Trend Setting

The firm lobbied the federal and many state governments during the depression to open up bank merchandising to the public.  Allowing these physical changes helped alter the customer’s actual and perceptive separation of personal interaction, and this open environment continues to be the method of personal banking that is utilized today.


W.A. Sarmiento describing some of his unique stairs and his calculations for designs.

By 1940, many of the financial industry’s leading journals such as Burroughs Clearing House were promoting the inclusions such as fluorescent lighting, recessed and indirect lighting, acoustic ceilings, sound-absorbent rubber-tile flooring, glass-block interior partitions, and reinforced-concrete construction in the “ultra-modern” bank building.  In addition, it was also typical as banks became more similar to retailers that they took on similar elements of storefront retail design such as floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows and large multicolored neon or backlit signs, and time and temperature boards.  Bright colors on the interior replaced dark tones, and large murals filled blank walls or sometimes floors, commanding new attention from customers.

In 1953, Bank Building & Equipment Corporation owner Joseph Gander said, “Until five years ago, most American bank buildings were colonial or classical in design.  Now 90 percent of the banks are going contemporary modern.”  One year later, the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank by Skidmore Owings and Merrill in New York City would create national headlines as modern bank architecture became mainstream in America.  However, the work of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation to create modern design was already making more headway to move modernism forward at a more rapid pace in many small towns and medium size cities.

In hiring progressive designers and capitalizing on the popular appeal of unconventional designs, the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation leaped to the forefront of bank design.  W.A. Sarmiento and William F. Cann were among the futuristic-minded designers using expressive structural systems and non-traditional geometries for some of the company’s most intriguing buildings.  These featured expressions of technological advancements such as parabolic arches, complex massing and compound curves, thin-shell concrete domes, and other bulbous volumes.

The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America has also been part of the movement to help perfect drive-up banking under their theory that “if they can’t drive in, they may drive by.”  They promoted that their research led to the installation of the first drive-up teller unit, which contributed to the widespread proliferation of the full-service branch bank.

Understanding new trends in development and design, Gander was also attempted to stimulate new geographic markets for modern architecture such as Central America and the islands of the Caribbean Ocean.  And as Gander noticed outside of America, “there is even more universal acceptance of modern architecture because they have never recognized the older styles of architecture.”  Chief Designer W.A. Sarmiento was the company’s lead outside of the United States.  He reflected recently that even he believed that their success was limited due to these countries inability to pay the 8% architectural fee, which to them seemed like gross overspending for a non-necessity.  However, Bank Building & Equipment Corporation desired to grow the Mexico City office and marketed heavily in the country.

While the company could stress the economy of new buildings overall, new design was still able to provide an updated appearance with touches of elegance that lent a futuristic look to banks. Architect W.A. Sarmiento's bank designs often showcased intricate central stairways in the lobby. By virtue of the technology available and Sarmiento's genius, you are transported into another dimension, ascending ifrom the customer floor into a mysterious carved space above or making the graceful transition from first to second floors on a virtual spacewalk. These types of stairways were used in banks such as First National Bank & Trust of Lincoln, Nebraska; Fidelity Federal Savings of Glendale, California; Great Western Savings/Van Nuys Savings Bank, Los Angeles, California; and the Phoenix Financial Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Listen to audio clip above for a description.)

Where much of this success led was to the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation’s emergence as a top design-build firm in the mid-twentieth century.  J.B. Gander held deep concern that his top designers could leave the company with their client list and ideas so he separated many of the functions within the company between several departments.  As a project would come in, the designer would take the lead to create the product for the site.  That design would be passed onto the architectural department, headed by the lead architect for the development of a full set of construction drawings.  The architect would be responsible for passing those onto the construction department for building.  Construction would also be working with cost estimating and budgeting throughout the process.  Therefore, the a building could get built within one company, but move through the series of departments swiftly without the client knowing many hands were involved.