Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

LOOK UP IN THE SKY!

       
A hundred autumns ago, its stone-covered facade rose high into the Emerald City sky.  It was the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.  It is still one of the tallest buildings between the Central City and the Hostess City of the South. A century ago, the six-story super structure represented the zenith of Dublin's meteoric growth as a regional agricultural, economic and political center of east-central Georgia.  Today, she stands on the cusp of her former glory, awaiting the day when she will rise as a phoenix once again.
The First National Bank was chartered in April 1902 with an initial capital stock of fifty thousand dollars.  The principal stockholders were Frank G. Corker, William S. Phillips, and J.E. Smith, Jr., the latter being one of the top three movers and shakers in town.  

The First National's directors chose a prime location on the northeast corner of North Lawrence (Laurens) Street and West Jackson Street.  As Dublin grew, so did the First National Bank.  The board of directors began to look around for a site to build a new bank.  They were looking for a site which would be close to the leading commercial concerns.  At that time, the commercial center of Dublin lay between Jackson Street on the north, Washington Street on the east, the railroads on the south and Monroe Street on the west.  The center of the district was at the intersection of South Jefferson and Madison Street and that's the spot where Corker chose to build the new bank.  Corker chose the old post office site on the southwest corner of the intersection.  The directors wanted to erect an impressive structure, not just one which would draw customers from competing banks, but one which would also lure professionals and businessmen from the agribusiness, which sprung up during the city's golden age.

The bank secured the services of A. Ten Eyck Brown, an Atlanta architect and  one of the leading architects of the Southeast.   Although he was primarily known as a designer of public and office buildings, one of Brown's earliest designs was the fabulous Georgian Hotel in Athens, Georgia, which was completed in 1909. The hotel was as elegant as any hotel outside of Atlanta. Five years later, the Clarke County Courthouse, a four-story yellow brick building, was completed next door to the hotel. The courthouse in Athens was one of three major courthouses designed by Brown and completed in 1914. Brown designed the Neo-Classical Revival style courthouse in Salisbury, North Carolina. The Rowan County Courthouse features huge Ionic columns on its portico. 

Other noteworthy Brown buildings in the Atlanta area include: the Ten Park Place Building near Five Points, which features the rare modernistic style of architecture; the Cooper Street School and various schools built in the 1920s while Brown was the supervising architect of Fulton County Schools, Spotswood Hill - the home of Georgia's premier historian, Lucian Lamar Knight - The Atlanta Municipal Market, St. Anthony's Church, the Luckie Street YMCA, and the Thornton Building on Pryor Street. Brown also designed the Third National Bank and the Guarantee Trust Bank. Countless other buildings designed by Brown have fallen victim to the agony of progress.

        Brown's most famous design outside of Georgia was the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. Construction on the twenty-seven story, three hundred fifty foot tall, building began in 1925. A powerful 1926 hurricane delayed the construction period to a total of three years. The base of the courthouse is made of Stone Mountain granite, while the upper portion is constructed of terra cotta, much like the First National Bank building in Dublin. Brown designed the four-million dollar building, which was once one of the tallest buildings in Florida, in collaboration with August Geiger.


While standing nearly one hundred feet tall, the building was narrow, only thirty-one feet in width.  The first story, twenty-two feet in height, featured a mezzanine over the main floor of the bank.  As one entered the lobby, the president's office and the cashier's office were located on the right.  Behind the main office of the bank in the center of the first floor were the vaults.  The director's room was situated at the front of the mezzanine level.  The clerical staff kept the records at the rear of the mezzanine.

Most impressive were the marble floors and walls of the main banking room.  In the lobby was Dublin's first elevator, one which ascended six floors of the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.  Ornamental plaster patterns and elaborate bronze teller screens, as impressive as any in a metropolitan bank, were Brown's finishing touches to Dublin's first skyscraper.  The vaults, which included four hundred safety deposit boxes, were designed to be fireproof.  As a matter of fact, the building was constructed primarily of concrete, stone and steel and was itself virtually fireproof.  Above the bank were sixty-four office spaces, equipped with the modern conveniences of lighting and heating. However, there was no air-conditioning, except in the form of electric fans and open windows, the latter of which was most effective on the upper floors which were impervious to flying insects.  Construction of the building was completed in November 1913.  Tenants began moving in on December 5, 1913.  

The First National Bank, the last Dublin bank to survive the economic collapse following the coming of the boll weevil in 1917, closed its doors in 1928.  A receiver was appointed to disburse the remaining assets between depositors.   Mills Lane, President of the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah, came to the rescue of Dublin's remaining business interests by first establishing a private bank, and then in the early thirties, establishing the Citizens and Southern Bank of Dublin, which remained in the First National building until the early 1950s.

When George T. Morris incorporated Morris State Bank in the 1950s, he looked around to find a prominent location of what was then Dublin's fourth bank.  Morris State Bank occupied the bottom floor while many of the professional offices remained.

As the boom of modern banks and professional buildings began in the early 60s, the skyscraper's tenants slowly began to move out to newer quarters.  

In the late 70s, the building began a four-decade long decline.  Apathy set in.  Investors feared the cost of remodeling.   

The solid structure stood resolute against the sands of time.

Enter Gainesville attorney's Dan and Chandelle Summer.   One day, the Summers were driving home from Dexter, where Chandelle's grandfather, Cy Dozier lived.    Lights went on in their heads.  The bought the building and set out to restore it to its former grandeur, as they have done with a couple of buildings in Gainesville.    Their attempts were all for naught. 

The Dublin Downtown Development Authority has been working with a developer to renovate the old First National Bank Building for mixed commercial and residential uses. Architect Robert Brown of BBTB, Inc., in Macon, Georgia, has drawn conceptual plans for each floor, ranging from a grand bank lobby on the ground floor to a sprawling 7th floor penthouse apartment. These plans would bring the building up to 21st century fire code while retaining its historic elements. 

"The key to the DDA's plan is the ability to qualify the plans for historic tax credits, which would save the developer hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation costs," commented Joshua Kight, the Executor Direct of the DDA. 

"While the project is still in its early stages, the DDA is working hard to give Dublin's landmark historic building another century of life," Kight added.
As she starts her second century, we can all hope once again that the no longer silent sentinel will mark the dawn of a new Golden Age for our community.  What a fitting tribute it would be to the new Emerald City for the First National Bank for all to see as we look up into to sky.


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