The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper

For years, the abandoned tower in Pasadena, Texas, has beckoned adventurers. Drone pilots and urban explorers have surveyed the derelict building . That changed in the 1980s, when states began permitting the entry of out-of-state bank holding companies. Once-proud towers hosting state-chartered banks were relegated to branch status or closed. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the number of U.S. banks dropped from 14,500 in the mid-1980s to 5,600 by 2014.

The great wave of consolidation hit First Pasadena, too, and the bank went through multiple mergers and acquisitions over the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s. JPMorgan Chase got the bank, while another entity ended up with the building; it was shuttered in 2002. Yet another private investor held the tower from 2005 to 2018, but to no end. Finally, its space-age swag long since stripped, the First Pasadena State Bank building came into the possession of the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation. Harris County recently assessed the building’s value at a sorry $100.

“When I first became Mayor, I was looking out my office window and realized I had a perfect view of the First Pasadena State Bank Building,” Pasadena Mayor Jeff Wagner told the Chronicle. “However, instead of looking out onto a stately piece of architectural history, I realized I was looking at a run-down, neglected and dangerous empty building.”

The mayor added, “That’s when it really hit me: For a lot of people, this is their image of Pasadena. And I knew then, we needed to start changing perceptions.”

The First Pasadena State Bank building looms over an empty plaza close to a disused mall. But new shops and restaurants have emerged nearby. (Google Maps)

In the many years it has sat empty, the First Pasadena State Bank building has already undergone substantial changes. It wasn’t designed to have a green roof, but vegetation grows there now. Mother Nature has already started the demolition: Hurricanes have blown the brickwork right off the facade of the building. Most if not all of the leaded stained glass, another Wright flourish, along the cantilevered roof overhang is gone. Architectural historians and YouTube pioneers alike have taken note of the tower’s forlorn state—the latter, while exploring Pasadena’s nearby undead mall or haunted hospital.

With the demolition of the First Pasadena State Bank building on Sunday, the city has an opportunity to try to stitch together a downtown fabric between all these disused sites. (A tall order.) It’s hard to blame the city for the current state of affairs: Pasadena worked for years to force the owner to get the building up to code, to no avail.

But this outcome is still disappointing: For Pasadenans, the expensive demolition will leave the city without its lonely landmark and erase a stately example of Texas modernism. For the rest of us, it will be a missing marker of Wright’s influence.

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