When you think of your community, some key places stand out. In Austin, several spots immediately come to mind. One of those buildings everyone remembers is Laramie State Bank on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Laramie.
The design of the building reflects the confidence and exuberance of Austin in the 1920’s, with world-class Art Deco architecture and hundreds of artisan terracotta tiles. Its exterior ornamentation depicts heroic workers, families, and images of economic stability. It is a visual representation of the prestige Austin once had.
Despite its former glory, the building has been boarded up and vacant for over ten years, serving as a reminder of the neglect Austin has experienced.
A NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD TREASURE
“Laramie State Bank is a critical project for the entire Austin community, for the vision of the future, and for attracting dollars to recognize the importance of Austin,” believes Scott Goldstein, urban strategist for economic development and neighborhood revitalization projects at Teska Associates since 2007 and among those who worked on the Austin Forward. Together. quality-of-life plan.
The reactivation and development of the bank and its adjacent land will be the justice this beautiful building deserves, and a sign that Austin is regaining its vitality and prominence.
Laramie State Bank is one of Austin’s treasures. We now have the chance to preserve this piece of history while showing our community, and those outside it, that the bank and Austin are ready for investment and brimming with possibilities.
IMPORTANT AND ENDANGERED
Built in 1929, Laramie State Bank was named a Chicago Landmark in 1995 and anchors a highly trafficked intersection. However, it was foreclosed upon and over time, its beautiful terracotta exterior chipped away and the lot became overgrown. After a portion of the roof collapsed, more damage continued, and a court hearing in 2017 deemed the deteriorating site “insecure.” The city inspection left the owners unsure of how, or if, the bank would get the help and support it needed. And the community was worried, too. The hearing was attended by many concerned community stakeholders wanting to learn what the future of this important site would be and if they could help. Local organizations and others began advocacy efforts immediately. Activists brought the issue to their aldermen. Soon after, the city expanded Austin’s Micro Market Recovery Zone, a specific geographic area for which incentives are offered for home purchases, renovations, or development. This brought even more attention to the Chicago Avenue corridor.
Although the area has seen some progress, Laramie State Bank has not, and it was added to Preservation Chicago’s list of the seven most endangered buildings in 2019.
After years passed and many attempts to generate interest and resources for this massive project were unsuccessful, a glimmer of hope came when Laramie State Bank was included as a focus of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative.
While some west side stakeholders disagreed with aspects of the city’s developer selection process, plans are now underway to give this historic site the love and attention Austin has been calling for. So much has gone into creating this moment. It is not a straightforward or simple story, but one about a beautiful convergence of interests built over time. And it needs to be one that ends with a way for this site to benefit Austin in the short and long term.
Darnell Shields is Executive Director of Austin Coming Together