Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland


Spanning over 200 feet along both Superior Avenue and West 6th Street, the monumental thirteen-story Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland sits comfortably among neighboring Group Plan structures in the city's Civic Center district. The building is a reminder of an era of unprecedented urban growth in Cleveland, and the federal government's fledgling control over a central banking system.

Originally housed on the second floor of the Williamson Building overlooking the city's Public Square, the Fourth District of the Federal Reserve served member banks in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, parts of northern West Virginia, and eastern Pennsylvania. The Cleveland branch quickly became the third largest of the twelve Federal Reserve banks, forcing the institution to expand to multiple floors of the Williamson Building.

In 1919, the architectural firm of Walker and Weeks was hired to design a new home for Cleveland's branch of the Federal Reserve. Four architects and a team of draftsmen worked thirteen months on the design prior to beginning construction in 1921. One thousand sketches and nearly 2,000 blueprints were prepared for the new structure. Two years and $8.25 million later, the Fourth District Federal Reserve Bank formally opened on August 23, 1923 - an event that drew an estimated crowd of 40,000.

The structure was built as a modern Italian Renaissance palazzo and was inspired by the Medici Palace in Florence. The elaborate fortress reflected the soundness of the institution and spoke definitively to the safety of its holdings. Designed to meld with the Beaux Arts character of neighboring Group Plan buildings, the Federal Reserve Bank was built in a classical architectural style utilizing pink marble and granite. The imposing classical character of the bank's exterior is surpassed in grandness by the intricately detailed lobby. Impressed into the civic structure are symbols of strength, stability, and wealth. Gold marble walls and pillars are contrasted by ornate iron grilles which serve to protect twelve large ground-floor arched windows. In combination with its vaulted ceiling, the lobby design reflected the layout of a Roman basilica. The dignified statuary, paintings, and iron work speak to the history of the Federal Reserve institution and the ideals underlying its development.

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Integrity and Security, 1933

The allegorical figures outside the building's main entrance are believed to have had a practical function. It is purported that the base of these statues housed either small artillery cannons or revolving gun turrets. In a time of crisis, the story goes, the statues could be broken away in order to reveal the artillery which in turn could be used to defend the Federal Reserve against unruly mobs. Other hidden gun ports and observation windows are located throughout the building, including slots for sharpshooters under the third step of the main entrance.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

Run on Society For Savings Bank, 1910

Following the Wall Street Panic of 1907, a movement for banking reform increasingly appealed to a citizenry that was distrustful of bankers. Congress created the National Monetary Commission in 1908 to develop a solution to the recurrent financial crisis. The committee recommend the development of a central banking system that could issue currency. After years of debate, what is now considered the Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913. The legislation called for the creation of eight to twelve autonomous Federal Reserve Banks, to be owned by the banks in the region they represented. The actions of the banks were to be coordinated by a Federal Reserve Board appointed by the President. Initially, the primary function of the privately owned and publicly controlled institution was to act as a lender of last resort.

Pictured above was a run on the Society For Savings Bank in 1910. Nearly 5,000 people, mainly consisting of Cleveland's immigrant population, waited in line for hours to withdraw money after rumors of a financial crisis circulated throughout the city. The Society For Savings paid out more than $1,000,0000 in a single day.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Federal Reserve Vault, 1923

Security was key to the design of the Federal Reserve Bank - so much so that an independent building was first constructed around the bank's vault. Concrete walls 6.5 feet thick and interlaced with metal house the two-story, 12,000 ton vault. The vault's door weighs 300 tons, has possibly the largest hinge in the world, and is over five feet thick. Manufactured in New York, transportation of the door required the use of the nation's largest flatcar.

In addition to the vault, the Federal Reserve houses its own power plant as an additional security feature. Independent of city utilities, the bank can supply its own electric power, steam, and air conditioning.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

"Energy In Response," 1924

Henry Hering's bronze statue "Energy in Response" is located outside of the employee entrance to the bank on Superior Avenue. The statue was meant to be symbolic of the Federal Reserve and its workers, representing a man at the peak of physical development whose actions were guided by intelligence.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

"Steel Production"

"Steel Production," a mural by Cora Milllet Holden, is located in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The painting is a depiction of the steel making process and is a symbol of the industry's importance in shaping the Fourth District. Holden, a Cleveland resident, worked closely with the architectural firm Walker and Weeks throughout the 1920s. In addition to her work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, her murals can be found in the Allen Medical Library and the Board of Education.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Exterior, 1961

Designs for the Fourth District Federal Reserve Bank were prepared by one of the most prestigious and prolific architectural firms in Cleveland during the first half of the 20th century: Walker and Weeks. While best know for work on civic structures such as the Cleveland Public Library and Public Auditorium, the firm designed more than 60 banks in Ohio. Additional projects by Walker and Weeks include Cleveland's St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Severance Hall, the Superior Building, and the Board of Education.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Bonds Being Received, 1942

During World War II, the Federal Reserve handled defense bonds and issued them to post offices and banks for sale. Additionally, the Victory Fund Committee - which was headed by the President of the Federal Reserve Bank and consisted of 12 committees representing each Federal Reserve district - promoted the sale of war bonds to the American people. These bonds were issued not only to help finance the cost of the war, but were an effort to prevent inflation in an environment characterized by both full employment and rationing.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Main Entrance

Two stone statues, entitled Security and Integrity, guard the main entrance to the Federal Reserve Bank on E. 6th Street. The design and production of both works was overseen by Henry Hering. The New York artist is best known in Cleveland for his relief sculptures decorating the pylons of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Cite this Page

Richard Raponi, “Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland,” Cleveland Historical, accessed March 6, 2015, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​310.​
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