Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Winona, Part III: A bank that impresses January 8, 2016

The exterior front of the Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

The exterior front of Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION of Winona National Bank invokes trust, strength and power.

Each granite column soars 37 feet, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Each column measures 37 feet high, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Granite entry columns.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy are featured inside the bank, here in the lobby and teller area.

Marble everywhere.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

A 22 ½ ton vault door 22 inches thick.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates which give a visual impression of security.

Iron window gates.

The lion,

The lion, another symbol of strength and power.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

To the right in this display of taxidermied animals is a lion.

The taxidermy display includes a lion, center.

And then, the king of the jungle—the lion—standing atop signage, sculpted and encased in glass. A symbol of strength for a bank that stands as a powerful visual presence in the heart of this Mississippi River town.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited. Beautiful marble. Note the word “TRUST” on the wall to the left.

On the Friday in September when I toured this 1916 Egyptian Revival style building with Prairie School influences, the bank seemed more museum than business. The atmosphere was quiet, almost shrine-like with few customers. (The bank also has two branch offices.) I felt a sense of reverent awe in the midst of such opulence, such an overwhelming display of wealth.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher's Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher’s Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength. Note the art deco style lights.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

It is difficult for me to comprehend anyone having this much money—to erect this massive building with Tiffany stained glass windows, white marble imported from Italy and mahogany railings. Chicago architect George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the building.

Plans for the tile are on display.

Plans for the tile are on display.

The bank formed in 1874 as Winona Savings Bank, later merging with Winona National Bank. J.R. Watkins, founder of The J.R. Watkins Medical Company, still a stalwart business today simply known as J.R. Watkins, is also linked to the bank. In the early 1900s, J.R. acquired Winona Savings Bank as a banking concern connected to Watkins products.

The impressive boardroom.

The impressive boardroom.

When J.R. died in 1911, his son-in-law, Ernest L. King, Sr., then the vice president of Watkins, assumed the bank presidency. Eventually his son, Ernest L. King, Jr., would serve on the board of directors.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

So there’s a lot of local business history in this formidable bank building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Watkins connection is highlighted in upper level displays. Inside the boardroom, designed in Prairie School style, sleek chairs pull up to hefty, gleaming tables next to a gun collection. Just down the hallway, trophy animals shot by Grace Watkins King (J.R.’s only child) and her husband, Ernest L. King, Sr., are showcased.

A trophy from Africa.

A lion trophy from Africa.

I couldn’t help but think of Cecil the lion (killed in Zimbabwe) as I photographed the lion mount inside the bank. I understand, though, that it was a different mindset when this lion and other wildlife were shot in Africa. Yet, in a building of such grand splendor, this taxidermy collection left me feeling uncomfortable and sad.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

That aside, I delighted in the opportunity to tour this remarkable Minnesota treasure.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Even underfoot impresses.

Even underfoot impresses.

Likewise above...Tiffany stained glass.

Likewise above…definitely Prairie School influence.

Another view of the lobby from above.

Another view of the lobby from above.

FYI: Free self-guided tours of the bank are available during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The bank is located at 204 Main Street in downtown Winona. Check back next week as I continue with my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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23 Responses to “In Winona, Part III: A bank that impresses”

  1. Gorgeous – I love this style of architecture – all those lions and then that amazing staircase – how do they build like that?!? – thanks so much for sharing 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

    • I often wonder the same when I see these magnificent old buildings. How did they manage to build these structures without the modern tools and equipment available today?

    • My grandfather was a craftsman and he did it all by hand. He built the house I grew up in and crafted a built in china cabinet on one wall for my mother in the dining room/formal living room. It was GORGEOUS! My father-in-law is in his 70’s and still does drywall (by hand, manual labor) and he is such an artist in adding texture to ceilings and walls. He puts on the stilts and gets up on scaffolding to do vaulted ceilings.

      • What lovely stories about the craftsmen in your family. That china cabinet must be a family treasure. I’ve helped my husband with drywalling so fully understand the difficult nature of that beast.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    Those grand structures that spoke to strength and security – failed to address the quiet abstract threat that finally took them down. Very sad.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    As we wonder about the pyramids of Egypt, so questions arise (perhaps a tad different but questions nonetheless) as to the staggering monetary funds needed to erect such a landmark, the quarries/transportation used, the skilled workers (who were they and how did their pay reflect such skill). Such entities totally rival any of Europe’s best, don’t you think???? Awesome post!!

  4. Again another stunning collection of photos. Love the hard wood floor.

  5. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    Fabulous. The window is absolutely stunning. Hope the building stands a long time.

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    The architecture is so beautiful. Clean lines with impressive detail in each room. I tend to be drawn to the little things – like the metal work on the staircase rails. So much warm detail and delicate accent to deliver the “cold” marble and stone. Even the vault has its own sense of magnificence! I never like seeing the exotic animal taxidermy, and who knows what conditions and circumstances those mammals were wrought from. It may have been even worse back then. But of course, they are beautiful and impressive, a part of history, and should be admired and appreciated.

  7. Don Says:

    One word……… Wow!

  8. Jackie Says:

    WOW, such a beautiful building, I love the huge stained glass window above the entry!

  9. hotlyspiced Says:

    It’s wonderful it’s still being used for its intended purpose. We have a lot of grand olde bank buildings in Sydney that are full of marble and grand old staircases and lots of ornate timber work. But they’ve mostly been closed for banking and now operate with other uses which is a shame – I really liked doing my banking in these old world buildings. Like you, I don’t agree with hunting animals for sport but as you say, these poor animals were killed in a different era when many had a different mindset that certainly had nothing to do with conservation! xx

  10. Beth Ann Says:

    Amazing. It would be hard to not ogle all of this every time I stepped in the doors of this bank. The taxidermy does seem a little …unsettling…but what an amazing structure. Awesome photos.

  11. Sue Ready Says:

    What a lovely visual tour of the bank. Indeed it is quite impressive, You captured perfectly the elegancy the architecture has to offer those who enter through the doors. .


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