Friday, November 10, 2023

Elegance Loses Out


A century-long tradition of banking in Portland’s most elegant business location will end Nov. 30 when U.S. National Bank permanently closes its historic Main Branch at 321 SW 6th Ave.

 First opened in 1917 and expanded in 1923, the Main Branch resided in the ground floor of the magnificent Roman Corinthian-style temple designed in two stages by architect A.E. Doyle.  The banking floor extended a full block under a ceiling some 30-feet high.

US National has closed several other branches as the banking business moves heavily to the internet.  In the bank’s earliest days, customers dressed in Sunday attire to do their banking.  Now we move pixels on a tiny screen, instead.

“Understanding that clients’ banking behaviors are changing, we continue to adapt how and where we operate,” a district manager wrote to branch customers.  “As a result, we have decided to close this location permanently as of Nov. 30, 2023.”

The late architect George McMath once wrote, “The marble floors, the mezzanine balustrade, the tasteful marble, plaster and bronze ornament, all crowned by the high coffered ceiling subtly painted in Classical colors, combine to display the sense of grandeur and wealth that was required of banks in the early 1900s.” 

 But no more. 

The building itself is not in immediate danger.  U.S. National sold it several years ago and merely has been a tenant.  The building has rented office space on floors above the grand banking space.  The current owner is a foreign limited liability company with an address in Sandy, Utah. 

Because of its historic landmark status – not to mention its ornate architectural design --  changes to the exterior of the bank are unlikely to be proposed or approved.  Alas, there is no specific protection for the elegant banking floor.  One imagine that a new tenant might be found in the realms of insurance or real estate of investment brokerage.

After Nov. 30, pedestrians will still be able to enjoy the heavy, curving bronze doors that feature bas relief panels related to Oregon history.

 Until Nov. 30, if you haven’t seen the lobby, make it a point to walk through it entering either from SW 6th or SW Broadway, and crossing to the opposing street.  You won’t regret it. 

 ---Fred Leeson

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  1. Would seem to be an ideal restaurant or event space.

    1. My first thought also. Very elegant. A shame to waste it on fiance.

  2. I am still not sure if the bank closure/internet thing is a push or pull phenomenon. Here in Palm Springs, Bank of America closed all their physical branch locations in the Cochella Valley except for one, leaving customers like me with hour long waits to talk to a real person. Well OF COURSE we will switch over to online banking then. Several of the closed branches here are architecturally significant and always included on local architectural tours. Who knows what fate awaits them?