Don’t have a plethora of bleatage today, due to general good mood and job obligations. Hey, there’s a new word – jobligation! I can’t make my child’s annual fun-run because of a jobligation. It’s certainly better than “work-related conflict,” but portmanteau neologisms always lose to the tediously obvious terms.

What was the first lesson of Strunk and White? Something about writing clearly, using simple words? Something like that.

In the absence of a lot of words we have a lot of pictures. Later today comes a big update I forgot to post on Tuesday, and will delight those who treasure low moments in American comedy. Also, the Engraveyard starts back up. This next bit might go there if I get enough examples: Bank Vignettes.

“Vignettes” is the term for the art on stock certificates, so I’m borrowing it – with interest! (Sorry.) These pictures used to appear on checks, but no more. Now it’s all logos. The smaller banks must have used the buildings for a reason; small-town pride, or cheap advertising.

Why do I have these? I’ll get to that.

This one may mystify anyone who’s not from Minneapolis, and mystify a good many locals as well.








The strange design harks back to the Marquette Bank’s original location, an Egyptian-themed structure built after the Tut craze in the twenties. Really: see here.  Chicago-Lake is nowhere near the old bank, but the M suggests it was part of the Marquette banking system.









Every small-town 60s bank, right here. Tidy, modern. The international style boiled down to its smallest possible shape and seeded throughout the tiny towns of America. As the WPA and other Federal programs spread Depression Moderne style, the banks spread Miesian simplicity.

Didn’t last.







The Fargo National fared better – still around.








In Lisbon:








The bank seems smothered by a Sunday morning.




At least I hope this picture was taken on a Sunday. Lisbon looks dead.




The fine old First National Bank in Moorhead:








Gone. This one seems to be making a rather fine distinction:








Yes, the First National Bank of Southwest Fargo. In West Fargo.

One of my favorite crazy buildings, the black-brick / white-marble Merchant’s Bank.








Finally, another Minneapolis-area bank:








The bank is here now.







I like this building. Swing the google around by the tail and you’ll see the hits and misses of this suburban intersection – a big condo across the street, then two strip malls, one of which has built-in housing. The bank building is the most successful – and it manages to combine Prairie Style and the International Style. Well played!

Where did I get them? Found them in a thick stack of 1960s checks my dad set aside.

Every one of them was bad. Ah, the pleasures of being a small businessman.


21 Responses to Thursday, Sept. 17

  1. Dave (in MA) says:

    A jobligation is better than funemployment, I always say.

  2. John says:

    So uh James, how does it feel to have the “cool brother” in the White House?

  3. WatchWayne says:

    “Blog” certainly won out over the 300 words it would otherwise require to describe adequately the phenonemon…

  4. Grebmar says:

    “jobligation.” I like that neologism. And I’m pretty fussy about such things.

  5. Benito says:

    Someone once said–and it may have been you!–that before the FDIC banks looked like fortresses or Greek temples because the design would reassure customers of the strength and stability of those businesses. If your building looks 2000 years old, it will probably last for another 2000, right?

    After the FDIC, such reassurances weren’t necessary and banks were made cheap, boring, and uninteresting, with the minimum construction material necessary to hold the roof up and get people in and out quickly. (This isn’t a slam on the FDIC, and obviously all architecture has changed over the years, but it’s a fun theory.)

  6. hpoulter says:

    “What was the first lesson of Strunk and White? Something about writing clearly, using simple words? Something like that.”

    I think it was “Eschew sesquipedalianism”.

  7. Does your Dad still take checks today? They have EFT / Check readers that will sweep a checking account on the spot. No waiting for bank to bank communication, so check floating goes away.

    Now, did he hold on to those returned checks because he is still pursuing those deadbeats? If so, huzzah! Ever vigilant!

  8. krull says:

    i miss those old, “tiddy” International Style bank buildings. Yeah, there were boring, but they were banks. They’re supposed to be boring. And at least they were honest, why do banks today all want to look like houses? With their sloped roofs and faux shutters, are they really fooling anyone? If I want to go into a house, I’ll go into my own, I don’t need the fake frieze and white columns.

    While they’re at it, why don’t they have dirty laundry piling up and dishes in the sink if they want to look like a house.

  9. DerKase says:

    “Yes, the First National Bank of Southwest Fargo. In West Fargo.”

    In North Dakota. In North America. Yikes!

    I had a great aunt who worked at the York State Bank in Elmhurst, IL, (now the 5/4 National Bank (“25% more than other banks!”)) from the 20s to the 60s. She would go through the change and pull out the disappearing coinage after a numismatic switch. My dad inherited a ton of gold coins, V & buffalo nickels, mercury dimes, standing liberty quarters, etc, etc.

  10. John :
    So uh James, how does it feel to have the “cool brother” in the White House?

    I think I would favor Putin in the WH at the moment.

    Russian bear strong like, uh, bear


  11. Larry says:

    Hey was there a promise somewhere of details of how to register for pay extras. Like the Rushmore part of the near-cation? Did I miss it, is there a link?

  12. Kristin says:

    Uselessly adding my opinion that except for the Marquette Bank, those bank buildings are all hideous.

  13. John says:

    The occult reference above to some other “John” notwithstanding, I must say I was taken for a moment by the bank in Lisbon. I thought it was one in Lisbon IA, not ND, the one where, on a bicycle trip in 1980, I stopped to cash a $10 traveler’s check. A distinct memory, I don’t know why. Ten dollars? In a traveler’s check? What, was I afraid I was going to LOSE it? Now, it just makes me wonder not just what I ate on that ride, but if I ate on that ride. Anyway, the teller, a pretty black-haired girl, acted like this sort of transaction was perfectly normal. I am thankful. As for Lisbon ND, they might be thankful for anybody walking in, or out, with ten dollars, even ten 21st-century dollars.

  14. If I did not have to go in to sign car loan papers, I would have not stepped into a bank in over 15 years. For me, the buildings are there to stick the ATM machine into.

  15. Seattle Dave says:

    My mom has never used an ATM. She has this notion that it’s good if the folks at your bank know you personally. I can’t even imagine.

    On the other hand, her bank doesn’t screw up as frequently as mine does (and it’s NEVER in my favor), so maybe she has a point.

  16. Jeff says:

    A stack of bum checks from the 60′s — a neat reminder that some problems reign eternal.

  17. We had a 1st State Bank in Bellaire, Texas. The giant, white 1 stood atop a rotating, digital display that served as the unofficial game clock at the Little League park three blocks away.

    I don’t think we had a 2nd State Bank.

  18. jamcool says:

    If you lived in Phoenix, you could bank in a geodesic dome. Or among concrete mushrooms…

  19. Azrael Brown says:

    Sharing, for the non-townies, and because I think I remember how it went: West Fargo was a small stockyard town a few miles west of Fargo; at some point, the meat packing plant bought the entire townsite and banished non-employees to the south, who said, “screw that, we’ll be our own town,” and Southwest Fargo was born just across #10 from West Fargo. Years pass, Armour sells the factory, West Fargo becomes its own town again and calls itself Riverside; Southwest Fargo doesn’t want a good name to go to waste, takes the name West Fargo. Go forward another few years, somebody finally realizes the lameness of two little towns so close to each other and both on the brink of being swallowed by Fargo proper, so they consolidate into the West Fargo we know and love today.

  20. [...] his Bleat yesterday, James Lileks featured canceled checks and other images of several small midwestern banks from the 1960s, and [...]

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