Iconic 'Musroom' Bank Focus Of Preservation Fight

by Derrick Bostrom in


Recently, I've been meaning to get some photos of the old Valley National Bank building on the corner of 44th St and Camelback Road here in Phoenix. This year has already seen the demolition of the Washburn Piano Company building on 20th St. and Camelback and the Tempe Geodesic Dome Branch building, on Rural and Apache, so I knew I'd better get out there soon. Sure enough, over the weekend, a story appeared in the Arizona Republic entitled "Iconic 'Mushroom' Bank Focus Of Preservation Fight." Here's an excerpt:

JP Morgan Chase & Co. owns the building and is willing to save the bank...if the neighborhood will play nice and let developers rezone and make over the bank's yard with four-story condos and luxe shopping...The neighborhood wants nothing of the kind: no more condos, no demolition...

Preservationists lean in favor of giving up the green space in order to save the bank. "In order to keep this icon," Councilman Tom Simplot said, "they need to develop that green space. They are not going to be able to save the building if they don't give it up." But wedging condos onto the lawn, said Frank Henry, 73, the building's celebrated architect [sic], is "like taking a painting and cutting off a corner of it."

The empty land has been a pawn before. The bank was the first commercial development in that area, and the space was offered to placate neighbors. Now, it's the only grassy expanse on a heavily commercial intersection that has grown up around it. Neighbors insist that the bank made a promise to keep that land green, but according to Chase and city zoning officials, no formal record requires the space to remain open.

It's just a shame, Henry said. "The whole park and the building are all one thing, one composition. The geometry of it all was together..." When Henry was dreaming up the building in the '60s, he was making an anti-war, anti-establishment statement. He took his inspiration from the circle so that he could combat the boring square box. "I always thought that the circle, the curved line, the curved space is so beautiful," Henry said. "It's always changing."

(Note: Walt Lockley informs me that Frank Henry was the designer; Weaver & Drover were the actual architects.)

I have house guests this week, relatives visiting from out of town. But when I read the article, I had to drag them out in 110 degree temperatures to get my pics. They're not great: it was afternoon and half the building was in shadow. But I managed to stitch together some nice panoramas. The Modern Phoenix web mag offers much greater detail on the subject.

Of all the VNB buildings left in the Phoenix area, this one is the jewel. It combines space age aesthetics with desert motifs, playing nice with civic responsibilities in the bargain. It's even got two bronze nudes which I can only assume are the work of John Henry Waddell. I still remember when it was built in 1967. I'll miss it when it's gone, and the best intentions of various factions notwithstanding, I full expect it to go away soon.

UPDATE: Here's an audio interview about the bank with Phoenix architecture critic Walt Lockley, plus a link to his site.

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch

Valley National Bank Frank Henry Branch