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First National Bank Building, Houston

Ron Bass General Entry

In 1866 the First National Bank, which played a major role in the economic development of Houston, was organized and chartered. On July 1, 1867, Benjamin A. Shepherd became president and ran the bank for twenty-four years. His son-in-law, Alexander P. Root, succeeded Shepherd after his death in 1891 and led the bank through the initial building program until his death in February 1908.

In June 1903 the expanding bank purchased property (50 feet by 125 feet) on the southeast corner of Main and Franklin streets. The architectural firm of Sanguinet and Staats was awarded a contract to design the new First National Bank building. The eight-story neoclassical structure at 201 Main Street was completed in 1905 and was lauded as the first steel-framed structure in Houston and the city’s first skyscraper. It was also the first Houston building designed by Sanguinet and Staats and credited as that firm’s first tall building; Sanguinet and Staats later designed and constructed additional tall office buildings in Houston. The eight-story building was only twenty-five feet wide.

Constructed in nine months at the cost of $228,000, the L-shaped building was heralded as one of the three tallest buildings in Texas. The First National Bank building housed banking operations on the first floor and in the basement. The upper seven floors contained leased offices; each floor had 8,750 square feet. By mid-1905 the office space was fully occupied. The First National Bank occupied the building for fifty-one years.

In August 1908 First National Bank bought two adjacent buildings belonging to the T. W. House private bank, which failed during the Panic of 1907. Sanguinet and Staats razed these structures, added fifty feet of frontage on Main Street in 1909, and enlarged the original entry facade of only twenty-five feet to a width of seventy-five feet, in the same style as the original. In 1911 another small annex was added to the rear. In the 2020s the building's exterior remained unchanged since its original construction in 1905 and extension in 1909.

In 1918 the bank bought property behind the building. A new addition on this corner (at Franklin and Fannin streets) opened in 1925 and doubled the size of the building at a cost of $850,000, which included renovation of the building’s older section.

Until 1956 the First National Bank occupied this building with no further modifications. In 1956 First National Bank merged with City National Bank and sold the building to T.J. Bettes, a mortgage loan company. Mortgage bankers Lomas and Nettleton later purchased the building and subsequently sold it to Harris County. In 1999 the county sold the building to Garvey Builders, Inc. Developer Frank Garvey renamed the building "The Franklin Lofts" and converted the upper floors into luxury loft condominiums and added an adjacent eight-story parking facility.

As of 2020 the ground floor and mezzanine of the building contained a massive “Great Hall” that extended a full city block from Main to Fannin streets. The hall, known as Corinthian Houston, an event venue, is flanked by thirty-five-foot-high Corinthian columns extending up through the surrounding mezzanine and includes an elaborately-decorated original plaster ceiling, all dating to the 1925 expansion and renovation.

“B. A. Shepherd—Investing in Houston,” The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park (https://www.heritagesociety.org/ba-shepherd), accessed July 22, 2020. Corinthian Houston (https://corinthianhouston.net/wp/), accessed July 22, 2020. William A. Kirkland, Old Bank—New Bank: The First National Bank, Houston, 1866–1956 (Houston: Pacesetter Press, 1975).

Categories:

  • Architecture
  • Business

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ron Bass, “First National Bank Building, Houston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed February 25, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/first-national-bank-building-houston.

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