Page 33 - Aug2017

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AUGUST 2017 |
GALVESTON MONTHLY |
33
The immense and imposing nine-story structure was designed
in the modern Brutalist style, a look popular with government
and institutional buildings from the late 1950s until the 1970s.
Features of the style are nearly always sculpted of concrete,
with designs typically boasting a very small ratio of windows,
and it is seen by some architectural historians as a generational
response to the ornate and whimsical designs of the 1930s and
40s.
The cost-effectiveness of the designs was sought-after by
some, while still others who did possess large construction
budgets (such as Hutchings & Sealy) still preferred it for its raw,
uncompromising, and unapologetic essence.
Construction took nearly four years, but the bank’s tribute to
modernity and strength was at last completed in 1972 for a sum
total of $3.5 million. At midnight the night before its formal
opening on February 4, 1972, all of the contents of the bank at
2202 Market were emptied and moved into the new building.
Days later, demolition began on the old building.
When it was finished, the new First Hutchings-Sealy National
Bank unequivocally dominated the block. The structure was
placed in the very center and was anointed with an address of
2200 Market, a rare number ending in double-zero that is only
issued to a building when it is the sole inhabitant of the block.
The surrounding grounds were heavily paved for parking lots
with very little landscaping, but a rather regal concrete staircase
leading up to the mezzanine entrance offered a brief respite
from the severity of the design. Inside, the bank occupied the
main, or plaza, floor, with the next three floors above housing
data processing and trust departments as well as the safe
depository. The fifth through eighth floors and part of the ninth
were to be leased out as office space.
But what was meant to be a tribute to an enduring legacy only
carried the name First Hutchings-Sealy National Bank for eleven
years. In 1982, North Carolina National Bank began branching
out and acquiring small community banks across the nation.
One of its first acquisitions was First Hutchings-Sealy National
Bank in 1983, and it would go on to purchase over two hundred
more over the next ten years. In 1991, a merged bank named
C&S/Sovran was nearly undone by bad loans and was all but
forced to merge with NCNB; their affiliation formed Nations
Bank.
Then in 1998, NationsBank acquired the BankAmerica
Corporation of San Francisco in what was the largest bank
merger to date. The company decided to abandon both names
and it was given the now ubiquitous moniker Bank of America.
The 1972 structure remained open through all of these
changes and bore the name of each, but in the 1990s it was
purchased by the Waverly Holding Company who still owns it to
this day. Bank of America retained a banking center there from
the time of the merger until early 2014 when the branch was
permanently closed.
Today, several offices still lease out space from the upper
floors, but the plaza floor remains vacant. The well-constructed
building shows no sign of aging, except for its long-abandoned
architectural style that unfortunately did not prove as timeless
as once imagined. The surrounding grounds do provide parking
albeit limited, and it carries even less aesthetic value to a
downtown that is poised to boom when a viable Strand to
Postoffice corridor is forged.
But even though the building has lost its sentimental and
architectural significance, it still quietly beckons with potential,
especially when compared to the downtown financial
centers of major cities such as Chicago. In these cities, large
business plazas typically forgo parking as an adequate use
of their surrounding space, and instead they often create
urban sanctuaries inlaid with elegant pavers and dotted with
fountains, permanent art installations, and benches. The areas
also often host farmers markets and festivals.
The plaza at 2200 Market does occasionally serve as a
venue for various art markets, and the Galveston Downtown
Partnership installed a pocket park along 22
nd
Street, but
in finding ways to increase the traffic to and through this
particular block, the city would be well-served in its quest to
unify downtown.
2200 Market in early 2016
Bank of America building, circa 2006
gm