Discovery! – Part 2

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Discovery! – Part 2

Originally published February 27, 2009 – The discovery of something that been lost for nearly a century is what every historian dreams about. It is what makes countless hours of delving into old documents worth all the eye-strain.

As reported last week, good friends Bill and Wendy Bigham who ─ through A Glimpse of Americana, their online business, deal in historic ephemera ─ brought to my attention some incredible early 20th century Arizona magazines.

Poring through these gems led to discovering the subject of today’s piece ─ a concept drawing of the Tempe National Bank that appeared in the November, 1911 issue of Arizona: The New State Magazine.

Established in 1901 by some of Tempe’s leading citizens ─ including Carl Trumbull Hayden, William Rohrig, Wolf Sachs and James W. Woolf ─ the Tempe National Bank, the town’s first Federally charted bank grew quickly. The bank opened in the 5th & Mill business office of its first president Cyrus Grant Jones.

Within a decade the bank needed larger space in its own home. A prominent corner was purchased just a block south on the corner of Sixth Street and Mill next to the Tempe Hardware Building.

Enter Leighton Green Knipe (1878-1941) ─ a structural engineer who made his way to Phoenix from his native Pennsylvania about 1909.

At the turn of the 20th century it was not uncommon for an engineer to have aesthetic interests as well. Knipe was one of those who desired to add “architect” to his resume.

While helping engineer Tempe’s sewer system in 1911, Knipe learned about plans for a new Tempe National Bank. Although the details are unknown, Knipe, was hired to design a unique, iconic structure.

Just days after the Tempe Daily News announced in October 1911 that W.J. Rifley of Phoenix was contracted to build the bank, Knipe’s concept for an imposing three-story building appeared in Arizona: The New State Magazine, a statewide publication.

Throughout small town America banks were generally the most handsome and substantial buildings. Most were revivals of classic Greek and Roman architecture. Knipe took a different approach. Presaging the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by a decade, Knipe chose to use Egyptian architecture for his desert building.

Possibly influenced by the recent introduction of Egyptian cotton to the area Knipe’s design was ideal for a desert environment ─ deeply shaded and in a cool, reflective white color. The caption accompanying his concept describes the building as “reinforced concrete.”

For reasons not yet determined ─ but most likely financial ─ the bank was built not of concrete but with the traditional use of brick.

What distinguished Knipe’s structure from others in Tempe was the use of cement-faced bricks ─ resulting in a building with a bright white appearance.  It’s been 98 years since Knipe’s drawing was published. Now with its remarkable rediscovery we can see into the mind of this innovative man and know exactly how he envisioned his first Valley architectural commission ─ the Tempe National Bank.

We’ll conclude the fascinating story of the Tempe National Bank building and its creator next week.

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