‘Distinguished Simplicity’: Wright’s First National Bank Design To Be Honored June 8

ORIGINAL LAMPS, WITH the First National Bank of Dwight logo, can still be seen inside the bank in Dwight on West Main Street. Eric Stewart, vice president and loan officer at the bank, said the two lamps in the main office room are originals. Another two lamps are outside on pillars at the front door.

The First National Bank of Dwight, designed in 1905 for the 1906 opening by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, will be marking Wright’s 150th birthday with cookies, punch and coffee June 8. According to Eric Stewart, vice president and loan officer at the Dwight branch, the bank is a major tourist attraction for people looking for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in Illinois. “We regularly have tour buses and tourists come to see the bank,” Stewart said. “Wright designed this one-story commercial structure for Colonel Frank Smith of the (First National Bank of Dwight) with the aim of achieving an overall effect of distinguished simplicity,” says an online description of Wright’s design in Dwight. According to Wikipedia, Wright’s earliest designs for the building date to 1904, but it was constructed in 1905 and opened in 1906. “The design of the building deliberately rejects the classical influences common at the time, and is meant to evoke an air of simple dignity,” Wikipedia said. The bank building was to house the real estate office and bank of Frank L. Smith, a prominent local citizen who would later be elected to Congress. “Smith had decided that his real estate clients needed a simple and convenient way to obtain financing, so he founded the bank and hired Wright as the architect.” Wright was involved in the design and construction down to the smallest details including interior furnishings. One of the tables he designed can be seen in the main lobby of the bank. During the 1950s, the (continued on page 5) building was modernized with a lowering of the original skylight to allow installation of air conditioning. The work also covered much of the interior limestone and removing of the oak trim. During the 1960s, the First National Bank of Dwight remodeled to remove Wright’s originally-designed partition which divided the building into bank and real estate offices. The renovations recreated the original skylight with electronic lighting, uncovered the interior stone, and utilized the original plans to re-incorporate the oak trim. In 1990, the drive-up canopy was added, using the same cut-stone facade as Wright originally used, Stewart said. “We went back to the original quarry in Indiana,” Stewart explained. “The building addition blends well with Wright’s original design,” Wikipedia said. Stewart agrees. Even though the building is of immense historical significance and draws tourists to Dwight constantly, it is not part of the national registry of historic places, Stewart said. He said since it is an active business, the bank board decided not to opt for the historic registry because it could limit future plans for the structure with restrictions to maintain the original footprint. “One thing I find interesting is this building is 115 years old and it is handicap accessible — and always has been,” Stewart added. The informal open house will be in the bank lobby, June 8, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.