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One of the best examples of International Style architecture in Vermont, this freestanding, three-story bank, with curtain walls of alternating clear and green structural glass panels set in an aluminum frame, became the subject of a major preservation controversy.
The Burlington Federal Savings and Loan Association commissioned Freeman, French, Freeman to design a new bank just as the International Style, epitomized by buildings such as Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's (SOM) Lever House (1952) in New York City, was becoming dominant. In 1957 the local firm had collaborated with SOM on the International Style Medical Alumni Hall at UVM. A year later they designed this relatively small building with full mastery of SOM's approach—careful massing and selection of materials and attention to the relationship of the frame to interior volumes and facade. The downtown of Vermont's largest city gained a significant example of 1950s corporate high style.
Thirty years later, International Style buildings had lost favor with the public. Partially as a result of the emergent historic preservation movement, older buildings and styles long scorned were now viewed more positively. The building's new owner, the Vermont National Bank, wanted a different corporate image and decided to replace the leaking curtain walls with a Victorian-inspired brick facade. This scheme almost gained approval, but several Vermont architectural historians called attention to the building's significance, winning national recognition for their pioneering case that modernism possesses historic value. The city denied the zoning permit but the bank took legal action, prevailing in the Vermont Supreme Court in 1989. By then, however, an economic downturn caused the bank to delay its renovation. By the late 1990s, a revival of modernism was under way and buildings like this one were again seen as projecting a positive corporate image. The structure was rehabilitated in 1999 with new glass spandrel panels that matched the originals, save in color (Lever House green replacing the original aqua). Though the lobby and some graphics have been altered, the exterior remains faithful to its original design.
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