Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Banks

Oshkosh came into the twentieth century as an economic power house and the city was showing it. The wealthy in town were replacing unfashionable older homes and the newly rich were building large stylish dwellings along Washington Avenue, Algoma Blvd. and Jackson St. The well to do yachtsmen built a new club house that was the envy of all other clubs. Businesses were in a mood to update as well. In 1903 the Oshkosh Logging Tool Company built a substantial factory on the south side of the Fox River. That same year the German American Bank was considering a new building and the State Bank of Oshkosh was incorporated.
Bank buildings had long been a specialty of William Waters, over the years he'd designed seventeen structures devoted to that purpose. It was not surprising the German American Bank turned to Mr. Water for its new building. The bank was in need of more space and decided to build on the west side of Main St. between Peal and High Sts. The construction contract was awarded to C. R. Meyer Company. Mr. Waters presented an elegant classical style building replete this Corinthian columns flanking the front doors. Waters had done a number of structures in that style since 1900; the Oshkosh Public Library, the Oshkosh Yacht Club and the Ladies Benevolent Society Home all were classically inspired. The bank opened in 1904 as the New German American Bank and occupied the space until the late 1960's when a new building was put up and the old was demolished. An early photo of the bank show "New German American Bank" inscribed in the frieze just below the cornice. A later image reveals a change; the inscription reads "New American Bank". The anti-German sentiment engendered by the war forced the change.

The State Bank of Oshkosh was newly incorporated in 1903, working out of offices on Oregon St. between 8th and 9th Streets. By 1910 the bank could afford to erect a new building. Plans were drawn by Waters and construction was started by C. R. Meyer as contractor. The edifice was to be be rough-hewn limestone, a building material Waters had used successfully in so many impressive structures such as Trinity Episcopal Church, Moses Hooper residence and the Algoma Street Methodist Church. These two bank buildings were unalike in style and surface texture but identical in fenestration. All of the New German American Bank's building was given over to bank business. It was the intention of the State Bank to rent the second floor as a way to generate income. After sometime a tenant was found. At the Library Board meeting of October 1, 1912 it was decided to open a south side branch library on the second floor the State Bank of Oshkosh. After the bank failed the library stayed and occupied the entire building.

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