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People's Federal Savings & Loan Assn. - 1918

Architecturally, the bank features clear-cut lines terminated with a flat roof and bold cornice. The building is dominated by a Syrian arch at the entrance with blue glass mosaic in the tympanum. Sullivan’s terra cotta relief ornamentation is punctuated by lion’s head gargoyles (decorative rain spouts). To give the business a spacious and well-lighted interior, Sullivan designed within the building’s west wall a continuous string of windows composed of subdued green glass, accented by occasional ornamental designs in tomato and pale amber glass. The interior of the building, with its safe symmetrically located, and in full view by all, offers the comforting presence of security.

By the time Peoples was constructed, Sullivan’s ‘honesty in architectural design’ was no longer popular. It had been replaced by a Classical Revival. Sullivan refused to compromise his convictions and design in popular classical style. His career was limited to commissions in small Midwestern towns such as Sidney, designing primarily banks. Now, this building is considered to be one of Louis Sullivan’s finest works and is his only unaltered bank building remaining in Ohio.

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Banking began at an unknown time in Shelby County, Ohio, and it existed in the form of a prosperous pioneer citizen long before any outside financier formally announced itself a place of safe deposit of secured loans. It is believed that in the 1850s, a man (Mr. Clark) from Urbana came to Sidney and apparently opened a bank, although there is no evidence as to how long this operation lasted. John Carey erected Sidney’s first bank building (Carey’s Hall) in 1854. These locally-owned banks and savings would later become part of the state and national bank complexes.

Looking south from the Courthouse, located at the corner of South Ohio and Court Street, is the Peoples Federal Savings & Loan Association, a National Historic Landmark. Peoples was incorporated in 1886. After two relocations in five years, the bank contracted with the A.J. Robertson estate to buy the site of the former Robertson Marble Works at its current address of 101 East Court Street. The Altenbach firm then built a new facility. For 35 years the Association prospered, becoming the wealthiest financial institution in the county.

The bank’s board of directors, led by founder, L.M. Studevant, wanted to own a building, but also needed it to be fire-proof. There were no properties available for sale downtown. Since relocating from the square was not an option, remodeling of the current building was considered. Remodeling was found, however, to be just as expensive as constructing a new building. The board then made a highly controversial decision and bought the Robertson block, tearing down the building which they had originally occupied.

In 1917, within a month after the purchase, famed architect Louis H. Sullivan came to Sidney to make preliminary sketches for the bank. A young American, born of an Irish father and Swiss-French-German mother, Louis Henri Sullivan is regarded as perhaps America’s greatest architect. He established his career as one of several architects hired to totally rebuild downtown Chicago after the catastrophic fire of 1871. He was among the pioneers in the development of the skyscraper, made possible with the introduction of the skeletal grid iron frame.

It has been said that Sullivan stipulated that the institution accept the plans exactly as he designed them, without any changes. After five days of submitting the plans, there were no changes and construction began. The new ‘Thrift’ building was completed only a year later, on May 31, 1918.

In October of that year, American Architect published an article discussing the new bank building. According to the author, "...a new building from the hand of Louis Sullivan was an event in architecture...If so much space has been given the little building that glows like a jewel on its much mooted corner, it is because it marks a departure from the day of mere utilitarianism...which may... influence the future of Sidney..."

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The original People's building shown below was torn down to make room for
Louis Sullivan's structure which stands on the same site today. 

'Downtown' segment written in October, 1998 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge 

 

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