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June 22, 2013 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Building conversions can be a tricky business, but it's especially so when there is a fifty ton steel vault built into the structure. So what can you do with that old bank? Well, restaurants are popular. So are nightclubs and bars. Really big banks seem to be a natural for a hotel conversion (here's one in progress). And if all that sounds too fancy, well, how about a Walgreens? posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (50 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I remember reading Gibson's Virtual Light in high school and being so struck by the day to day details like diners setting up in old bank lobbies cause banks went totally electronic years ago.

I had totally forgot about it until a few years ago when I realized the place I was getting my hair cut in was most surely an old grand bank building. It gave me a raging case of the future fantods.
posted by The Whelk at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

There used to be a fantastic liquor store in downtown Indianapolis in an old bank building. They kept the really good wines in the vault. Dunno if it's still there.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:45 PM on June 22, 2013

Zinco in Mexico City is a great reuse of a bank building's basement, although there is not an actual vault. I like it a lot and try to get there whenever I am able.

Walgreen's reuse of the bank building there at the northeast corner of the Crotch is amazing and unexpected. Glad to see a private company actively engaged in sensitive historic preservation and repurposing of a building that in an earlier time might have been demolished.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 4:52 PM on June 22, 2013

Chicago, huh. I thought for sure the Walgreens link would be about the Hoboken, NJ Walgreens, which is also in an old bank building. Maybe it's a thing with Walgreens?
posted by fings at 5:10 PM on June 22, 2013

That Walgreens makes me miss the Balducci's market we used to have in New York.
posted by cazoo at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, a couple of years ago, the trance squat parties I frequented in London started having trouble with local gangs forcing their way in and generally causing trouble, up to the point where they would beat people up and try to steal the bar takings. It was really pretty nasty.

Then someone found an abandoned Securicor depot - as I understand it, the sort of place where the cash for ATMs gets held for distribution - and they started holding parties there. Two foot thick walls. No problem with noise bleed between rooms! The chillout area was in an actual underground bunker with bars on the doors bigger than your arms. The queue to get in snaked through a bunch of metal cages until you arrived at a couple of cheerful hippies who dealt with the tickets while sitting behind several inches of toughened glass.

They never had security problems for as long as they partied there.
posted by doop at 5:15 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

My company occupies a building that was formerly a bank. Our vault is now our mailroom.

Not very sexy, I admit, but non-profits tend to be a bit more conservative.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:21 PM on June 22, 2013

Here's a favorite, a local brewpub in Yardley, PA.
posted by mollweide at 5:28 PM on June 22, 2013

The Courtyard Marriott in downtown San Diego was an old bank and has its conference rooms downstairs in the old safety deposit vaults.

There's even a room upstairs with a bathroom inside a vault door.
posted by disillusioned at 5:44 PM on June 22, 2013

The vault in what is now the Occidental Hotel's Virginian Restaurant in Buffalo, WY is a VIP couple's room. No shots of the interior, unfortunately. It is also not for the claustrophobic.
posted by koucha at 5:48 PM on June 22, 2013

One of my favorite clubs in Houston (now a wedding venue) was in a bank. This was back in the late 80s and early 90s.
posted by immlass at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2013

I totally know where The Whelk gets his hair cut.

And, yeah, I felt the same way the first time I shopped at the Trader Joe's in Brooklyn.

What especially fascinates me is that, when I moved to New York in 2000, there were certain types of retail things New York just didn't do well, because there simply isn't the square footage for it. Then all the banks died, and suddenly there were these huge retail spaces ripe for conversion.
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This place just opened in an old bank near me. I'm pretty sure that I'm not hip enough to go there.
posted by octothorpe at 6:09 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It was the 90s. The product development startup where I worked moved into a 2-story old bank building in Buckhead, Atlanta, and turned the vault into a kind of rec/exercise room. Then stuff started accumulating down there.

The owners were particularly proud of the escalators. I still remember slowly descending as I departed on my last day.

We used to love to go out onto the roof. I still remember watching the 1996 Olympic bike race going past on Peachtree Road.
posted by amtho at 6:13 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't even fathom how wrong it would feel to eat sushi that was made and sold by Walgreens.

They converted the Borders (that used to be a bank) down the street from my office into a Walgreens that sells sushi, booze, and grab-and-go lunchstuffs in addition to the normal stuff. I've had a few rolls from them. They are not poisonous, unless you consider a lack of flavor poison.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:24 PM on June 22, 2013

And if all that sounds too fancy, well, how about a Walgreens?

