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First Federal Savings Bank Building (Charter One), Cleveland

Updated on July 27, 2019
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Rick is a Cleveland-area architect who writes extensively about local architecture, landmarks, attractions, and sustainable development.

Citizens Financial (formerly First Federal Savings Bank)

The former First Federal Savings Bank's headquarters, viewed from East 12th Street and Superior Avenue
The former First Federal Savings Bank's headquarters, viewed from East 12th Street and Superior Avenue | Source

First Federal Savings Bank

The First Federal Savings Bank of Cleveland, Ohio was, in fact, the first Federally-chartered savings bank in the United States. However, by the middle-1980s, the bank's controlling father-son team of Charles Joseph Koch and Charles 'Bud' Koch recognized that their financial institution had outgrown its 'thrift' status, and needed to establish its emergence as a national commercial bank. What better way than via a new and prominent headquarters building in the heart of a major Midwestern city?

They therefore acquired a long and narrow parcel of land along the eastern flank of East 12th Street abutting Superior Avenue near such prominent structures as the former Eaton Building, the Diamond Building and Reserve Square. That parcel marked the approximate eastward extent of Cleveland's spreading high-rise office financial and corporate headquarters district.

Planning and Design

Messrs. Koch sought the assistance of the Cleveland architectural firm of Richard L. Bowen & Associates in the planning and design of their conceptual headquarters. The design team of Robert Fiala, Randy Kaehr and Rick Zimmerman worked intimately with the Kochs to program, design and detail the signature structure. By 1988, the gleaming blue prism signaled First Federal Savings' emergence into the financial major leagues.

In light of the decades of financial consolidation since, it was therefore inevitable that First Federal Savings Bank would later be acquired by Charter One Bank, and that Charter One would become part of Citizens Financial Group. By late 2014, Citizens Financial had reduced their occupancy of the building to just 40%, and had become merely a tenant to the new building owners, Canadian investors SNR Group of Alberta.

A Crisp Crystalline Form

To satisfy the owners' desire for a building that appeared perhaps more imposing than its mere seven stories would suggest, the architects conceived a crisp and crystalline faceted geometric solid to suggest heft and permanence. They then banded that mass with multiple thin horizontal slices of blue reflective glazing, making floor heights disappear, and leading the viewers' eyes skyward. To further emphasize the solidity, integrity and permanence of the financial institution within — along with conservative restraint — they then clad the building’s podium base in a subdued blend of clean white and gray marble. The building's height is visually augmented by the bold notch-like recess of the atrium and mid-block entrance on East 12th Street, while smaller serration s and notches articulate the structure's skyline profile. The jewel-like blue established a unique and arresting presence for the building in Cleveland's financial/corporate district.

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