From the Newspaper Archives:
“Brownsville Bank Plans Are Released,” AGC News Service, 10 June 1958, p. 7. Phelps & Dewees & Simmons (San Antonio) architects for 6-story, $1 million reinforced concrete, solar glazed tile, and marble First National Bank at Brownsville Building, Brownsville. W. O. Roberson, pres.
“Bell Awarded Bank Building in Brownsville,” AGC News Service, 8 July 1958, p. 7. P. G. Bell Construction Co. (Houston) awarded $947,743 contract for First National Bank at Brownsville, E. Levee between 8th and 9th Sts., Phelps & Dewees & Simmons (SA), archs.
“Hannah Retires from Bank Here,” Brownsville Herald 13 June 1954, p. 1. Moody Interests of Galveston buy control of First National Bank from J. W. Hannah, who purchased bank in 1943 from Hubert R. Hudson estate. Hannah sold his interests to Moodys in November 1953. Hannah was born in Alabama in 1908 but grew up in Oklahoma. Banker in Oklahoma before moving to Brownsville.
“Ground Breaking Ceremonies Set,” Brownsville Herald 16 July 1958, p. 1. Fr. George Sexton, pastor of Sacred Heart, Sam Perl representing Temple Beth El, and the Rev. R. O. Macintosh, retired rector of Church of the Advent, to attend ground breaking ceremony for construction of $1 million, 6-story building, first privately financed multistory structure built in Brownsville in 20 years. P. G. Bell Construction Co., of Houston is contractor.
“First National Bank’s Grand Opening Today,” Brownsville Herald 13 September 1959, special section C.
John G. Fernández subsequently acquired controlling interest and on 12 July 1922 re-chartered the bank as the State National Bank. Fernández built new building at Elizabeth and 12th St. In 1937 senior Hubert R. Hudson acquired controlling interest from John G. Fernández. Received permission to change name from State National Bank to First National Bank at Brownsville. [Previous First National Bank of Brownsville, chartered in 1892, declared insolvent in 1932.] In 1941 Harry M. Scott and J. W. Hannah purchased bank from Hudson family and continued to own it until 1954.
In Brownsville, Phelps & Dewees & Simmons were also architects of:
Sams Memorial Stadium, 1954
Lueralam Manor, 1958 (demolished)
Mercy Hospital additions, 1956-58 (demolished)
Cleve Tandy Hall, Texas Southmost College, 1956-61 (altered)
Gladys Porter Zoo, 1968-72
Both Gladys Sams and Dean Porter were directors of the First National Bank when its new building was constructed. They seem to be the link to Phelps & Dewees & Simmons. The senior Lloyd M. Bentsen and his nephew Donald were also directors of the bank, as was Hubert R. Hudson, Jr.
The First National Bank Building was part of a trend by Valley and border financial institutions to construct new downtown headquarters buildings in the 1950s. These were conservative examples of modern architecture. The First National Bank in Harlingen (1952), the Pan American State Bank in Brownsville (1957), the Harlingen National Bank in Harlingen (1958), the Laredo National Bank in Laredo (1958), and the First National Bank in McAllen (1958) exemplified the 1950s trend toward downtown buildings that fit into the fabric of downtown. In the 1960s, new bank buildings, even when constructed downtown, were designed as frestanding pavilions, often juxtaposed with surface parking lots. The McAllen State Bank in McAllen (1961), the Southmost Savings & Loan Association Building in Brownsville (1962), the First National Bank in Edinburg (1964), the First National Bank in Mission (1964), and the First State Bank & Trust Co. in Mission (1964) are examples of the pavilion type, as is the National Bank of Commerce in Brownsville (1965), the first Brownsville bank to be built outside downtown. Although the First National Bank at Brownsville was identified with the more conservative 1950s buildings, it did set aside half of its block-front site on E. Levee for a surface parking lot and advertised the ingenuity with which its “serpentine lane” system of managing drive-in window traffic had been planned to avoid back-ups and delays for customers transacting their busines from their cars.
Photos and text by Stephen Fox