The “round bank” at North Loop 340 and Interstate 35 will fall next year, having served as a conversation piece for Central Texas travelers and a set piece for Robert Redford in his recent movie, “The Old Man & the Gun.”
Opened in 1979, the current home to American Bank became a novelty for its distinct design. It captured the fancy of Dallas-based movie director David Lowery, who regularly traveled between the Metroplex and Austin and found the “round bank” a standout reflection of the era in which the prison escapee played by Redford made a nice living pulling off bank jobs.
In more ways than one, the bank has seen better days, American Bank President and CEO Dana Hassell said. American Bank announced Tuesday it would build two new branches in Greater Waco, one where the “round bank” now sits, another to serve Woodway where a limited drive-thru bank location has been leveled to accommodate a full-service branch scheduled for completion next year, Hassell said.
“You know, we tried hard to remodel the round bank, went through a deep evaluation, going so far as getting bids,” Hassell said. “But it was not economically feasible to get it up to serviceable condition for banking in 2019. It has a lot of deferred maintenance: sprinklers, elevators, the skin is bad. Add structural changes, and the costs piled up. It represented a fairly significant investment. I’d prefer not to get into specifics, but it was a lot of money.”
The bank has changed little in three decades, Hassell said. Remodeling efforts have been few and far between. The bank board meets there occasionally but typically convenes at the main bank across town.
At a hulking 25,000 square feet, the “round bank,” though a noteworthy presence in Central Texas, does not easily mesh with changes in the banking industry, said David Lacy, president of Community Bank and Trust.
“In today’s banking world, branches are typically a bit smaller and are purposed in a different way,” Lacy said. “These days, there is not as much transactional activity, more office meetings and advisory conversations.”
He congratulated American Bank on its decision to build more branches.
Hassell said replacing the “round bank” will proceed in phases, first with construction of a drive-thru facility at that site to serve customers during demolition and while the new banking center is being built.
The project should be complete in 2021, Hassell said.
The new 7,566-square-foot Bellmead location, which will incorporate facades that pay homage to the “round bank,” will include commercial drive-thru lanes, remote drive-thru interactive teller and a remote ATM, according to a bank press release.
In Woodway, a temporary branch is now open behind the construction site, according to the press release. Drive-thru, walk-in teller and night-drop deposit services will remain available throughout the building project, Hassell said.
“Those needing access to an ATM can access the one located inside the American Bank Plaza lobby,” 200 West State Highway 6, Hassell said.
When complete, the Woodway location will cover 5,497 square feet.
“The opening of two new locations — coming on the heels of significant expansion of our downtown Waco branch — is an extension of our commitment to meeting the needs of our customers both today and in the future,” Hassell is quoted as saying in the press release.
American Bank’s location at Third Street and Franklin Avenue expanded into a space formerly occupied by a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop.
The “round 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 October 2017, then American Bank President David Hicks told the Tribune-Herald the bank was months into a design and bidding process to remodel the structure inside and outside. Bank officers and consultants were considering several options, including leveling the aging landmark and erecting a new bank with the latest technologies and efficiencies, Hicks said at the time.
“When you talk about a building that size, every decision is expensive,” he said at the time. “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.”
Hicks said he did not know why the decision was made to build such a bank.
“I think the idea was just to build something unique, iconic, and they certainly accomplished that purpose,” he said. “You can’t go anywhere in the state of Texas and find someone who has driven I-35 who does not recognize it.”
Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center, said she accompanied Redford on his visit to the bank and watched him repeat the shooting of a scene several times, savoring each take.
“Sometimes he would ring a little bell on the counter, sometimes not. Each time he did it a little differently,” Pendergraft said. “Occasionally, his stand-in would make an appearance, wearing the same hat Robert Redford wore in the movie. Redford would sit in one of the executive’s office, reading the newspaper.”
She said she will miss the “round bank.”
“That building is why the director, Lowery, chose Waco,” Pendergraft said. “He had seen it many times during his travels between Austin and Dallas and thought it looked very much like the ’80s period he wanted to capture. I showed him Washington Avenue, Elm Avenue, Austin Avenue. He loved Elm Avenue. He shot some scenes of our freeways. But life moves on. I don’t think the round bank is so historic a structure that anyone will be shedding tears over it. But, as I said, I will miss it.”
American Bank can trace its founding to 1952, when it was established as Bellmead State Bank. Mergers and acquisitions since then, including the joining of American Bank of Waco and American National Bank in 1987, created what is now American Bank, with about $445 million in assets.