As a child, I became fascinated by skyscrapers in various big cities. In 1967, I made my first trip to Atlanta to see a Braves game. I recall seeing the Atlanta skyline in the distance as we headed south, and gazed in amazement. Atlanta was growing rapidly, and tall buildings were rising in great numbers. I saw similar growth in Birmingham, Cincinnati, and Nashville on trips to see extended family.
I wished back then that Chattanooga would add skyscrapers to its skyline.
That wish was becoming true that year, as American National Bank was in the midst of building a high-rise main office downtown. The June 8, 1966 Chattanooga Times reported that ANB held ground-breaking ceremonies for an 18-story building on the northeast corner of Market and Eighth streets. By October, 1966 the number of floors increased to twenty.
The construction was taking place on the same site as the previous American National Bank office, which was reported in a captioned photograph in the June 15, 1968 Chattanooga News-Free Press as being almost demolished. It is that pre-skyscraper bank building which I’ll cover in this article, for I recently came across a paperweight made from its marble floor.
American National Bank began in 1905, when the May 30 Chattanooga Times reported that treasury officials in Washington, D.C. had approved the charter for a new national bank. The bank had authorized capital of one million dollars, and retained the management and offices of the Bank of Chattanooga.
Solid growth at American National paved the way for new offices in 1927. The October 7 Chattanooga Times reported, “Work to Start on Bank Home First of Year.” President E.Y. Chapin said, “Our architects have completed the preliminary plans; we shall advertise for bids within a month from now, and we expect to receive our friends in our new home by New Year’s Day of 1929.”
Construction proceeded according to plan. On December 21, 1928, the Chattanooga Times reported the opening of American National’s new home, designed as the “Taj Majal of Chattanooga.” The building, sheathed in Italian marble, was constructed at a cost of more than five hundred-thousand dollars. The most notable feature was a large arch – a symbol of great strength – over the front doorway. Smaller arched windows extended along East Eighth Street. The interior also featured several arches.
A directors’ room was located on the first floor, along with the main banking room. Scott L. Probasco, vice-president and son of the bank’s founder and first president, H.S. Probasco, supervised the design and furnishings of the room. Double-walled construction helped to sound-proof the meeting room.
American National Bank survived the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, and continued to grow in the decades thereafter. By the 1960’s, space was needed for additional employees, departments, and data processing equipment. The 1928-vintage main office building was designated for replacement by the aforementioned skyscraper, which was completed in 1968.
American National Bank later merged with Third National Bank of Nashville, which was acquired in 1995 by Suntrust.
I have yet to get my wish of Chattanooga having as many skyscrapers as Atlanta, though we have seen a few more be completed. Over time, I’ve determined that’s just fine, particularly since I’ve gained an appreciation for Chattanooga’s historic buildings.
If you have memories of the pre-skyscraper American National Bank’s main office, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.