Makes sense to me: a bank vault is downright sissy-grade security compared to the way they lock up the razor blade cartridges these days. I tried buying some once at a Rite-Aid a mile or so from here near a lot of section 8 housing, and after they first checked my credit rating, my criminal record and sent a Pinkerton's guy to talk to all my known associates, unlocking the cabinet seemed to involve a synchronized ballet of two store managers having their retinas scanned while simultaneously turning a pair of magnetically-encoded plutonium keys surgically attached to their ulnas. Or at least that's how I remember it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:29 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

My first office job was at a body jewelry manufacturing company, and our office was an old former bank in Santa Monica. The owner was a bewildering mixture of Scientologist and far-out libertarian. His plan for the race wars that he was sure were coming was for all of his employees to fall back on the office (which was pretty defensible a structure, I'll admit), and wait out the violence.

The contents of our vault? Business supplies, gold bars, automatic weapons and (very briefly) a small quantity of human remains.

I miss that job, although I certainly wouldn't take it back if it were offered to me at this point.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2013

Kudos for the Twilight Zone reference...
posted by jim in austin at 6:35 PM on June 22, 2013

I thought for sure the Walgreens link would be about the Hoboken, NJ Walgreens,

That's funny - I thought for sure the Walgreens link would be about this Seattle, WA Walgreens, located in an old Seafirst Bank building.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:41 PM on June 22, 2013

My NYC favorite is the CVS at 96th and Amsterdam. As a bonus, if you look closely you can see that the beautiful atrium has been chopped into two floors.
posted by chortly at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2013

(Slight Walgreen's-related digression: The one in Key West is in a historic movie theater. Someone in management has hit upon an interesting gimmick.)
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:07 PM on June 22, 2013

Several years ago some friends & I needed a space to practice our hobby as amateur computer security enthusiasts. We eventually settled on the basement underneath a Wells Fargo that included their old vault. We turned it into our server room, using some heavy drills to core out a set of holes through 15 inches of concrete that made up the walls for ventilation, power & connectivity. Basically we became bank robbers in reverse, tunneling out of the vault instead of into it. The irony was not lost on us.
posted by scalefree at 7:16 PM on June 22, 2013

I was visiting a friend and we went to the Brooklyn Flea Market -- gorgeous building.

The lovely old bank in Bexley OH is a Starbucks. I guess it was too small for Walgreens.
posted by bluesapphires at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2013

In Toronto there's a Starbucks located in a classic corner bank branch. They turned the vault into a bookable meeting room.
posted by parudox at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The equinox in San Francisco is in the old San Francisco stock
Exchange with the men's locker room in the vault.
posted by shothotbot at 7:39 PM on June 22, 2013

Here in Wellington we have this Burger King in a 1913 bank building. There is also the Old Bank Shopping Arcade which is in a 1901 bank building. The original vault door is now between two escalators that link to an underground food court below the far more modern building constructed to be the banks new headquarters - they have since vacated this building and moved to another city entirely.
posted by netd at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2013

New Orleans has a McDonald's in an old church building, which is a bit of a derail but it's been one of my favorite buildings in New Orleans since I was a kid and openly liked McDonald's.
posted by Sara C. at 8:08 PM on June 22, 2013

Bank to pawn shop is a pretty easy conversion.
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 PM on June 22, 2013

Walgreens can refurb as many banks as it wants; it still gets no love from me after knocking down The Parkmoor.
posted by tss at 9:28 PM on June 22, 2013

I'd love to live in an old bank and have the vault as my bedroom. It would be so quiet and relaxing.
posted by arcticseal at 9:42 PM on June 22, 2013

Great post title.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:02 PM on June 22, 2013

Latrobe's on Royal in New Orleans used to be the Louisiana State Bank, and they hold receptions in what I think must have been the trading area. It has walls that are a couple of feet thick and a vaulted dome with extraordinary acoustics: if you position yourself right you can hear conversations from the extremities as if the speakers were next to you; and if you sing towards the arches' peak you can fill the room with sound.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:19 PM on June 22, 2013

Tresor in the former no-mans land of central Berlin. Short documentary.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:52 PM on June 22, 2013

Leesburg, VA has Lightfoot, a superb restaurant in an old location of People's National Bank. Word is the Lightfoot owners purchased the building, and then spent a million dollars refurbishing the place. It is spectacular. Been open in this, its current location, for about 14 years, and does great business.

