Best-Looking Bank - 2009
JP Morgan Chase Bank
Some people call it "The Flintstones Bank." Others call it "that strange VNB over on 44th Street." But whatever you call it, you gotta love this flagstone-studded Chase bank branch, which the city is trying to get listed as an historic landmark. Built in 1968, the unique structure and its park-like surroundings are situated in a high-profile, high-dollar location. One of a series of the now-defunct Valley National Bank's commissioned structures, the 44th Street and Camelback Road branch is a rare, artistic, architectural wonder: an oddly shaped bank that has rocks in the walls and that looks to be held up by a garden of concrete mushrooms. It's more than just a quirky building; it's a part of the legacy of Walter Bimson, the late chairman of the board at Valley National Bank, who in the late 1950s became convinced he could help the then-small city of Phoenix grow if he populated it with interesting bank buildings.
Bimson built other gorgeous VNB branches, and his building streak led the professional journal Arizona Architecture to dub him "a leader in the use of architectural sculpture" in 1960. But none was so gorgeous as the Frank Henry-designed bank on East Camelback. Surrounded by giant concrete "mushrooms," its crescent-shaped main building frames a northwesterly view of Camelback Mountain and is studded with the same rough-hewn rocks that highlight its stunning, curved interior. It's a Modernist building that somehow transcends Modernist style with towering interior aluminum structures that hold the "floating" ceiling aloft and that match the scalloped concrete columns outside the building. A pair of John Waddell sculptures — Despina Seated and Martha, both from 1967 — beckon to us whenever we drive by, and they and the rest of this gorgeous landmark's ultra-cool, park-like setting make us want to transfer all our bank accounts here, just so we'll have an excuse to drop by from time to time and drink all this mid-century beauty in.