First National/Alabama Bank 2

First National

I took this a few years back when this old building was Regions Bank (now Renasant Bank), but I liked it best when it was First National. It was built circa 1907, and I’m sure it could tell a thousand stories, but the one I like best involves my brother William (9 years older). In 1941, twenty-three year old T-Sgt William Humphries was Base Cashier at Maxwell, and twice each month he would be driven downtown to theBank and return with mail sacks full of cash with which to make up the payroll. On the mid-month supplemental run he came with only a driver who, unable to park or stand due to the heavy traffic, would discharge William at the Bank entrance, and then circle the block waiting for his passenger to come back out with the sack of cash (usually close to a million –big money back then). Finally Sgt Humphries would step out onto the curb with the sack over his shoulder, a 45 on his hip, and stand there awaiting the driver to complete his loop. It was a different world.

A decade later, in 1951, Major Humphries was back from the war and was Cashier of a small town bank in West Alabama where we grew up. And I had moved to Montgomery and had a job on the Fourth Floor of the same First National. No air conditioning back then; drafting on damp paper was a real pain.

First AlabamaAt right is a view of the First National Bank Building as it looked in 1980, all of its ornamentation stripped off, double-hung windows replaced with window wall, and a signage surround added to its roof line. In the background you can see the new Union Bank building, which was designed to be taller than First National. PH&J had a hand in the Union job. After the Union was up, being second in height  was just not acceptable to First Alabama, and the sign board surround was placed so that it added ten feet of additional height; once again FAB was taller. David Bronner’s RSA Tower ended all that foolishness.

Note that the picture was taken in our “urban renewal” era, when Court Street was closed and the fountain was situated in a brick-paved plaza. Back then the City offered weekly brown-bag band concerts in the plaza to justify closing off the traffic and killing off all the stores which faced Court.

Old First NationalAt left is how First National looked from 1907 until 1978. If you could zoom in, you would be able to see the terra cotta lion faces placed at intervals around the cornice, as if they were looking out over the city.

When I moved to Montgomery in 1951, I worked on the 4th Floor of this building, so I have a fond memory of it. No air conditioning back then; we raised the windows to let the air in. We all wore white shirts and ties.

In 1971 First National merged with Exchange Security of Birmingham and First National of Huntsville to become First Alabama. That entity evolved into the Regions Bank,then to Renasant Bankof today, now the 10th largest bank in the U.S.

Below, these terra cotta figures once embellished the cornice of the First National Bank, twelve stories up, where for 65 years they were part of our urban skyline. When First National became part of First Alabama in 1971, their magnificent building was modernized and the lions were removed. To assuage their guilt over what they had done to the structure, the bank officers erected this granite column on Court Square next to the bank and adorned it with these salvaged lion heads. There it stands today to remind us that not all change is for the better.

FN Lions

My grandson was doing some work in the building and I asked him to sneak a few pics for me…

-Charles Humphries

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