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First National Bank Tower

Now Reno's City Hall, the bank building was the tallest structure in Reno when it opened in 1963.

Los Angeles architect Robert Langdon designed the First National Bank of Nevada’s landmark high-rise office building on the corner of First and N. Virginia Streets. At 16 stories, the building was the tallest in Reno when it opened in 1963. The building is an expression of the International Style, as evidenced by its visible steel frame, flat roof, smooth expanses of glass, and overall lack of ornament. Langdon’s firm, Langdon & Wilson, achieved acclaim in Southern California for designing a number of modern office buildings along Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Among their most famous designs is the CNA Tower, which was the first all-reflective glass tower in the United States.

The fourth president of the First National Bank of Nevada, Edward J. Questa, drove the effort to build the tower. The bank was originally chartered in downtown Reno in 1903 as the Farmers and Merchants National Bank. Renamed the First National Bank of Nevada in 1929, the bank’s business steadily expanded throughout the state as Nevada’s population boomed. By 1960, First National Bank operated 21 offices statewide and needed a central headquarters. Construction commenced on the 160,000 square foot high-rise in September 1961 and cost a total of $4.5 million.

The bank tower won the American Institute of Architects’ Award of Merit in 1965. Langdon’s design embodied the unassuming International Style. Because architect Langdon lived in Los Angeles, local architecture firm Ferris, Erskine and Calef served as associated architects for the project, and Monk Ferris supervised the overall construction. Engineers built a three-inch sway into the structure to protect it from earthquakes. The United States Steel Company constructed the frame. Southern California landscape architect Emmett Wemple, later famed for his 1974 design of the J. Paul Getty Villa museum garden, designed the bank tower’s fourth floor roof garden, which was planted by the local Arlington Nursery.

San Francisco interior designer Emily Novak created the interiors. Her specifications called for sumptuous materials including black granite columns to contrast with the white terrazzo floor, veined black marble walls, hand-loomed rugs, and thick wool carpet. Novak procured handsome walnut and brushed aluminum furniture, including at least one iconic Mies van der Rohe-designed Barcelona table.

First National Bank of Nevada, which later became First Interstate Bank, owned the tower for more than two decades until the Club Cal-Neva purchased it in 1985. The City of Reno took over its ownership in 2002 and officially relocated the headquarters of city government there from the former City Hall building on the corner of Center and Liberty Streets in 2004.

Images

City Hall and City Plaza, 2011
City Hall and City Plaza, 2011 As seen in 2011, the tower looms over City Plaza, the former site of the Mapes Hotel, which was demolished in 2000. Creator: Ken Lund Date: 2011
Postcard, ca. 1963
Postcard, ca. 1963 This postcard shows the International Style building illuminated from within. The ground floor appears weightless with open window-walls punctuated by square piers. Above, the tower features aluminum mullions dividing the smooth window-walls of gray-tinted solar glass, lending a sense of verticality. Opaque glass spandrels separate the floors of the tower, which is topped with a 42-foot lightning arrestor. Creator: ZoAnn Campana Date: ca. 1963
Grand opening advertisement
Grand opening advertisement When it opened on October 26, 1963, the First National Bank tower was the first in the city to be constructed entirely of steel, concrete, glass, and aluminum. The glass curtain-wall façade gave the impression of a smooth skin stretched over the structure’s steel-frame skeleton, a hallmark of the International Style. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: October 25, 1963
Neighborhood welcome
Neighborhood welcome The FNB tower was built across First Street from the treasured Mapes Hotel. The Mapes ran this advertisement in the newspaper to welcome its new neighbor. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: October 25, 1963
Edward J. Questa in 1953
Edward J. Questa in 1953 Edward J. Questa (center) presides over a check presentation in 1953. A Reno native, Questa became the president of the First National Bank in 1952. Tragically, he died in an airplane crash in Nye County in February 1962 and never saw the full realization of the new bank tower he had spearheaded. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1953
Aerial View
Aerial View At sixteen stories, the First National Bank tower was the tallest building in Reno until the 22-story Arlington Towers apartment building was constructed in 1967. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
The building in 2019
The building in 2019 Viewed from the southeast, the building stands adjacent to the parking garage that was constructed for the First National Bank in 1964 on the site of Reno's original City Hall. Creator: ZoAnn Campana Date: 2019

Location

1 East First Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

ZoAnn Campana, “First National Bank Tower,” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/207.