A little surprised to see no-one seems to have mentioned Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn. Great book about how a building built for one purpose gets repurposed for others through its lifetime when it outlives its original, and subsequent, uses, and how each transformation is informed by the building's history, and how, in turn, also informs the next.
posted by kcds at 4:54 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about this food co-op in Philadelphia? What's really cool that you can't see here is that the vault is used for dairy storage.

I moved to Philly from a notorious food desert just as the co-op was opening in this new location; I spent my first several visits there just gawking.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:34 AM on June 23, 2013

I used to love sitting in the old bank vault, painted to look like an aquarium, at the Herrell's Ice Cream in Harvard Square. Man I miss that place.
posted by maxim0512 at 5:46 AM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

What fascinates me about the repurposing of 19th and early 20th century banks for other purposes is what it tells us about the form and function of bank branches. It's not like bank branches are buggy whip factories -- branch growth has been a core strategy of all the major commercial banks, and net closings of branches has been limited, even in most urban areas where these old school branches were, to closing duplicate branches after mergers.
posted by MattD at 6:16 AM on June 23, 2013

I work here. For the record, the vault is where the IT department has offices.
posted by Mcable at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2013

MattD, in my experience with this phenomenon in New York, the bank buildings used aren't, say, a retail space that was a Washington Mutual until they were bought by Chase and the location was determined to be redundant. All those sorts of spaces are just regular retail spaces that could be anything in their next life.

The bank buildings we're talking about are the former grand flagships of long-defunct banks. I don't know enough about retail banking history to know when and why these banks began to close, whether they were bought by larger banks, or what happened (aside from probably the internet) to make these banks obsolete. But New York City in particular has TONS of empty bank buildings, many of which were derelict for years before the vogue of "it's a gym... IN AN OLD BANK!" that's going on now.

Here's an example of what we're talking about. This building was never just another Chase branch that was closed due to redundancy. It was the flagship branch of the Bowery Savings Bank.

Interestingly enough the Bowery Savings Bank is apparently now part of Capital One, which has retail branches in New York. If the timing had been different, this might have been an ideal space for them.
posted by Sara C. at 8:17 AM on June 23, 2013

Philadelphia is chock full of awesome old buildings repurposed as eateries. Butcher and Singer, for instance, in the space occupied by the former Striped Bass, is an eatery named for the brokerage firm that originally occupied the building.
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on June 23, 2013

I used "occupied" twice in one sentence, forgive me for this ocupado de deux.
posted by Mister_A at 8:48 AM on June 23, 2013

There are benches with safety deposit boxes still under them to eat on in the vault at Bloc 11 in Union Square, Somerville, MA. It's the second location of a popular coffeehouse, Diesel, which I thought was a former garage (thanks to the decor and the garage door) but seems to have previously been an eye place, so...who knows. But Bloc 11 was definitely a bank.
posted by maryr at 11:42 AM on June 23, 2013

The nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in was the vault room in the Trinity Hotel in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The restaurant downstairs was pretty amazing too.
posted by NoraReed at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2013

As noted in the story linked from this FPP, St. Louis has an Islamic community center in a former bank.
posted by limeonaire at 12:49 PM on June 23, 2013

It sounds depressing, but this Walgreens is a stop when I'm entertaining architecturally-minded visitors in Chicago. They've done a fantastic job of restoring the details and finishes from the old bank. It's not too often that people walk into a corporate drugstore and say "Wow."
posted by hwyengr at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2013

That Walgreens... On the one hand it's good that such a beautiful space is no longer boarded up.

...but on the other, a Walgreens--no matter how well done and conveniently-located--seems like a waste.
posted by graphnerd at 9:02 PM on June 23, 2013

In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn there's an old bank that's been converted to gym: Body Reserve.
posted by West of House at 6:17 AM on June 24, 2013

In addition to the aforementioned bank-cum-music-venue, Houston also has another repurposed bank building (complete with vault) over in the Rice Village area. It opened as the appropriately named "Bank Draft," but eventually changed hands to become the area's only Scottish pub, The Kelvin Arms.

Last time I was there, the vault was where the dart boards were.
posted by uberchet at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2013

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