Crews on Wednesday demolished a 1954 bank building, known by historic preservationists as one of Phoenix’s “Midcentury marvels,” to make way for residences north of Margaret T. Hance Park.

The plans announced last year to turn what was once the Willetta Branch of Valley National Bank to rubble drew concern from preservationists. Phoenix’s Historic Preservation Commission didn’t take action to protect the building, but used it to spur changes to the city’s demolition process.

The building was eligible for city historic designation, which would have temporarily prevented its destruction, but it was never listed.

By 11 a.m. Wednesday, one portion of the building remained as a bulldozer left piles of bricks at First and Willetta streets. The vacant structure was included in Phoenix’s book of significant Midcentury commercial architecture.

Bank noted for progressive design

The bank first opened a branch at the location in an old bungalow in 1946, according to city preservation staff. The 1954 building was the bank’s largest at the time and noted for its progressive design by architecture firm Weaver and Drover.

Phoenix historians associate Valley National Bank and its leader Walter Bimson with the growth of the city as well as eye-catching bank buildings. A 1954 Arizona Republic article said the Willetta branch would be the only in Arizona to have three drive-up teller windows “drive-in movie style.”

Ryan Cos., Tilton Development and Hunt Investment? will use the roughly 1.6-acre site for a residential complex with more than 200 units, according to plans presented last year. The partnership recently closed on the land and will call the project the Willa.

The preservation commission requested the developer document the building before demolishing it, which  it did, Phoenix Historic Preservation Officer Michelle Dodds said in an email.


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Changes to demolition process

The development plans, as well as the recent demolition of numerous other buildings with historic eligibility, sparked changes to Phoenix’s demolition process last year. Developers told the Historic Preservation Commission that no one from the city raised concerns about razing the building throughout the planning process.

The Phoenix City Council in October approved a 30-day demolition delay for commercial buildings more than 50 years old. Buildings individually eligible for historic designation apart from a district also now require the delay.

The city also is notifying developers earlier in the process if their sites include significant structures.

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