walkLEX: Fayette National Bank Building (Lexington's First Skyscraper)

Lexington's First Skyscraper (Ky.)
Fayette National Bank Building - Lexington, Ky.
When a now-ex-brother-in-law from New York City arrived for the first time in Lexington, he exclaimed: "You have tall buildings, too!" Whether this was an insult or a complement, I do not know. But it is true that a skyline is one attribute that separates a town from a city. In April of 1912, the directors of the Fayette National Bank Building voted to erect a fifteen story skyscraper as its new principal office. Lexington, no longer a town, could now call itself a city. While the skyscraper was under construction, the Lexington Leader wrote:
Towering 225 feet above the level of the sidewalk, the new fifteen-story building now being erected by the Fayette National Bank as its permanent home at the northeast corner of Main and Upper streets, a photograph of which, made from the architect's drawing, is presented on this page of the Leader, will be the tallest and most imposing business structure in Kentucky outside of Louisville. [3/23/1913].
The building remains among the ten tallest in Lexington. It replaced part of Jordan's Row (North Upper) and the old Higgins Block (Main Street) that housed the old Fayette National Bank (see this picture from 1887) since 1899. The bank's history, however, dates to 1870.

Of course, the Bank couldn't occupy all fifteen floors itself! It hired the real estate firm of Chinn & Lawless in June 1913 to rent the 220 offices that would comprise the remainder of the building. The real estate firm's principal, Asa Chinn, is well-known for his photo collection that chronicles downtown Lexington circa 1920.

The Fayette National Bank Building was itself designed by the American architectural firm McKim, Mead & White of New York City, a most-prestigious firm. Other examples of their work include the 1903 expansion of the White House, which included the West Wing, New York's old Penn Station, and the New York Public Library.

The Fayette National Bank Building is in the Beaux-Arts classical design. Four bays carry over through the three tiers of the building. Its base, the first four stories, are of Bedford limestone with 2 pairs of Ionic columns stretching three floors to create an impressive, yet approachable Main Street frontage. The top four floors of the building act as a cap, while the middle floors are a non-descript shaft. It would be the only skyscraper constructed in Lexington until the late 1960s when the University of Kentucky erected two residential towers (1967) and the Patterson Office Tower (1968).

Wrote the Lexington Herald, April 27, 1912: The Fayette National Bank Building "will be the highest and most pretentious of the office buildings of the city. It will occupy a commanding position opposite the courthouse, and will be a decided acquisition to Main Street." And today, it remains a "decided acquisition" for Lexington's Main Street. In 1931, the Fayette National Bank merged with another financial institution to become the First National Bank. The building takes either moniker.

This post appeared on KyForward on July 6, 2011.

Lexington Herald, Lexington Leader (local.lexpublib.org)
National Register, "Fayette National Bank Building"