The public image of banking and bankers has changed dramatically in the 150+ years of Agincourt. During Louis Sullivan’s time, for example, the small-town banks of his acquaintance were run by people in and of the community they served. Their boards of directors came from among the commercial interests of the town—doctors, pharmacists, news editors and others whose own financial wellbeing rose and fell with these locally-owned and run institutions. Carl Bennett, for example, was president of the National Farmers Bank in Owatonna, Minnesota, and tremendously interested in the public persona represented by Louis Sullivan’s design. Bennett and his wife also commissioned a single-family residence for themselves, but its country-club-like atmosphere conflicted with the far greater approachability of the bank design. As interesting as it might have been for historians, the Bennetts wisely decided on a residential scheme by Purcell & Elmslie.
At the other end of the image spectrum were those banks anathema to Sullivan’s vision of a democratic (small-D) America, Banks that displayed the very wealth they housed and protected in statements of august, even imperious, power. Neo-Classical piles of masonry or terracotta invoking the grandeur of ancient Rome, such as this bank entrance from Kittanning, Pennsylvania—whose proportions I happen to admire, by the way. My own neo-classical conception for the Farmers, Mechanics & Merchants is a far cry from this.
Would that I could have done so well.