You've seen this bank, but do you know its story?
Today, by popular demand, another Palm Springs post.
Located in the heart of the city's "financial district" (or rather a small collection of imaginatively designed banks), the City National Bank, now Bank of America, is one of Palm Springs' most recognizable icons. With its pool blue mosaics and big, bold curves, the bank is nothing if not eye-catching, its unconventional form not entirely out of place in a town brimming with modernist flair. Built in 1959 and designed by Austrian-born architect Rudy Baumfield of Victor Gruen & Associates (the firm credited with the invention of the shopping mall), the bank feels more romantic than rational, its expressive modernism a departure from the straightforward formality of traditional banks.
Based on Le Corbusier's Ronchamp Chapel (Notre Dame du Haut), Baumfield's design is equal parts invention and kitsch, an audacious act of architecture that upends the viewer's (or the customer's) expectations. Baumfield looked to the Corbusian masterpiece for inspiration, the chapel of commerce's sweeping roof, free-form shape, and abstracted sculptural volume imitating the most distinctive features of the Modern monument (completed just five years earlier). Like its European predecessor, the bank emerges from its triangular lot like a piece of sculpture (though with much less subtly), and with a bulky white crown, transparent facade, and glittering mosaics, the building stands as a temple to, well, maybe the only true American religion- the almighty dollar. Though many may feel dismay over the architect's appropriation of sacred space, the design proves surprisingly effective, its playful informality a refreshing riff on classical bank design.
On the interior, the bank embraces a strange mix of extravagance and eclecticism that again, feels right at home in a city famous for its dramatic aesthetic. Surfaces covered in marble, walnut, and teak, Italian chandeliers, and terrazzo floors (not to mention a floor scale for customers to check their weight) deliver a causal but fashionable banking experience rarely found at other financial institutions. In many ways, the building's architecture is the best billboard for the commercial enterprise inside its walls, the colorful, transparent, and curving facade capturing the customer's attention with a wink and a nod.
You can read more on my recent trip to Palm Springs here. Have a good weekend!
Photographs not labeled are by author (2019).
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This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.