Today we take a look at the history of the beautiful New Hampshire Savings Bank Building (NHSBB) in Concord, New Hampshire:
The New Hampshire Savings Bank Building is significant historically for its associations with one of the state’s earliest and most reputable banks, now the oldest bank in the City of Concord. It is significant architecturally as an intact example of early twentieth century monumental bank architecture, the only such example in Concord, as well as the only commercial building on Main Street constructed of famed Concord granite. Fronting onto the State House grounds, the building serves as an important anchor on North Main Street, which is characterized by three and four-story nineteenth century brick blocks.
When the New Hampshire Savings Bank was founded in 1830, it was the fourth savings bank established in the State of New Hampshire and the third bank in the City of Concord. It was organized as a mutual bank for “purpose of enabling industrious persons of all descriptions to invest such parts of their earnings as they can conveniently spare in a profitable manner.” The bank was open for business six hours a week and paid 5%. The bank’s initial emphasis was on real estate loans as a means of promoting industrial and agricultural progress through the savings of others.
The NHSBB was the fourth home of the New Hampshire Savings Bank, all of which were on North Main Street. Its first location was in the Merrimack County Bank Building, still standing at 212 North Main Street. At that time, the northern section of North Main Street was the heart of Concord’s business and commercial life. Though its population was only around 3,000, concord embarked upon a period of “unchecked progress” that continued throughout most of the century.
With the advent of the railroad, which arrived in Concord in 1842, the commercial center gradually moved southward, nearer to the railroad station at the foot of Depot Street. In 1868 the bank, too, moved south into rooms in Stickney’s South block on the east side of North Main Street, across from the State Capitol and adjacent to the Eagle Hotel. In 1885, after purchasing the Stickney Block, the bank demolished it to erect a new, four-story building on the site which still stands at 118 North Main Street. The bank remained on the first floor of the new building for forty years.
In 1923 the bank again began looking for a new site, one which offered more space for its growing business and equipment, as well as one which provided better light and ventilation. The following year it bought the Sanborn Block, a three-story brick building erected in 1860 on the southwest corner of North Main and Capitol Streets. Overlooking the State Capitol, yet fronting onto North Main Street, the site was a fine choice.
In 1925 the Sanborn Block was demolished and, the following year, construction began on the present building. Five stories in height, it was designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and faced with granite from the Swenson quarries on Rattlesnake Hill in West Concord. The building was designed by J.D. Leland & Company, in conjunction with George W. Griffin, a Concord architect whose practice spanned fifty years.
The architect’s instructions were to “design a building which, while unpretentious, would not suffer from comparison with the best the city already has.” Fully recognitive of the desirability of the site, the bank decided to erect a five-story building to allow office leasing on the upper floors. The resultant design was simple, yet elegant and dignified façade fully appropriate to the stature of a bank. Its appearance and location effectively bridged the transition in downtown Concord between the cluster of governmental and institutional buildings to the northwest and the city’s commercial district to the east and south. Construction costs for the new building totaled $150,000.
The primary architect for the building was J.D. Leland & Company of Boston, Worcester and New York City. Joseph D. Leland (1888 – 1968) was a graduate of Harvard (1909) who received architectural training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He began practice in Boston in 1916. From 1921 until 1934 his firm was known as J.D. Leland & Company.
For the next twenty years he was in partnership with one of his former associates, Neils H. Larsen, who was personally involved in the NHSB project. By the time Leland died in 1968, the firm’s name had changed once again to refect additional partners: Leland, Larsen, Bradley & Hibbard. Leland’s work encompassed the entire New England area. Among his works are the Higgins Armory in Worcester (1929) and several commercial and housing blocks in Boston.
For the NHSB project, Leland worked in association with George W. Griffin (1873 – 1957). Though Griffin resided and practiced in Concord from 1907 until shortly before his death, nothing is known of his architectural practice which was apparently limited to small commercial buildings and residences. Certainly, it was not a period of major growth or development within Concord, and the opportunities for distinctive commissions were undoubtedly few. It is probable that his involvement with the NHSB project was more that of local liason than designer.
The builder of the NHSB Building was H.P. Cummings Company of Ware, Massachusetts. Founded in 1879, the firm was noted for its institutional and industrial buildings, and their work is well represented throughout New England. Other Concord projects of theirs include the Odd Fellows Home, two schools and a building at the State Hospital. Cummings’ association with Leland was not a new one; three years previously, they had both been involved with the construction of Ware’s Junior High School.
Granite for the building came from Swenson quarries, the best-known of Concord’s many quarries on Rattlesnake Hill in West Concord. The quarry opened in 1883. Since 1941 it has been the only Concord quarry still in operation; it is still owned by the Swenson family.
At the time the NHSB Building was constructed, J. Arthur Swenson was on the bank’s Board of Trustees. Other buildings built with Swenson granite include the First Church of Christ, Scientist (the Mother Church) in Boston, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Tiffany & Company Building, Seagram’s Plaza, the CBS Building, and the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City and, in Concord, the City Library, the State Capitol addition and the Concord National Bank Building.
J.D. Leland & Company’s instructions for the interior of the NHSB Building were to create a homelike appearance, “designed for practical operation with a maximum of light.” Though a “homelike” appearance is not a suitable adjective for the first floor of the bank, the upper floors, with their naturally-finished woodwork, humanly-scaled proportions and moderately-sized offices, attain that objective.
The first floor of the bank housed the banking hall, which extended a full two stories in height, and bank offices. The lobby contained a magnificent wooden banking counter which separated the public from employees. Behind the counter was the main vault, framed with an ornate entablature carried on fluted pilasters echoing that surrounding the entrance doors. Two-story arched windows, a high coffered ceiling, wood and marble wainscot, and ornate ironwork contributed to the air of elegance and classical dignity sought by the bank.
The front mezzanine contained the president and trustees’ rooms; the rear mezzanine, as well as the upper three floors, were rented offices. Among the first occupants was the law firm Demond, Woodworth, Sulloway and Rogers, whose offices on the fifth floor included a handsomely finished oak library. Edward K. Woodworth, a partner in the firm, was president of NHSB at the time. Throughout, the building was of fireproof construction.
At the time the NHSB moved into its new quarters, it was the third largest bank in the state, with resources totaling close to $24 million or one-tenth of all the savings within the state. It remained in this location until 1959 when demand for additional banking space, parking, and a drive-in window initiated its move to a new building erected at the corner of North State and Capitol Streets.
Over the years, the NHSB Building has hosted a number of tenants, primarily insurance, investment and law firms, including the New Hampshire Association of Savings Banks, Paine Webber, the New Hampshire Board of Underwriters, Morrill & Everett, an insurance company of long-standing in the community, and various smaller firms. In 1981 the building was purchased by Capitol Street Associates, who, in 1986, completed a certified historic rehabilitation for the law offices of Ransmeier and Spellman.
The New Hampshire Savings Bank was the only bank in Concord to erect a new building in the first half of the twentieth century. The building, thus, is Concord’s only example, as well as one of the few examples in New Hampshire still standing, of the monumental, classical architecture so commonly chosen by urban banks during the period prior to the Depression.
The city’s other six banks remained paired together at three other North Main Street locations until the 1950s. Each of those buildings was a three or four-story brick structure located on a corner lot and built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Not until the 1950s did the other banks either demolish their nineteenth century building and rebuild on the site or substantially remodel it.
Source: National Register of Historic Places (pdf)