Walker Bank Building (1912 - 1981) – Walker Center
Constructed in 1912, this 16 story building originally served as the location for the Walker Bank Building, the first banking institution in the Utah Territory. In the 1940’s, KDLY radio installed a transmitting tower atop the building that would later be converted into an illuminated weather tower to serve the Utah valley with its color-coded forecasts. From the date of its conception until 1916 Walker Bank Building stood as the tallest building between the Missouri River and San Pacific Coast. Today, Walker Center currently ranks 23rd on the list of Salt Lake City’s tallest buildings. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2006.
Backstory and Context
Brothers, Samuel, Joseph, David, and Matthew Walker were all first generation immigrants from Yorkshire, England. Together, in 1859, they established a dry goods business at Camp Floyd where they served the troops located there. Like other retail and merchandise businesses of their time, the Walker brothers dabbled in banking. They both bought and sold gold dust, wrote ‘scrip’ – a type of local currency – and had a safe in which customers could deposit their money. Business was profitable for them and, in 1861 when the camp closed the brothers had accumulated enough wealth and stock that they were able to relocate their business to a store in Salt Lake City and continue providing goods and financial services to the masses. Though official bank status was not granted until 1871, Walker Bank is still credited with being one of the first banks established in the west.
In 1866, the northwest corner of 200 South and Main Street was purchased and the store and bank were moved there. In 1885, a national charter was obtained to operate as the Union National Bank of Salt Lake City. In 1886, David Fredrick sold out his interest in the firm to the other three brothers. After the death of Samuel S. in 1887, Joseph R. and Matthew H. surrendered the bank's national charter and began to operate as a partnership, Walker Brothers Bankers. In 1903, two years after the death of Joseph R., his heirs sold their interest in the bank to Matthew H. and he sold his share of the Walker Dry Goods Company to them. This marked the separation of the bank from the store, and Matthew H. incorporated the bank under the original name, Walker Brothers Bankers on January 21, 1903. 1
After the 1905 purchase of the Salt Lake branch of the Wells Fargo and Company Bank and the 1911 establishment of a new savings department, last remaining brother and sole owner Matthew recognized the need for a newer, more permanent location for their bank. William S. Eames and Thomas Crane Young of the firm Eames and Young in St. Louis, Missouri, were tasked with the construction of this new building. Together they designed a building in the style of Chicago School skyscrapers with touches of influence from the Second Renaissance Revival. Not only did it boast space for Walker Brothers Bankers, but included room for several retail shops. The completed project received national attention with a feature in the February 1914 issue of American Architect, as well as a mention in the New York Times.
The construction of such a large building in downtown Salt Lake City was a monument to the growth, progress, and modernization of the city following Utah's acceptance as a state. Investing in the building signified the faith the Walker Brothers Bank had in the future of the city. One of the tallest buildings in the West for its time, it stands as an example of the success and growth of the financial sector of Utah during the 1900-1910s. It was also one of the last building projects completed prior to the start of World War I, which put an effective halt on major construction projects in downtown Salt Lake City. 1
After the creation of their Trust Department, the name of the bank was changed to Walker Bank & Trust Company in March 1931. Business went on as usual until Transamerica (now known as Western Bancorporation) bought the bank in 1956 for $20 million. It kept its Walker name and heritage until June 1, 1981, when the bank was renamed - like all of those within the Western Bancorporation system – to First Interstate Bank. By 1983 a new building had been constructed for the new First Interstate Bank and after the banks’ relocation Walker Bank Building was sold and renamed Walker Center as a nod to the original Walker brothers and the rich history of the building itself.
Currently, Walker Center’s most eye-catching piece is the illuminated tower and sign that looks down on the inhabitants of Salt Lake City and lights up the skyline with its weather forecasts. Originally converted from a radio station’s transmitting tower in the early 1950’s, the weather tower’s great ‘Walker Center’ logo was taken down in 1983 after a city ordinance restricted the height of signs. After the building’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 and a massive effort to renovate and breathe new life into the Walker Center in 2007, special exceptions were made to allow the sign to return in 2008.
Weather conditions - as represented by the lights of the tower - are color coded as follows:
Blue: Clear skies
Flashing blue: Cloudy skies
Flashing red: Snow
History. Walker Center. Accessed January 31, 2018. http://cbcadvisors.com/walkercenter/history.html.
Historic Weather Tower Lights Up Skyline. KSL. March 21, 2008. Accessed January 31, 2018. https://www.ksl.com/?sid=2903661.