Centennial celebration: Historic U.S. Bank building turns 100
Three tables of cheese, charcuterie, steak, fruit and delicate desserts were the backdrop to more than one hundred attendees — some in 1917 attire — laughing, visiting and listening to live music from the Columbia Classic Jazz Band playing in front of a grand staircase in the downtown U.S. Bank.
Celebrating the opening of the building 100 years ago, U.S. Bank held a "Night at the Main" party last Thursday evening at the historical branch location, 321 S.W. Sixth Ave.
"We've been preparing for six months," Branch Manager Brian Fast told the Business Tribune at the event. "Obviously U.S. Bank was founded here in Oregon, so we're really proud. It was the third branch built here in Portland, it was built for the president — we were growing."
The U.S. Bank name first appeared as United States National Bank of Portland, established in Portland, Oregon, in 1891, with three employees at its very first location. In 1933, it opened The Dalles branch.
But the historical 1917 downtown location is the most significant branch.
The lobby is infused with globally-sourced marble: white marble imported from Italy, red from Hungary, and black from Belgium.
Stacey Dodson, U.S. Bank market president for Portland and southwest Washington, said that in 1956, the bank was the first west of the Mississippi to have a drive-up teller window. It was the first bank in the world to post customers' checks electronically at the Sheridan Branch, November 1, 1956. In 1970, the bank offered 24-hour services to its customers with the installation of the first ATMs in Oregon.
"I was filing paper checks one at a time — my goodness, we've come a long way since then," Dodson addressed the crowd. "I'm particularly sentimental about this bank because I got my training in commercial banking on the fourth floor of this building."
With more than 30 years of experience at U.S. Bank, Dodson said many of its 5,000 employees are Oregon's finest bankers, and offer 17,000 hours of community service every year.
"Many of you know U.S. Bank has deep roots in Oregon," Dodson addressed the crowd. "I will tell you there's nothing quite like the branch we're joined in tonight: you can perhaps transport yourself to another time."
An architectural first
The Portland Main Branch of the U.S. Bank was built in two stages: the part along Sixth Avenue was built in 1917, and the extended remodel reaching to Broadway Street occurred in 1025.
The original structure is built from steel and terracotta, the first building in the city built with a steel frame.
The architecture is Second Century Roman style, designed by A.E. Doyle, a leading architect on the West Coast at the time.
Doyle personally designed and supervised the architectural ornaments on the exterior and in the lobby. Free-standing columns within the interior are Corinthian style, with modified capitals 54 feet tall.
"We do have a memorable, rich history of relationships built on trust — that's what banking is all about," said J.P. Perfili, senior vice president at U.S. Bank. "Thank you for your loyalty and trusting us. (With) that trust our employees are empoowered to do the right things. They can deliver that to our customers and are honored here tonight."
Fred Baker created original, specific light fixtures for the U.S. Bank in 1917, and in 1975 when he was 90 years old he rewired them and added larger bulbs for better lighting. He constructed the hallway lanterns and elevator lighting when the lobby was updated in 1975.
The vault door to the safe deposit area is constructed of Manganese-tool steel and weighs 13 tons. The steel for the first 6,600 safe deposit boxes was originally intended for French 75MM cannons, but World War I ended before they were made. U.S. Bank purchased the steel to make 11,000 safe deposit boxes.
A moment in time
Mark Jordahl is the president of U.S. Bank Wealth Management.
"This building was built in 1917, shortly after Babe Ruth won a baseball game for the Red Sox against the Yankees ... shortly after Einstein created his first cosmological theory ... shortly after Houdini first did his Buried Alive escape," Jordahl said.
Reaching 30 feet high, the lobby ceiling is decorated with casts for the ceramic bas-relief, which were hand-carved. The panels on the ceiling were hand-painted, as well.
The bronze lobby doors were designed by Arvard Fairbanks, former professor of sculpture at the University of Oregon, and said to be inspired by the fifteenth-century "Gates of Paradise" doors to the Baptistery in Florence, Italy.
"This building is a testimony to U.S. Bank and the commitment we have to this community. We don't make or build anything, we get behind our clients, delivering financial services," Jordahl said. "The vision that went into building this building, we put that care and concern into everything we do."
Along Broadway Street, the bank doors are illustrated with scenes from Lewis and Clark's trek, including oxen pulling wagons, Native Americans, Captain Robert Gray's ship "Columbia," and traders.
Along Sixth Avenue, the doors show international goodwill in scenes of science, progress through direction, domestic welfare, labor, understanding, expression, enterprise and life.
Steve SaLoutos is the U.S. Bank executive vice president.
"I oversee 1,100 branches and we don't have another building like this," SaLoutos said. "As someone who oversees a lot of branches, it's rare to see one still standing that hasn't had a name change — and hopefully will (stand) for another 100 more years."