Much fanfare has been given to the possible redevelopment of the Laura Trio and Barnett Bank Buildings. Metro Jacksonville takes a closer look at the project's anchor, the Bank Hotel.
A Brief History of the Barnett Bank
Barnett Banks, Inc. was Florida's oldest and largest banking organization when sold to NationsBank (now Bank of America) in January 1998, at the time the most expensive bank acquisition in US history. Founded in 1877 as the Bank of Jacksonville by William B. Barnett, who had recently moved to Jacksonville from Kansas, within four years it had become the largest bank in the state. Barnett and his two sons became prominent businessmen in Florida's largest city and their bank, renamed Barnett National Bank in 1908 in memory of its founder, remained one of Florida's leading banking organizations for 120 years. The Barnetts were involved in providing part of the financing for the Disston land purchase that helped the state of Florida avoid insolvency in the early 1880s; the bank was involved in two precedent-setting decisions by the US Supreme Court (the first in the 1890s, the second in the 1990s); it organized one of the country's first bank-holding companies as part of an effort to stabilize banking operations in a number of Florida cities during widespread bank failures at the onset of the Great Depression; it developed innovative marketing and consumer banking programs, becoming "Florida's bank," during an aggressive statewide expansion in the 1970s and 1980s; it led the fight in the Florida legislature for branch banking, and later developed the case for regional interstate banking in the Southeast, but then failed to capitalize on opportunities to expand outside the state; and more. Throughout its history, five generations of Barnetts worked for the bank, including the founder's son, Bion H. Barnett, who after 75 years of service retired as chairman of the board in 1952 at the age of 94. Other promient bank leaders included the visionary Guy Botts and his successor, Charles Rice, who oversaw the sale of the bank.
Bion H. Barnett
Following Barnett's sale to NationsBank, a number of senior officers of the bank, under the leadeship of Barnett president Allen Lastinger, organized the Barnett Historic Preservation Foundation, Inc. as a not-for-profit foundation to preserve and publicize the historical legacy of Barnett Bank. The Foundation gathered and organized the historical documentation that the parent company had maintained over the years, while augmenting these records by gathering additional materials from former employees throughout the state and conducting an oral history program that resulted in more than 70 interviews. The records in the Barnett Bank collection, which were donated in 2001 to the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee, include annual reports, employee publications, investor presentations, press releases, scrapbooks, news clippings, marketing materials, videos, correspondence, more than 3,000 pages of oral history transcripts, and miscellaneous ledgers and account books. The Foundation selected the Florida State Archives as the repository for the Barnett collection in part because the State Archives also houses the records of the Florida State Department of Banking, as well as records relating to the Lewis State Bank and the First National Bank of Tampa/First Florida Banks, and thus offers a wealth of material for the study of Florida banking, as well as other areas of business and politics related to the banking industry.
The Barnett National Bank Building
The bank grew steadily over its first fifty years, necessitating the construction of this $1,500,000 banking and office center in 1926, which remained the tallest building in Jacksonville until the Prudential Building was constructed in 1954. Mowbray & Uffinger, nationally known bank architects from New York, designed it; and the contractor was the James Stewart Co., which constructed Madison Square Garden in New York and the Mitsui Bank in Tokyo, then the largest bank building in the world. The Barnett National Bank Building is handsomely proportioned and reflects the eclectic influences of commercial architectural styles of the 1920's. A two-story arcade faced with limestone makes up the street-level facade, and the building is topped with double-arched windows and a parapet with obelisks. A series of lion heads between the third and fourth stories are among the other interesting details.Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, Page 33
Article by Ennis Davis