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RICHMOND
First National Bank Building

First National Bank Building

First National Bank Building
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

The First National Bank Building dating from 1913 is the first skyscraper in Richmond, and a wonderful example of turn-of-the-century Neoclassical Revival architecture. Nineteen stories tall, the building crowned the city’s skyline until its height was surpassed in 1930. Constructed using early steel-frame technology, the bank combines a monumental scale with fine detailing.

Following the Civil War, the Federal Government revoked the charters of all banks whose loyalty to the Union might be suspect. Richmond was without a bank until several citizens met with northern banker Hamilton G. Fant and associates, who agreed to establish a bank under Federal charter. Financial leaders, who wanted to pull Richmond through the impending and difficult years of Reconstruction, founded the First National Bank in April 1865, a mere eight days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Robert E. Lee was one of the bank’s first customers. The First National Bank, which originally met in the old Customs House, soon merged with National Exchange Bank and moved from a one-room office to a commercial building at 10th and Main Streets. Surviving the financial crises of the 1890s, First National Bank entered the 20th century with the highest total assets of any bank in the city.

In 1910, First National Bank hired the New York firm of Clinton and Russell to fashion a new building at the corner of 9th and Main Streets, utilizing the latest in design and technology. The architect, Alfred Charles Bossom, clad the revolutionary steel-frame building in limestone, granite, and brick in a design that incorporates 50 foot tall fluted Corinthian pilasters and columns and heavily-molded terra cotta ornamentation in a learned application of Neoclassical design and proportion. On June 10, 1913, the First National Bank moved its offices into Richmond’s first skyscraper. In 1919, Bossom designed the Mutual Building and the Virginia Trust Building, both adjacent to the First National Bank Building. All three buildings headquartered financial or business institutions, creating a symbol of financial prosperity in the heart of the city.

First national Bank 2

First National Bank Building c. 1912
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries


Neoclassical design appealed to modern capitalists as a style that embodied a purity of form and implied a cultural past, representative of order and legitimacy in the emerging American society. Symmetry and controlled ornamentation gave the building clarity, formality, and elegance. Around the base of the building, the areas between the columns and pilasters are filled with windows, making this building a clear predecessor to the curtain wall buildings that would dominate commercial high-rise architecture after c. 1950. The interior of the building, though altered somewhat, still retains many of the original details such as marble-clad columns, groin vaults, and bronze elevator doors. The larger original cornice was removed in the 1970s in the effort to “modernize” its appearance. The building was a candidate for conversion into condominiums between c. 1980 and c.1990, but the owners opted for renovation work that would create higher-grade office space. The impressive building remains a landmark in downtown Richmond, and its rich ornament captivates passersby as much today as when it was built. BB&T Bank and several other tenants are now its occupants.

Plan your visit
 First National Bank Building is located at 825-27 East Main St. in the heart of the Main Street Banking Historic District of downtown Richmond. The lobby is open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm.  Other parts of the building are occupied by private businesses.   
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