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The First National Bank Building

The twenty-story 1926 First National Bank is one of only two surviving skyscraper office buildings that date from the initial period of high rise building in Charlotte.  That initial period  occurred early in the 20th century before the onset of the Great Depression.  The building is the second oldest surviving skyscraper in the city,1 and the tallest and arguably most ornate high rise commercial building in the uptown area that predates World War Two. The steel-framed building faces east along South Tryon Street just 100 feet from the Square.  The building sits on a level, narrow site.  When it was built, the First National Bank Building was bordered by low-rise commercial buildings that obscured the lower stories of the north and south elevations. 

 

 

The building consist of a principal tower and a full-height rear wing.  The wing is set back from the north and south elevations allowing the building's facade to be the dominant elevation.  The tower is divided into three sections: a three-story base, a thirteen-story middle section, and  a four-story section with clipped corners that crowns the building.  

 

The building exhibits ornamental details  over its considerable  height, but much of the building’s ornamentation is concentrated in the building’s tall  base section.  The building's foundation is clad in black granite.  Unlike the gray limestone that was used to clad the majority of the tower, the base section’s façade is covered with colorful yellow, red, and pink-tinged porous sandstone.  The base section of the building  is pierced by  two entrances.  The northernmost entrance is the larger and more ornate of the two and gives access to a bank lobby.  The entrance is recessed and sheltered by a half-round arch supported by classical columns carved into the sandstone.   The arch itself is richly carved depicting squirrels, owls, beehives, vines, and floral and geometric forms.  The ceiling of the archway is composed of panels depicting scenes of thrift and industry.  The archway is filled with doorway set in a bronze framework of windows featuring a cable moulding that is mirrored in sandstone on the outer edge of the arch.  A doorway centered in the bronze framework is surrounded by sandstone and features richly embossed bronze doors. The doors consist of panels decorated with figures depicting commerce, industry government and medicine.

 

The secondary entrance gives assess to the elevator lobby for the tower.  This recessed entrance is clad in marble with a black and  white marble floor. This entrance is sheltered by a bronze-clad awning decorated with applied swags and scroll brackets.  Above the awning, two sets of original casement windows pierce the three-story base.  Above a simple triangular bed moulding, the building's base section is capped by a gray sandstone cornice featuring modillions carved in the shapes of the head of Mercury as well as lions and other beasts.  The cornice features a low relief floral freeze decorated with beehives.  Above the freeze is a balustrade featuring carved acanthus leaf decoration. While not grandiose, the exuberant details and use of different stone finishes found on the base section of the building may have been influenced by the influential Beaux Arts movement. 

The middle thirteen stories are six bays wide and five bays deep.  The first of the thirteen stories is differentiated from the rest  by a cornice featuring a dental bed moulding, and moulded window casing.   The next eleven stories are identical.  Each metal-framed window, and the plain stone panels above and below them, are slightly recessed emphasizing the verticality of the building.  Ornamentation again appears on the top story of the middle section with exaggerated stone corbels supporting a row of stone half-pinnacles.  Between the corbels, each window is topped by a row of three flower medallions.  Above the medallions is a triangular bed moulding topped with an angled nailhead band.  The corners are topped with decorative stone beehives with pyramidal caps resting on a gabled corbelled base.  The north and south elevations are much plainer with subtle corbelling to delineate the sections.

The top four floors have the appearance of being set back from the lower elevations, however it appears that this is an illusion reinforced by the middle section's deeply corbelled cornice and the clipped corners of the top section.  The windows in the facade of the top section are also slightly more  recessed than those below.  At the top of the section, the facade's four window bays are topped with half-round arches separated by corbels supporting five lion heads.  The carved heads accent a moulded cornice that runs below a pediment featuring a round cartouche, and Romanesque corbelling.  The clipped corners are framed by three-quarter-round columns.  The side elevations mimic the features of the facade in low relief, minus the carved lion heads.

 

 

 

The rear wing of the First National Bank building is distinctly plain when compared to the ornate architecture of the tower.  A full twenty stories, the wing is seven bay deep and capped with terra cotta tile.  Fenestration on the  south elevation of the rear wing is limited because of the bank of elevators located against that wall. 

 

When the building was completed in 1926, it enclosed  160,000 square feet 2 among its twenty stories.  Some sections of the elevator lobby and the bank lobby appear to be original to the building.

 

1) Dr. Dan Morrill, "Charlotte Skyscrapers," 2004.

2) "Route VII.  Uptown Walking Tour Part 2," landmarkscommission.org/educationneighuptown1.htm