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
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
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
VII. Uptown Walking Tour Part 2,"