This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Why Valley National Bank built such cool buildings

If you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, you have probably seen some very cool-looking old bank buildings. My favorite one is at 44th Street and Camelback, and is a Chase Bank. But it was originally built as Valley National Bank, and it's a reflection of the vision of one man, Walter Bimson.

Walter Bimson

Time-travel with me to Arizona in the 1930s. It's the time of the Great Depression, a time of despair. Many people felt that the great American dream was over. The roaring twenties had crashed terribly in 1929, and the United States was suffering from the worst unemployment in its history. Banks had collapsed, many taking with them life savings. Needless to say, confidence in banks was low.

But Walter Bimson, who became president of Valley National Bank in 1933, was one of those "unreasonably optimistic" people who somehow seem to make things happen anyway. His goal was to make loans, which he did. Nowadays giving loans to people who may or may not be able to pay them back seems like a bad thing, but back then it was considered a good thing. And Walter Bimson was so enthusiastic about loans that he decided to build branches all over Arizona, and gave a tremendous amount of authority for branch managers to say "OK".

Of course, convincing people that they didn't need to go downtown to get a loan meant getting them into the branches. So the branches were beautiful. They were opened with ceremony and fanfare.

But it wasn't all just business. Walter Bimson collected art. Valley National Bank had a full-time art curator, who oversaw the collection, which included painting and sculpture. And that attitude was reflected in the branches, which were architectural works of art themselves.

44th Street and Camelback Valley National Bank Branch in the early 1970s. Now Chase.

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