Architect: A. E. Doyle, 1916, 1925
Why such a fancy building? They didn't have ATMs in the early
20th century, so when you stood in line to get cash, you wanted to have some faith in the institution that kept your money safe. And this magnificent building provided the evidence. Constructed in two stages (the 6th Avenue portion in 1916, and the Broadway section in 1925), the U.S. National Bank is a terra-cotta temple acknowledging the power of the dollar. A. E. Doyle modeled this building after Roman monuments and New York's famous Knickerbocker Trust Bank building. The grandeur of the lobby was so impressive that, early in the bank's history, Portland city officials tried to impress visiting dignitaries with a visit to the building.
Although technically a reinforced-concrete building, this looks more like five stories of Italian palace; the exterior Corinthian columns are 54 feet high, and at the time of the bank's construction were described as embodying "the soaring power of finance in a wealthy civilization." Makes one feel a bit queasy, doesn't it? If not, perhaps the dead birds trapped in the netting around the capitals will.
The base of the bank is faced in granite, the rest in a grayish-pink terra-cotta that was designed especially for the structure. The cornice and balustrade at the top are purely classical, and there is a cornucopia of details including fish scales, urns, rosettes, lions' heads, and yes, even cornucopias. Perhaps a better term would be "horns o' plenty," as they are being blown into by cherubim.
The bank was expanded westward a few years after its construction. One of Doyle's proposals at that time was for a "U.S. National Bank Tower." This would have constituted a sixteen- to twenty-one-story office tower coming from the front top of the building. Budgeted at a proposed cost of $1,000,000, it was not built, but then you already knew that.
* If the bank is closed, note the carved bronze doors on the east and west sides of the building. These were made by Avard T. Fairbanks, a sculptor, who also created the Dodge Ram symbol and the Plymouth Flying Lady. The theme of the east side is the development of transportation; the west side illuminates "international good will."
Inside, the Renaissance interior is an amazing space, with 30-foot-high ceilings, dignified light fixtures, and Italian (white), Belgian (black), and Hungarian (red) marble. The ceramic bas-reliefs on the ceiling were hand carved and hand painted, and have never had another coat applied to them. The interior plaster decoration is frankly amazing. It has been posited that this building's Roman style and lavish decoration may have been a competitive response to the construction of the nearby First National Bank, which was also under construction at the time.
* Fred Baker made all the light fixtures inside the bank in 1917. The same Fred Baker rewired all the fixtures in 1975.
If you can make it past security, head down to the basement to see its surprisingly high ceilings and many arches. The bank's original safety deposit boxes are made from steel originally intended for French cannons for use in World War I. While you're down here, keep an eye open for the Rose Festival crown; this is where it's stored.Less Text