The Firestone Bank (1958)

The Firestone Bank (1958) from The American Banker Reprinted with Permission from SourceMedia
The Firestone Bank
S. Main Street and Miller Ave.
Akron, Ohio
Date of Construction: 1958
Architect: W.A. Sarmiento for Bank Building & Equipment Corporation
Designation: None

From the co-location of prominent national tire factories including Firestone, Goodyear, Sieberling, General Tire, and many other smaller ones, Akron became known as "Rubber City." Tire magnate Harvey S. Firestone's contributed to Akron's growth by donating land and starting businesses beneficial to the community, such as The Firestone Bank. Originally started by Harvey Firestone as the Rubber City Bank in 1916, the first bank building was constructed next to the tire plant but is no longer extant. His company started an account for each employee with one dollar as seed funds, so as the company grew, deposits grew, and so did the need for a new bank.

Therefore, The Firestone Bank contracted with the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation in 1956 to design a new headquarters. Construction on the estimated $1 million remodeling of the building was completed in 1958. Reportedly, architect W.A. Sarmiento of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation pioneered the use of the triangular shapes on office structures in St. Louis in 1955 on the American Investment Co. of Illinois. Even as such, the design was "ultra modern" and "the last word in contemporary bank architecture." It is an L-shaped building and three stories in height. Two facades of the structure are characterized by inverted triangle shapes composed of stressed concrete supported from the roof structure. The triangles screen a wall of glass and colored panels divided by an aluminum grid structure. Material components of the building include a black granite base, glass and aluminum under structure with dark windows, and off-white concrete triangular façade architectural detail.

Former employees recalled how much open space the building had as well as some other specific insights as to the layout of the interior spaces:

The first floor included the savings, checking, and collections departments, as well as the vice president and junior executive's offices. As you walked into the bank, an information booth was immediate in front of the customer, and to the left was the president's office. The second floor had a large lunchroom, big, lavish bathrooms with lounges, and the switchboard and data processing system. The third floor included computers and equipment for recording information.

A vault in the basement was large enough to fit ten people and had wall-to-wall space for money. The only feature that didn't seem modern was an old-fashioned elevator that could be operated by hand.

Like many traditional banks, The Firestone Bank was operated by the family rather than a company and provided Akron with a community beyond banking. The Firestone Bank merged with Bank One, Akron in 1982. Bank One closed operations in the structure that year and donated the building to the city for $1 in 2000. The building remained for sale through 2008 as the city could not find the right owner or tenant seeking offices. The city projected that with asbestos in floor and ceiling tiles, as well as other necessary renovations and repairs, over $1 million would be necessary to move in. At one point during the interim, an Ohio Department of Transportation expressway realignment project threatened to demolish the building, but was put on hold indefinitely.

However, as of summer 2009, PlusOne was set to move their call center services into the building after an estimated $5 million renovation. PlusOne purchased the building from the city in 2007 for $2.00 and began making improvements and installing equipment. Jill Bacon-Madden, president of PlusOne, said that more than 250 local workers from 47 subcontractors worked on the renovation over the two years. Bacon-Madden admitted she had her eyes on the building for many years before purchasing it, even though it was a "wreck" with a flooded basement and asbestos. She also called the project to "rebuild and transform this wonderful 51-year old building... a source of pride for the community for many decades to come."

The renovated structure is now known as the Verge Building, taking its new name from the prominent V-shaped beams that appear to hold up the building. Eventually, PlusOne projects to employee between 1,000-1,500 at the call center to answer consumer health-care and communications industry calls for clients. This venture is designed to provide a higher level of service than a traditional call center because the employees have special expertise in the products they are representing when fielding calls from consumers.

Mayor Don Plusquellic commented that this project was a significant investment in the neighborhood and that this revitalization project has not only brought greater attention to a born landmark, but it has made this property valuable once again. Akron officials estimate the city has spent about $1.5 million to improve sidewalks, lighting, parking and landscaping to augment the significant private investment in the former Firestone Bank.

Harvey Firestone appreciated craftsmanship and design. For the subdivision he established, Firestone Park, only the engineers and contractors he hired and approved designed and built the houses. Today, the subdivision of modest, well-kept Tudor and Colonial style houses remains a strong neighborhood. The Bank Building & Equipment Corporation provided cutting-edge craftsmanship and design for the mid-twentieth century that carried on that Firestone tradition. It's crucially important that new owners, tenants, and the municipality continue to respect that tradition by protecting this landmark structure and the tenets it embodies.

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Reprinted from The American Banker with Permission from SourceMedia

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