This view of the United States National Bank building shows the building as it looked after completion in 1917 when it was built under the direction of A.E. Doyle, one of the West Coast’s leading architects. To the left is Stark Street and Sixth Avenue is on the right. The building to the rear and to the right was the original Wells Fargo Bank.
When the steel and terra cotta building, which was designed in a Second Century Roman style, opened for business on July 30, 1917, it was the first edifice in Portland constructed with a steel frame. The free standing columns on the building’s exterior are of Corinthian design with modified capitals, which stand 54 feet high.
Marble used in the lobby came from various parts of the world. The white marble in the floor and the columns was imported from Italy. The red marble in the floor came from Hungary and the black marble on the check counters came from Belgium. Today you can see a crack in the floor where the two buildings were joined together.
All the light fixtures were originally made in 1917 by Fred Baker especially for U.S. National Bank. He rewired the fixtures in 1975 at the age of 90 so the the fixtures could accommodate larger bulbs for better lighting. He also constructed the lanterns in the hallways to the U-Bank and elevator when the fixtures were rewired.
The bronze doors to the lobby were designed by Arvard Fairbanks, a former professor of sculpture at the University of Oregon. He was inspired by the world famous fifteenth century “Gates of Paradise” doors to the Baptistry in Florence, Italy. The bank’s doors on the Broadway side illustrate progress in transportation with scenes of the Lewis & Clark Expedition: oxen pulling wagons westward, Indians frightened by the Iron Horse, Captain Robert Gray’s ship: “Columbia”, fur traders and a waterfront scene.
On the Sixth Avenue side, the doors depict international good will: science’s progress through Direction, Labor, Domestic Welfare, Understanding and Expression, Enterprise and Life.
Downstairs, the vault door to the Safe Deposit area is constructed of manganese tool steel and it weighs 13 tons (26,000 pounds). Steel for the first 6,600 safe deposit boxes was originally intended for French 75MM cannons, but World War I ended before they were made and the steel was purchased by U.S. National Bank. The vault now holds approximately 11,000 safe deposit boxes.
By 1920, the leaders of the bank decided it was time to expand and they purchased the quarter block on the southwest corner of the block from the Elks Lodge. Construction began early in 1924. The same artisans and craftsmen who built the original building were commissioned to duplicate the ornate interior.