Former Southwest Side bank designed by architect Harry Weese draws interest

March 19, 2013

One of the more interesting finds in Preservation Chicago's "seven most-endangered" buildings list last week was the midcentury modern former State Bank of Clearing, located in the southern shadow of Midway Airport.
 
The bank is an early work by the late Harry Weese, a famed Chicago architect whose use of brick and frequent nautical references provided an alternative to the right-angled glass box modernism of the day. Architect Ezra Gordon, then working for Weese, helped create the design. Gordon died in 2009.
 
Built in 1959, the now-shuttered, 5235 W. 63rd St. came years before Weese's better known works: The Swissotel at Wacker Drive east of Columbus Drive; downtown's slit-windowed Metropolitan Correctional Center; the Washington D.C. Metro system; and the circular, spaceship like Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue.
 
The preservation group fears the bank, now for sale on the Southwest Side's Clearing neighborhood--and located next to a newer bank building--could be demolished for redevelopment, said Preservation Chicago's Executive Director Jonathan Fine.

I decided to pay the building a quick visit last week. The weathered structure--a Fifth-Third Bank in its last incarnation--still looked pretty good, all things considered. I couldn't get a good look inside the building during a trip there last week, but the interior--originally, at least--features a banking hall with columns similar to those Weese used on his U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, according to Preservation Chicago. The now-demolished embassy was completed a year before the bank.

The big canopy over the building's former main entrance is original. A glass vestibule juts out from the main building with the directness of a firm handshake, greeting customers:

A ramp in the rear of the building allowed drivers--and pedestrians--to access a row of tellers and a night deposit box. Still there: A small modernist neon sign that alerted let customers know which of the windows was open.

What a loss if the building were demolished, given its design and pedigree. And another indicator that the city needs to get about the business documenting midcentury buildings for an amended Chicago Historic Resources Survey, as we talked about in this space last week.
 
Meanwhile, check out this link to see Hedrich-Blessing photography company images of the building when it was new and to read more of bank's history.