Any future modifications of the People’s Bank building at the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Bloomington will need approval from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission.
On an 8–0 vote, Bloomington’s city council approved the building as a “notable” historic structure in its own historic district. That’s a designation that is higher than “contributing” but not as high as “outstanding” in the four-tiered rating system for historic buildings.
The council’s vote followed the unanimous recommendation of the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC).
The owner of the building, Bailey 8 LLC, had requested demolition of the building, to construct a three- or four-story building that would include apartments. That meant the HPC reviewed the structure under the city’s ordinance on demolition delay.
Some of the HPC members spoke during public commentary in favor of the historic designation of the building.
Gloria Colom, Bloomington’s historic preservation program manager, presented the council with the analysis of the building, which was constructed in 1961. The building meets two of the criteria for historic designation—one in the historic category and one in the architectural category, she said.
On the historic score, the building “represents an era of dynamic change when a larger segment of the population could afford to buy both a car and a house,” according to Colom’s report. That was supported by the fact that the bank, which was then the Bloomington National Savings and Loan Association, moved to the corner from a different site, and started offering services with a drive-thru window.
From an architectural perspective, the building “reflects the clean lines of the International Style modernist aesthetics and post-World War II open spaces while retaining a small scale and using the locally sourced Indiana limestone as the primary facade material,” according to Colom’s report.
Tim Cover, with Studio 3 Design, who is the architect on the project, described for the council the kind of structural modifications that would be necessary to preserve the existing building, while adding an additional floor or two. It would entail constructing a structural system through the existing building, up above the roof, to carry the load, Cover said.
Arguing against the historic designation, Cover pointed to the additional construction costs, as well as the extra costs due to the time that would be needed for HPC review.
Also arguing against the historic designation during public comment time was Michael Carmin, who is the attorney for the building’s owner. Carmin said that if the building were demolished, it would not jeopardize the character of Bloomington. Carmin described Kirkwood as an “evolving street.” He said, “This is another property that deserves to evolve with it.”
Countering that sentiment was HPC member Duncan Campbell. He put it like this: “Kirkwood’s changing, so let’s don’t save anything? I’m sorry, that just doesn’t resonate.”
Campbell described another modernist bank, in Columbus, Indiana, designed by Eero Saarinen. Campbell said the Irwin Union Bank building in Columbus, with its open floor plan system, made an impact on the way customers interacted with banks. “Almost every town in America rushed to build one, including Bloomington,” Campbell said.
Campbell allowed that the building at the corner of Kirkwood and Washington is not of the same caliber as the former Irwin Union building. Campbell put it like this: “Do we do as good a job as Eero Saarinen? No, it’s not the best modernist building ever built. It certainly isn’t.” Campbell added, “But it does have its own right to be here…in terms of its history and…the architecture that it represents.”
The 8–0 tally on the nine-member city council’s vote reflected the fact that Steve Volan had departed the meeting by the time the vote was taken, which came nearly five hours after the meeting start time.
The historic designation had originally been second on the agenda. But the council voted to move the two items related to the city’s high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam ahead of all the other items. The agenda change was made in deference to representatives of Meridiam, who were connecting remotely from France.
The items related to the Meridiam deal were approved by the city council on an 8-1 vote. Dissenting was Dave Rollo, who wanted to delay so that the administration could provide more detail on the reasons why a public utility model would not be feasible.