Helena Branch building

While in Minneapolis in 1919, Norman B. Holter, a prominent Helena businessman, learned that the Federal Reserve System was authorizing the creation of 18 new branch banks. A member of the first board of directors of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, Holter felt that Helena, once touted as "The richest city, per capita, in the world," needed the services of a branch bank. Sitting atop veins of gold, Helena was truly wealthy, and the fact that no other important financial center was as far from a Federal Reserve bank prompted Holter to propose Helena as a site for a new branch.

The Minneapolis directors and the Federal Reserve Board ultimately accepted Helena's bid, and on Feb. 1, 1921, a new branch bank was opened. At that time, with a population of 12,377, Helena was the smallest city in the nation to have a Federal Reserve bank or branch.

The requirements of the Helena Branch Bank dictated that the building be designed with the business of central banking in mind. The building had to be functional, and it had to express the image of a Federal Reserve Bank. But this project had the opportunity to be more than a building that would house a bank; it had the fortune of being built in a city that could boast of a unique architectural heritage.

A century ago, the booming economy of Helena, coupled with the pride of the city's leading businessmen, led to the creation of a business district that reflected the classical lines of the architecture of the era.

And it is in keeping with this tradition that the new Federal Reserve Bank was designed. This building is designed to touch the heritage that those business leaders a century ago expressed through the designs of their buildings.

The old and the new are tied together in many ways; not so much in their purpose or intent, but more in the spirit in which they were designed and created. The past, the century-old business district, and the present, the new Helena Branch Bank, have much in common.

Colorful Buildings
The new Federal Reserve Branch Bank in Helena adopts the city's historical theme of using strong, striking colors in its design. Cherry-red or orange-red bricks contrasted with buff limestone is the dominant theme expressed by the historic structures of old Helena, and the new bank continues that theme. Perhaps most striking, though, is the green patina of the building's copper roof.

Picturesque Symbolism
In the late 1800s, the success of a building often rested on the degree to which it added to the personality of the community, or the degree to which it was "picturesque." A picturesque design was one that combined ornament, pattern, color and structural forms from a variety of different periods. While the new bank does not rely on garish or obtrusive devices to attract attention, it does present a picturesque statement that surely links it with the past. Notably, the arched windows, the peaked dormers and the open atrium add to the individuality of the structure.

Superb Craftsmanship
Built almost entirely by Montanans, the new bank reflects the same tradition of quality that went into the design and construction of Helena's century-old buildings. From the detailed brickwork of the arched windows to the special finish on the atrium staircase to the fitting of the many travertine panels, the new building evokes the craftsmanship displayed in the finest of the city's structures.

Congenial Scale
And perhaps the most important element of the bank's design lies in its inherent humanity, its ability to make itself friendly and comfortable to its customers and neighbors. A distinct effort has been made to incorporate the building into the existing landscape rather than imposing it on the city. From the intimacy of its location as the anchor of the north end of the business district to the vista that links it with neighboring buildings, parks and mountains, the new bank feels as if it were designed to please the senses.

Designers And Builders
The new Federal Reserve branch in Helena is a comfortable marriage of old and new technologies that blend the friendliness and atmosphere of the past with the safety and sophistication of the future.

Architects
CTA Architects and Engineers, Billings, Mont. General Contractor: Martel Construction, Bozeman, Mont.

Major Subcontractors

  • Shipman Brothers Masonry, Helena, Mont.
  • Yellowstone Electric, Billings, Mont.
  • Smitty's Plumbing and Heating, Bozeman, Mont.
  • Metalworks of Montana, Missoula, Mont.
  • Structural Systems, Missoula, Mont.

General Specifications
Site: Located on approximately 4 acres (172,000 square feet) along Neill Avenue and Front Street.

Size: 69,350 square feet on three levels - the lower and main level measure about 30,000 square feet each and the third level is about 10,000 square feet.

Helena Branch Unique Characteristics

The new Helena Branch Bank may appear to have its design planted in the past, but there is more to the bank than traditional architecture. The bank has many unique features and components—all intended to enhance its function as well as to convey the aesthetic spirit of the project.

Copper Roof
Representing the impact of copper mining on Montana's history, the copper roof has been specially treated to accelerate the aging process, thus giving it a deep, rich blue-green patina.

Art Work
The bank's contemporary art is a collection of original work by artists from the Ninth Federal Reserve District. A variety of artistic styles and media are represented in the collection.

Climate Control System
The heating, cooling and humidifying systems are designed for optimum energy conservation. For example, heat generated by the central computer system is used to heat the building.

Functional Efficiency
For the sake of efficiency, all check processing is done on one level, while cash processing is done on another level. The proximity of loading docks, files and offices on the perimeter of the building provides smooth interaction between equipment and people.

 

Originally published in The Region, November 1990.

 
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