American Bank

The American Bank at North Loop 340 and Interstate 35 was visited by a movie production crew on Saturday that included director David Lowery and actor Robert Redford.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

Long before the arrival of McLane Stadium or Magnolia Market at the Silos, the iconic “round bank” at North Loop 340 and Interstate 35 captured the attention of interstate travelers curious about its circular design.

The bank, a branch of American Bank, has achieved such a recognizable significance that Dallas-based movie director David Lowery insisted it become part of his film, “Old Man and the Gun,” scenes for which he shot at the site Saturday. Bank staffers served as extras, and legendary actor Robert Redford visited the set, according to a bank executive.

“Clearly he was a bank robber,” American Bank President David Hicks said, though he declined to go into more detail. “I think there was shooting at other sites in town. At our locale, the crew spent pretty much the entire day, but the conversations probably will last only 20 to 30 seconds in actual screen time, once the editing has taken place.”

Lowery reportedly wanted to include the round bank in his production not only for its unique appearance but because its 1980s architectural look and feel match the movie’s setting, Hicks said. The 25,000-square-foot bank was built in 1977 and 1978 and hosted a grand opening in January 1979. A full-page ad in the Tribune-Herald publicized the event.

In “Old Man and the Gun,” an elderly bank robber who has escaped prison more than a dozen times leaves a retirement center in pursuit of one more heist, according to online reviews.

Ironically, American Bank is months into a design and bidding process for remodeling the structure inside and outside. Bank officers and consultants have considered several options, including the possibility of leveling the aging landmark and erecting a new bank featuring the latest technologies and efficiencies. For now, it appears the bank will work with the original.

“When you talk about a building that size, every decision is expensive,” Hicks said. “We are coming up with designs that would modernize the building yet retain the historical look. We’ve been asking contractors to prepare estimates on various iterations, and a decision on the final design will certainly be made within the next 30 days.”

The movie crew “loved the building, and all voted to restore it to its original historical look,” Hicks said. “Being from California, or even Dallas, they felt as if they had entered a time warp working there.”

Asked if he will heed the crew’s advice, Hicks said, “The answer is, ‘Yes,’ but we won’t go that way 100 percent.

“So many banking functions have changed, and there are structural issues needing to be re-addressed. We must replace the exterior skin and rework the HVAC. The roof needs replacing, and there are code items to be addressed.”

Tweaks should improve customer flow in the bank, and the drive-thru lanes are riddled with ancient equipment that must go, Hicks said.

Ultimately, American Bank will make a multimillion-dollar investment in the branch, but Hicks believes it has earned the attention.

“Why the decision was made to build a round bank in the first place, I don’t know,” he said. “I think the idea was just to build something unique, iconic, and they certainly accomplished that purpose. You can’t go anywhere in the state of Texas and find someone who has driven I-35 who does not recognize it.”

Hicks declined to give specifics on the remodeling tab, saying, “I have an idea, but I don’t want to disclose it. It’s more than I care to think about.”

That bank and its predecessors have served the Bellmead area and the northeast quadrant of McLennan County for 65 years. Hicks said it has created a sizable customer base that should only get larger.

“We’ve talked with the Texas Historical Commission for input, and we have let it be known we’re planning these changes to keep this building around until it is 50, 75 or even 100 years old,” Hicks said.

Rodney Kroll, a 46-year Waco banking veteran who now serves as president and chairman of Texas First State Bank, said he recalls marveling at designs for the cutting-edge structure he saw in the mid-1970s.

“The interstate was not developed to the point it is today, but the bank chose to relocate there from downtown Bellmead,” Kroll said. “That was a good decision because all the commercial has moved in that direction.”

If he had a vote, Kroll said he would not alter the shape of the bank.

“I can’t think of an improvement that would be an improvement,” he said.

Monte Hulse, chairman of the First National Bank of Central Texas, said he attended an open house in January 1979, when the round bank was introduced to the Greater Waco community.

“I think it gives a little character to Waco, that part of Waco,” Hulse said. “I’ve traveled some, and I do notice banks and their architecture. I’ve never seen another building like it. They wanted to set themselves apart in the market, create something memorable, and they did.”

Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing for Waco’s tourism department, said Lowery contacted her through the Texas Film Commission, and she drove him around Columbus and Washington avenues downtown, as well as to American Bank, in his pursuit of 1980s architecture.

“He also filmed on Elm Avenue, where a ‘car switch’ took place,” Pendergraft said. “A stolen car disappeared behind a building, and another emerged.”

Hicks said the weekend shoot at the round bank actually is the second filming hosted by American Bank at that location. Shooting for a move yet to be released called “Friday’s Child” also took place there.

American Bank, a locally owned, independent bank, can trace its lineage to 1952 and Bellmead State Bank. It is remodeling the former Jimmy John’s space at Third Street and Franklin Avenue to expand its downtown presence, and it leases space on the first floor of American Plaza on West State Highway 6, which is undergoing a face-lift that includes new glass, fresh landscaping and an interior remodel.

Hicks said this week American Bank has assets totaling $440 million.

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