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Until further notice, all CAC walking tours are suspended and the Center at 111 E. Wacker Dr. is closed, in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines from the State of Illinois.

Now that we are sticking close to home, I’m reminded there are buildings throughout the city designed by prominent architects who we usually associate with major buildings downtown.

by Steven Redfield, CAC docent, class of 2019

For example, the beautiful building at 1425 West Fullerton Avenue was designed by Karl Vitzthum, the architect of the Old Republic Building around the corner from the CAC on North Michigan Avenue, as well as One North LaSalle.

Built in 1923 for the Fullerton State Bank, it’s a reminder of the days when neighborhoods had their own business districts. Local banks were a central part of those districts. In fact, they were so important that Illinois’ 1870 constitution prohibited banks from having branches. While those restrictions eased over the decades, the last law proscribing branches wasn’t repealed until 1986!

These neighborhood banks were designed in monumental styles intended to instill confidence and trust in their customers. The city landmarked the Fullerton State Bank building in 2007, noting its “temple” façade and design elements inspired by the Roman Empire. Corinthian-inspired columns flank the front door, and the whole building is embellished with elaborate ornamentation.

I was always puzzled by one feature: Just below the roofline, a shield is emblazoned with a large “F”, presumably referencing bank’s name. But “PERFECTION” is engraved just above the front door. It turns out it wasn’t an immodest advertising slogan. The bank failed during the Great Depression, and the building was taken over by the Perfection Clothing Company. Perfection had a unique niche, making inexpensive clothing for burials since people couldn’t afford expensive clothes for their departed relatives. It’s reported that the garments didn’t have backs, so they were less expensive to make and could more easily be draped over the corpse. 

Vacant for years, the building is now being converted into condominiums, while preserving the façade, so we will be able to enjoy this gem for decades to come.

These community banks were so well designed that at least 14 other landmarked former bank buildings exist around the city. Here’s a list of them, in case you want to go exploring in your own neighborhood!

NORTH

Cosmopolitan State Bank Building
801 N. Clark St.
Schmidt, Garden & Martin, 1920

Marshfield Trust and Savings Bank (Former)
3325 N. Lincoln Ave.
William Gibbons Uffendell, 1924

Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank (Former)
4753 N. Broadway
Marshall & Fox, 1925 (four-story addition, 1928)

WEST AND NORTHWEST

Home Bank and Trust Company Building
1200-08 N. Ashland Ave. / 1600-12 W. Division St.
Karl Vitzthum and Co., 1926

Kimbell Trust & Savings Bank
3600 W. Fullerton Ave.
Karl Vitzthum and Co., 1925

Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank Building (Former)
4000 W. North Ave.
Karl M. Vitzthum, 1924

Laramie State Bank Building
5200 W. Chicago Ave.
Meyer & Cook, 1929

South

Stock Yards National Bank
4150 S. Halsted St.
A. Epstein, 1925

Hyde Park-Kenwood National Bank
1525 E. 53rd St.
Karl Vitzthum and Co., 1929

Chicago City Bank and Trust Company
815 W. 63rd St.
A. Epstein, 1930

Marquette Park State Bank
6314 S. Western Ave.
Karl M. Vitzthum, 1924