Typical Remodeling Project (c. 1945)

The Great Depression left an indelible scar on Main Street America and much of it needed a facelift according to Banking economist Millard Fraught.  He believed that the “average pre-World War I storefront, typical of America’s smaller towns, should be brought up to the standards of modern merchandising.”  This was the professional niche that the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation spanned the country, urging modernization with bank presidents.

The cost of interior modernization was often between $10,000 and $50,000 and would take less than six months time to complete.  Though there were no restrictions on what the project could encompass, they often insisted that air conditioning be installed because of the increased comfort factor for both the customer as well as the morale of the employee.

In general, remodeling projects recommended the removal of outdated banking equipment like tellers’ cages, and installation of a new counter and cabinetry to provide more outlets for greater efficiency.  This work could include new lighting and repainting in a lighter color that could happen over a weekend.  So for less than $5,000 a modern transformation could happen on the interior with a few new products and very little budget.

With a higher budget, a bank could get new mechanical and electrical equipment, furniture, and update the façade with cast stone and black granite cladding for under $40,000.  This was far less than a new building and provided the modernizing that widened customers eyes.  Other alternatives included replacing the front doors and windows with aluminum, bronze or steel.

Unfortunately, some of the most destructive remodeling projects included the installation of suspended ceilings with acoustic ceiling tile.  These ceilings were functionally used for remodeling in older buildings as an affordable way to hide HVAC ductwork.  However, the installation almost always had disregard for character-defining features of a building such as decorative plaster, murals, tile, skylights, gold leafing, and lighting that would either be removed, obscured or destroyed.  Ornate classical ceilings replaced with two-by-four ceiling tiles, fluorescent lights, and air diffusers were extremely popular for bank remodeling, including many projects by the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation.