‘Jewel box’ bank marks 100 years


By Patricia Ann Speelman - pspeelman@sidneydailynews.com



The Robertson Building comes down in 1917. Although the building, which filled half the block, was just 25 years old, savings and loan association directors had it demolished to make room for their new bank. The decision was controversial. People were outraged that a perfectly good building was being torn down.

The Robertson Building comes down in 1917. Although the building, which filled half the block, was just 25 years old, savings and loan association directors had it demolished to make room for their new bank. The decision was controversial. People were outraged that a perfectly good building was being torn down.


Courtesy photo

H. Lafayette Loudenback, the local contractor who built the Louis H. Sullivan-designed bank


Courtesy photo

The ladies lounge in the bank welcomed women to relax, visit with each other and make phone calls at no charge. Just off the lounge was a teller’s window, so women didn’t have to leave the lounge to do their banking, and a restroom.


Courtesy photo

Brick lamp posts (at each side of the photo) illuminate the entrance to the bank. The posts were later taken out because too many cars ran into them. The building is now on the Ohio and national registers of historic places.


Courtesy photo

Stenciling decorates the walls of the bank interior in this photo dating from the 1930s. The stenciling was added sometime after 1919 and has since been painted over. The tellers’ cabinetry at the left remains. The lighting fixtures on the right wall have been replaced with brick plugs.


Courtesy photo

L.M. Studevant, secretary of the bank in 1917, contracted with architect Louis H. Sullivan to design a building in Sidney.


Courtesy photo

Louis H. Sullivan, the architect who designed the People’s Federal Savings and Loan Association building in downtown Sidney, in 1917. His commission was 6 percent of the $85,000 it cost to construct the bank: $5,100. Sullivan died, homeless and penniless, in Chicago in 1924.


Courtesy photo

Originally glassed with steel “cage” windows, today’s teller stations feature open access at gleaming marble counters. In a promotional pamphlet published in 1922, writers voiced their pride in their “House of Thrift”: “There is no reason to suppose that The Peoples Savings and Loan Association will ever again have occasion to change its quarters or location. The walls of this building are 3 feet thick, and the architect says it is good for 100 years.”


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A plaque placed by the Ohio Historical Society and the Architects Society of Ohio in 1965 commemorates the significance of the bank building. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Detail of the intricate, decorative tile that comprises the artwork over the entrance to the bank.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Debra Geuy, left, president and CEO, and Gary Fullenkamp, vice president and corporate secretary of Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, look over historic photographs, Thursday, May 17, while preparing an exhibit for the bank’s May 31 open house.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Now an office, this corner of the bank still sports the large mirror, window seat and lighting fixtures it has when it was the ladies lounge.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A customer makes a banking transaction, recently, in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan, whose interior is dominated by the 11-ton vault door, centered at one end of the room. The skylight is protected by a greenhouse-type glass above it.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Original, initialed Louis H. Sullivan working drawings of the bank will be on display during the May 31 open house.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The side of the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, along Ohio Avenue, features impressive stained, leaded glass windows. From the outside, they look blue. Inside, they look green.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in 2018. Directors throughout the century have made sure the architectural treasure is well cared for.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The bank clock has been keeping time for 100 years. Its style anticipates the Art Deco movement that began about a decade later.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Detail of ornamentation above teller’s windows in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in Sidney.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Columns inside the bank support large pans through which water mist was shot in an early attempt at air conditioning.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A wall of closet doors frames a reflection of the Sidney Daily News photographer at work in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The closet used to be a phone booth.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The 1925 Toledo Scale Co. scale still welcomes members of the public to find out what they weigh at no cost.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A water fountain continues to provide cool drinks to banking customers. Architect Louis H. Sullivan rejected three of them before accepting this one.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Heated benches invite customers to warm up on cold, Ohio winter days. From offering free phone calls at a time when most homes did not have telephones to free scales when most businesses had penny scales, Peoples has always been a bank that puts customers first.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A detail of the massive Mosler vault door in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The bank will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic building during an open house, May 31.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Water bubbles up in the drinking fountain, with its terra cotta ornamentation.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A terra cotta lion roars and hides a water spout that drains gutters along the roof of the building.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A terra cotta gargoyle on the roof guards the bank and its deposits. It was designed to give customers an assurance that they were keeping their money in a safe place.


Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

SIDNEY — Area residents have long known they have an architectural gem in their midst.

People’s Federal Savings and Loan Association will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic building, May 31, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An open house will feature refreshments and small souvenirs, and staff members will talk about the work of art they inhabit. On display will be historic photos and pencil drawings by the building’s brilliant designer.

It was May 31, 1918, when the staff of the People’s Savings and Loan Association — the “Federal” was added later — moved into the bank, the seventh of eight by renowned architect Louis H. Sullivan in the twilight of his career.

A year earlier, the famous — and some would say infamous — architect had sat for two days on the Sidney courtsquare, staring at the space comprising 101 E. Court St. It had been L.M. Studevant, secretary and founder of the bank, who had commissioned Sullivan to design the building. Studevant had seen a Sullivan bank in Newark and liked its style.

“It blows my mind that these people did that. Who gets someone like Louis Sullivan now?” said current bank President and CEO Debra Geuy, recently.

At one time, Sullivan was the premier architect in Chicago. He mentored Frank Lloyd Wright, and, with his partner, Dankmar Adler, designed America’s first skyscrapers. By the time Studevant contracted him, his style had fallen out of favor. Major commissions had dried up. It was the small town, midwest bank designs that were keeping the roof over his head. And even those designs were controversial. They didn’t include the grandiose Greek-columned facades that were the fad of the day.

In Sidney, Sullivan sat, chain-smoking cigarettes and staring across the street, devising the plans in his head.

“He rapidly sketched out what the building would look like,” said Geuy. “He showed it to (the board). One director said, ‘I fairly thought that we would have Greek columns.’ Sullivan stood up, rolled up the plans and said, ‘You can get a thousand architects to design that for you. I’m the only one who can give you this.’”

The bank was built without a single departure from Sullivan’s original plans. And unlike most of the other banks he designed, very few changes have been made since the savings and loan staff opened it for business 100 years ago.

The original teller stations were behind glass and featured iron grillwork that has been removed. Additonal lighting was installed in the main room, probably when “bankers’ hours” were extended beyond midafternoon into a darker evening. The electricity and air conditioning have been upgraded to 21st century standards. Yes, 100 years ago, the bank was air conditioned.

“It was called an air washing system. It pulled air through ductwork and would shoot a mist through (large, decorative urns that are still in place at the north end of the business area). It didn’t work well. It was just adding humidity to an already humid, Ohio day,” said Gary Fullenkamp, vice president and corporate secretary. The ductwork, however, was just what was needed for the current air conditioning system. The 21st-century cooled air moves easily through the early 19th-century ductwork. Warm air still comes from the original radiators, although the boiler was replaced some years ago.

Also still in place and functioning are the cabinetry at the teller stations and tiger oak storage cabinets in the rear part of the building, heated benches for the public and a water fountain.

“Louis was very particular,” Geuy said. “He would reject any material if it didn’t meet his specifications. He rejected three drinking fountains before the one we have.” As the story goes, Sullivan sat on a nail keg, in the midst of the construction, the circle of cigarette butts collecting around his feet, supervising — today it would be called micromanaging — every aspect of what contractor H. Lafayette Loudenback did.

The huge, 11-ton vault door is the focal point of the bank. Sullivan is supposed to have asked bank directors if the vault would be open during business hours. When the answer was yes, he offset the vault so the opened door would be in the center of one’s line of vision, a tangible illustration of the safety in which ones deposits would be kept.

People have come from around the world to see this “jewel box” building. It’s been up to bank staff and directors to maintain it.

“This building is like an onion,” Fullenkamp said. There are layers and layers of artistic treasures to discover, appreciate and preserve.

“Definitely, there’s more expense to maintaining a 100-year-old building,” Geuy said. Every seven years, the brick is tuckpointed. More often than that, the terra cotta ornamentation is sealed. A greenhouse structure over the skylights protects them, but last year, conservators scraped off rust and sealed cracked glass that can’t be replicated.

In the not too distant future, the irreplaceable stained glass windows will need to be cleaned and refurbished. That will cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

“We’ll have to establish a foundation (and solicit donations) to do that. We do what needs to be done, always,” Geuy added. “I’ve worked in this building a long time, 40 years. But as president, I feel personally responsible. The people who have been responsible to maintain and protect this building have all been completely dedicated to doing that. It gets in your blood.”

Studevant and his fellow directors went to Sullivan because they wanted a building that would have a lasting impact on the community. They got it. One hundred years later, their legacy still serves and delights local banking customers — and art lovers from around the world.

The Robertson Building comes down in 1917. Although the building, which filled half the block, was just 25 years old, savings and loan association directors had it demolished to make room for their new bank. The decision was controversial. People were outraged that a perfectly good building was being torn down.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_building-down.jpgThe Robertson Building comes down in 1917. Although the building, which filled half the block, was just 25 years old, savings and loan association directors had it demolished to make room for their new bank. The decision was controversial. People were outraged that a perfectly good building was being torn down. Courtesy photo

H. Lafayette Loudenback, the local contractor who built the Louis H. Sullivan-designed bank
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_Contractor.jpgH. Lafayette Loudenback, the local contractor who built the Louis H. Sullivan-designed bank Courtesy photo

The ladies lounge in the bank welcomed women to relax, visit with each other and make phone calls at no charge. Just off the lounge was a teller’s window, so women didn’t have to leave the lounge to do their banking, and a restroom.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_Ladies-lounge.jpgThe ladies lounge in the bank welcomed women to relax, visit with each other and make phone calls at no charge. Just off the lounge was a teller’s window, so women didn’t have to leave the lounge to do their banking, and a restroom. Courtesy photo

Brick lamp posts (at each side of the photo) illuminate the entrance to the bank. The posts were later taken out because too many cars ran into them. The building is now on the Ohio and national registers of historic places.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_light-posts.jpgBrick lamp posts (at each side of the photo) illuminate the entrance to the bank. The posts were later taken out because too many cars ran into them. The building is now on the Ohio and national registers of historic places. Courtesy photo

Stenciling decorates the walls of the bank interior in this photo dating from the 1930s. The stenciling was added sometime after 1919 and has since been painted over. The tellers’ cabinetry at the left remains. The lighting fixtures on the right wall have been replaced with brick plugs.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_stenciling.jpgStenciling decorates the walls of the bank interior in this photo dating from the 1930s. The stenciling was added sometime after 1919 and has since been painted over. The tellers’ cabinetry at the left remains. The lighting fixtures on the right wall have been replaced with brick plugs. Courtesy photo

L.M. Studevant, secretary of the bank in 1917, contracted with architect Louis H. Sullivan to design a building in Sidney.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_studevant.jpgL.M. Studevant, secretary of the bank in 1917, contracted with architect Louis H. Sullivan to design a building in Sidney. Courtesy photo

Louis H. Sullivan, the architect who designed the People’s Federal Savings and Loan Association building in downtown Sidney, in 1917. His commission was 6 percent of the $85,000 it cost to construct the bank: $5,100. Sullivan died, homeless and penniless, in Chicago in 1924.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_Louis_Sullivan_circa_1895.jpgLouis H. Sullivan, the architect who designed the People’s Federal Savings and Loan Association building in downtown Sidney, in 1917. His commission was 6 percent of the $85,000 it cost to construct the bank: $5,100. Sullivan died, homeless and penniless, in Chicago in 1924. Courtesy photo

Originally glassed with steel “cage” windows, today’s teller stations feature open access at gleaming marble counters. In a promotional pamphlet published in 1922, writers voiced their pride in their “House of Thrift”: “There is no reason to suppose that The Peoples Savings and Loan Association will ever again have occasion to change its quarters or location. The walls of this building are 3 feet thick, and the architect says it is good for 100 years.”
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0512.jpgOriginally glassed with steel “cage” windows, today’s teller stations feature open access at gleaming marble counters. In a promotional pamphlet published in 1922, writers voiced their pride in their “House of Thrift”: “There is no reason to suppose that The Peoples Savings and Loan Association will ever again have occasion to change its quarters or location. The walls of this building are 3 feet thick, and the architect says it is good for 100 years.” Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A plaque placed by the Ohio Historical Society and the Architects Society of Ohio in 1965 commemorates the significance of the bank building. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0548.jpgA plaque placed by the Ohio Historical Society and the Architects Society of Ohio in 1965 commemorates the significance of the bank building. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Detail of the intricate, decorative tile that comprises the artwork over the entrance to the bank.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7288.jpgDetail of the intricate, decorative tile that comprises the artwork over the entrance to the bank. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Debra Geuy, left, president and CEO, and Gary Fullenkamp, vice president and corporate secretary of Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, look over historic photographs, Thursday, May 17, while preparing an exhibit for the bank’s May 31 open house.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0279.jpgDebra Geuy, left, president and CEO, and Gary Fullenkamp, vice president and corporate secretary of Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, look over historic photographs, Thursday, May 17, while preparing an exhibit for the bank’s May 31 open house. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Now an office, this corner of the bank still sports the large mirror, window seat and lighting fixtures it has when it was the ladies lounge.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0380.jpgNow an office, this corner of the bank still sports the large mirror, window seat and lighting fixtures it has when it was the ladies lounge. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A customer makes a banking transaction, recently, in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan, whose interior is dominated by the 11-ton vault door, centered at one end of the room. The skylight is protected by a greenhouse-type glass above it.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0445.jpgA customer makes a banking transaction, recently, in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan, whose interior is dominated by the 11-ton vault door, centered at one end of the room. The skylight is protected by a greenhouse-type glass above it. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Original, initialed Louis H. Sullivan working drawings of the bank will be on display during the May 31 open house.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0524.jpgOriginal, initialed Louis H. Sullivan working drawings of the bank will be on display during the May 31 open house. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The side of the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, along Ohio Avenue, features impressive stained, leaded glass windows. From the outside, they look blue. Inside, they look green.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0567.jpgThe side of the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association, along Ohio Avenue, features impressive stained, leaded glass windows. From the outside, they look blue. Inside, they look green. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in 2018. Directors throughout the century have made sure the architectural treasure is well cared for.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_0591.jpgPeoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in 2018. Directors throughout the century have made sure the architectural treasure is well cared for. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The bank clock has been keeping time for 100 years. Its style anticipates the Art Deco movement that began about a decade later.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7132.jpgThe bank clock has been keeping time for 100 years. Its style anticipates the Art Deco movement that began about a decade later. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Detail of ornamentation above teller’s windows in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in Sidney.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7143.jpgDetail of ornamentation above teller’s windows in the Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association in Sidney. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Columns inside the bank support large pans through which water mist was shot in an early attempt at air conditioning.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7146.jpgColumns inside the bank support large pans through which water mist was shot in an early attempt at air conditioning. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A wall of closet doors frames a reflection of the Sidney Daily News photographer at work in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The closet used to be a phone booth.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7155.jpgA wall of closet doors frames a reflection of the Sidney Daily News photographer at work in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The closet used to be a phone booth. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

The 1925 Toledo Scale Co. scale still welcomes members of the public to find out what they weigh at no cost.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7172.jpgThe 1925 Toledo Scale Co. scale still welcomes members of the public to find out what they weigh at no cost. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A water fountain continues to provide cool drinks to banking customers. Architect Louis H. Sullivan rejected three of them before accepting this one.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7178.jpgA water fountain continues to provide cool drinks to banking customers. Architect Louis H. Sullivan rejected three of them before accepting this one. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Heated benches invite customers to warm up on cold, Ohio winter days. From offering free phone calls at a time when most homes did not have telephones to free scales when most businesses had penny scales, Peoples has always been a bank that puts customers first.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7211.jpgHeated benches invite customers to warm up on cold, Ohio winter days. From offering free phone calls at a time when most homes did not have telephones to free scales when most businesses had penny scales, Peoples has always been a bank that puts customers first. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A detail of the massive Mosler vault door in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The bank will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic building during an open house, May 31.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7223.jpgA detail of the massive Mosler vault door in Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association. The bank will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic building during an open house, May 31. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Water bubbles up in the drinking fountain, with its terra cotta ornamentation.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7257.jpgWater bubbles up in the drinking fountain, with its terra cotta ornamentation. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A terra cotta lion roars and hides a water spout that drains gutters along the roof of the building.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7295.jpgA terra cotta lion roars and hides a water spout that drains gutters along the roof of the building. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

A terra cotta gargoyle on the roof guards the bank and its deposits. It was designed to give customers an assurance that they were keeping their money in a safe place.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2018/05/web1_DSC_7311.jpgA terra cotta gargoyle on the roof guards the bank and its deposits. It was designed to give customers an assurance that they were keeping their money in a safe place. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

By Patricia Ann Speelman

pspeelman@sidneydailynews.com

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.