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Not always a bank: Landmark structure at 230 W. State St. once was a Depression-era casualty

Published: Monday, Jan. 8, 2007 12:00 a.m. CDT
This was how 230 W. State St. in Sycamore looked when The National Bank & Trust Co. celebrated its centennial in 1967. Upper-story businesses’ names are just visible in some windows.

The Sycamore Historic District: Location 12

By Steve Bigolin, Chronicle Columnist

The National Bank & Trust Co. building at 230 W. State St. is a distinctive brick structure that housed a bank from 1924 to 1931, and has again since 1955. The corner section, however, is the result of rebuilding completed in 1925 for the Sycamore National Bank - a competitor. According to the historic abstract of title, the land itself was originally purchased on Feb. 2, 1843, from the U.S. government by Sycamore's founding father, Carlos Lattin. Sycamore National Bank was established by James S. Waterman - Sycamore's prominent early merchant and capitalist who was discussed in Location 10 of this series - in 1871, in a storefront of the Waterman Block, at 202-212 W. State St. In January 1884, four months after the man's death, the business moved to 307 W. State, which now has long been occupied by Downtown Shoes. As the 1920s got under way, times were changing. Sycamore National Bank continued growing in both customers and deposits. Not only were the bank's physical facilities bursting at the seams, but a merger with another local financial institution was looming on the horizon. Plans therefore were set in motion for obtaining a new piece of property on which to erect a state-of-the-art banking facility. Alfred and Etta Clark were approached by Sycamore National Bank concerning land they owned across the street diagonally, at what became 230 W. State St. As the deal was being put together, the bank commissioned the architectural firm of Weary & Alford Co. of Chicago to design a new bank building. The façade rendering drawn by the architects was dated Aug. 11, 1924. The abstract of title indicates that the bank purchased the lot on Sept. 24, 1924, for $38,000. The venerable brick building has long been noteworthy for its dark brown brick walls, accented with a diamond pink granite base and white terra cotta trim. Although the 1924 rendering depicts a flagpole extending up from an elevated portion of the front cornice at the roof, the soaring terra cotta archway below containing the main entrance is little different today from the way it looked when new in 1925. Narrow vertical window openings flank the arch, while double-hung second-floor windows rest on stonework that forms a continuous stringcourse along the State Street and Somonauk Street façades. Terra cotta panels add a decorative touch to the upper wall surface. A heavily dentilated cornice caps the two street façades. Vertical elements are introduced to the otherwise long, horizontal west wall via the tall window openings connecting the first floor and mezzanine. My find In the late 1990s, the artist's original rendering of the future bank turned up at Bygone Era Antiques, where it initially was &#8220for display only, not for sale.” I happened into the shop one day, and took note of the historic framed drawing. I was given some background information about the piece and told that I would be contacted if it should be offered for sale. Sometime later, I received a call from Bygone Era, asking if I was still interested in purchasing this bit of local memorabilia. The National Bank & Trust Co. had been given the right of first refusal over it, since it depicted the bank's building as it once looked. The bank chose not to exercise its option, however, and my name was next on the list of possible buyers. I jumped at the opportunity to make an offer, which was accepted. I subsequently donated the image to the Sycamore Historical Society and Museum for its collection. After the Depression When 203 W. State St. opened its doors as a bank in February 1925, it did so as the Sycamore National Bank. According to the abstract, on Jan. 2, 1926, Citizens National Bank consolidated with Sycamore National Bank, with the businesses becoming The First National Bank of Sycamore. The advent of the Great Depression in late 1929 ushered in an era of hard times, and on Oct. 31, 1931, the bank was declared insolvent, going into receivership. The 8,000-square-foot building variously served as a grocery store and a restaurant before again being converted into a bank. In 1955, it underwent extensive remodeling to become the new home of The National Bank & Trust Co. of Sycamore, which relocated from 308 W. State St. across the street. By the 1970s, it again was time to remodel and expand. Two late-19th-century structures east of the bank were demolished, and the bank expanded to approximately 16,000 square feet, with a sympathetic addition that continued the architectural lines of the 1925 edifice. This work took place from 1973-74. With its completion, the first in a series of time-and-temperature signs was installed high above the building's northwest corner. --- Steve Bigolin is a DeKalb County history expert.

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