue of Preservation Seattle, also dated the Bank of California #1 to 1924-1925. (See"Seattle's Canyon of Dreams: Preservation along Second Avenue," Accessed 05/27/2011). The building was completed before 02/1925. The bank building and its lot had a taxable value of $2,785,000 in 2011.

Alteration

Seattle-based architects Callison Partnership participated in the renovation of the bank between 1978 and the early 1980s. At this time, a skylight painted over during World War II was restored, among other alterations.