Going Down: The Citizen’s Bank Building in East Alton, IL

01 east alton citizens bank

700 Berkshire Blvd at Wood River Avenue
East Alton, IL

On February 4, 2016, word came from Alton Daily News that the former Citizens Savings & Loan was going down. Read the item.

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This fanciful cylinder has long-delighted mid-century modern fans not simply because it’s a round building (and people love a round building, yes?) but that it also retains most of its swanky ornamentation and it has a “draw bridge.”

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The Citizens Bank building, by architect Alvin K. Stolze, is a rare time capsule of 1964 that inspires retro lust and ideas of what it could be in the future. Learn more about the building here.

The only things missing from the current-day structure is the fountains under the suspension bridge and the yellow and red glass bricks (seen here in the original state) that gave the southern exposure a regimented Mondrian feel.

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This detail shot shows the textured glass block and the vandal damage done to it over the years of vacancy. We can also see how the red and yellow blocks were spray painted over, giving the building a crossword puzzle update in the early 2000s. Remnants of yellow and red peek through the slivers when a projectile pierces the facade.

My father, Richard Weiss, installed the non-brick glass on this building (like the entrance shown below) in 1964 when he worked for Rainbow Glass. He explained that brick layers were responsible for the glass block curtain wall, and that, even then, his glazier brethren thought it a folly to use so much glass block for two reasons: there’s no insulation properties and glass block in reach of people will always be damaged, both unintentionally and intentionally.

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After the “oh wow” of spotting this building as you drive by, the walk up the bridge to this entrance renders you speechless. This looks like a jet set bar with an under-the-sea theme!

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How did the architect sell them on this idea? But bless their progressive hearts for going with it. And thank you to the decades of facilities managers who kept the dream alive.

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This bank captured imaginations for over 50 years. Even while discussing why the building is coming down, East Alton mayor Joe Silkwood acknowledges how special it was in this brief podcast chat.

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In the podcast, Silkwood says the building sat vacant for almost 7 years and that it became unusable for both market and structural reasons. What to do with a building like this in East Alton is a burden – there’s just no market for adaptive reuse of fanciful mid-century modern buildings. But the structural decay issues were preventable.

I say this because in November 2010 there were 3 of us who came across the building, and we were flipping out with wonder and glee. As we combed every inch of the exterior we found that a basement door was unlocked and slightly ajar, so of course we went inside. While in a state of MCM ecstasy, I found (but don’t remember) a moment of documentarian clarity and recorded this video of a journey through the 2nd floor:

In this video, you will hear the sound of a camera shutter going off. Sharks after chum are not as frenzied as we were in trying to capture as much evidence as possible.

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Those are St. Charles metal cabinets, obviously original to the building, and following through on the yellow and red theme of the exterior.

I hope that during their request for demolition phase, East Alton city hall allows for those who know the value of what’s in the building to buy it and cart it off. These cabinets are just one of many treasures that deserve to be saved. A pre-demolition auction for the ornamentation and fixtures would be a sound funds generator while creating property marketing and general civic good will.

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While on our adventure, we found a sign that read “Building Closed 1/25/10. Please call Todd Adamitis 618.xxx.xxxx.”

After we exited the building (empty-handed, it must be noted!), we worried about the havoc that could be reeked because of that unlocked door. So one of us made several calls to the phone number listed, letting him know about the situation and why it needed to be addressed. There was no response to those calls.

In November 2010, the building was in an understandably worn state, but completely salvageable. Even though it was unused and uncared for since at least January, there wasn’t even the mold and mildew smell so common in vacant buildings. Its relatively stable state is what fired our imaginations over what could be.

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Six years of neglect can take any building past the point of ROI.

Mayor Silkwood mentions that attempts were made to find new owners for the building, but also says, “It wasn’t a practical or useful building.”

After listening to my father detail the problems with “that much glass block,” I agree with the practical part. Bringing it up to modern energy efficiency standards and replacing damaged glass bricks would be very pricey renovation budget item.

I disagree with the useful part. Several miles away, a 1960 MCM bank has been repurposed (stories here), so the local market can handle visionary developers with a love for the mid-century aesthetic. In the right hands, this building could easily live another useful life. It happens all the time.

But let’s look at context. While parts of next door Woodriver, IL are coming back to life, this particular part of town is not yet viable. And there is nothing nearby that would sustain such a bold and costly renovation. The aforementioned Alton Savings & Loan is in a higher density part of town that knows the value of historic renovation and financially benefits from such. But it would be a huge stretch to expect a developer to plunk down the benjamins on a risky round building in this locale. Timing and context make demolition a far sounder fiscal decision.

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So now it’s just a matter of saying a proper goodbye to this unique and glamorous bank building. We have from now until late Spring 2016 to document and reminisce, and again, I hope the powers-that-be allow for parts of the structure to find new stewards. If that happens, please be sure to let me know.

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6 thoughts on “Going Down: The Citizen’s Bank Building in East Alton, IL

  1. I would love to save this building if I had the money I would make this building into something for beautiful wedding receptions and weddings and possible restaurant on one floor

  2. Quite a building, the glass block is amazing. I think the glass blocks might face southerly direction, which opens up possibilities of converting walls into solar gain.
    The mayor should understand Alton is never going to be able to duplicate a building with a fraction of character this building has. It is a great corner building that could anchor the redevelopment of that part of town.
    It seems to me a good developer could make this building a success.

  3. Pingback: Citizens’ Bank, East Alton – St Louis Patina

  4. Please share what you know about the effort to save the bank. Very interested.
    And I really have no influence, just a lot of enthusiasm.

  5. Slow down…. It is t over yet. There is a concerted effort to save this building and it is being looked into. You should really be using your influence to help save it.

  6. Pingback: Going Down: The Citizen’s Bank Building in East Alton, IL - ConstructForSTL

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