Status: Lost Forever
UPDATE: https://patch.com/new-jersey/caldwells/motor-bankOn May 14, 2018 the Motor Bank was demolished. Images of the demolition can be found at:
The Caldwell Motor Bank is a prime example of the expressionist architecture of the late 1950s and 1960s. Consisting of three pavilions connected by an undulating thin-shell concrete roof structure, the building combines and signifies two major design trends of the era: the development of an innovative programmatic function within an equally progressive architectural form. The building is currently vacant and the property is for sale. Redevelopment of this site puts the building at a high risk for demolition.
The Caldwell Motor Bank was built for the National State Bank of Caldwell New Jersey as a free-standing drive-in bank facility. Unlike most drive-in facilities, the Caldwell Motor Bank was not a part of a larger, more conventional banking office. Embracing the expanding use of the automobile, as part of the wide-spread move to the suburbs, the Caldwell Motor Bank was located on a prominent corner on Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell’s central business district. The building is especially unique as there are very few free-standing drive-in bank facilities. Built in 1963 by the well-regarded Livingston NJ firm of Rotwien + Blake, the building exhibits a strong geometric presence with its three pedestal-like pavilions, each with a drive-in window. The structures are linked with underground storage and service space as well as the concrete roof above. The roof is visually separated from the pavilions with a deep-set reveal, giving the appearance of the roof floating above the structures below.
The development of the expressive thin-shell structural roof dates to the experimentation with reinforced concrete in the early part of the 20th century that then became much more prominent in the large-scale development of the postwar era. The most progressive architects of the time were employing these sculptural forms as both an indication of their structural prowess and as a new type of architectural expression. Architects such as Felix Candella of Spain, who was an important mentor to Santiago Calatrava – designer of the new WTC Transit Hub; the Italian Pier Luigi Nervi, designer of the Port Authority George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal with its distinctive roof; Jorn Utzon, the Danish designer of the celebrated Sidney Opera House; and Minoru Yamasaki who designed the multi-vaulted Lambert Field Air Terminal in St. Louis and later the original WTC towers, were all widely published. These important buildings and much more like them were great influences on local architects practicing throughout the country. Few of the local examples which can trace their lineage back to these master architects still exist. The Caldwell Motor Bank is a rare example of this important influential period in modern architecture. Caldwell New Jersey is fortunate to have a prime extant example in such a prominent location.
Through a series of mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry over the last quarter century, the ownership of the property has changed hands multiple times. Last owned by Wells-Fargo Bank, the facility closed two years ago and was sold to a local businessman in late 2015, who has since listed the property for sale. Its location at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Central Avenue renders the site quite valuable and thus vulnerable for demolition and redevelopment.
With the consolidation of banking institutions and the high reliance on ATMs for consumer bank transactions, the continued use of the original function of the Caldwell Motor Bank is highly improbable. However, a number of alternate uses could be considered and are especially feasible at this high trafficked intersection in downtown Caldwell. Uses such as a dry cleaner drop-off and pickup, common in cold weather New England; a drive-in coffee/pastry shop prevalent in the southwest U.S.; or a delivery service pickup station would all take advantage of the location, easy off-street access, and the pass-through windows. Multiple tenants could utilize the facility. An alternate approach could take advantage of the large cantilevered roof structure, which provides an ample amount of covered open air space and more outdoor land surrounding the structure. A community farmer market during the day could share the facility with an evening outdoor dining and beer garden similar to the successful conversion of a gas station into the Filling Station Beer Garden in Flemington, NJ. The adaptive reuse in Flemington has become a de facto community town center on its traditional Main Street. The retention and adaptive use of this architecturally distinguished building in this prominent location have the potential to provide community benefits to the town of Caldwell never possible with the original banking use and most unlikely with a replacement.
Robert S. Kaplan, Chairman
Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission