Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Spanning more than 200 feet along Superior Avenue and East 6th Street, the 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 of the federal government's fledgling control over a central banking system.

Following the Wall Street Panic of 1907, a movement for banking reform increasingly appealed to citizens distrustful of banks and bankers. In response, Congress created the National Monetary Commission in 1908. The committee recommended the development of a central banking system that could issue currency. After years of debate, what is now called the Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913. It called for the creation of eight to twelve autonomous Federal Reserve Banks, to be owned by the banks in the region each Federal Reserve Bank would represent. The actions of the banks were to be coordinated by a Federal Reserve Board appointed by the President. The primary function of these privately owned, but publicly controlled, institutions was to be a lender of last resort.

One of the twelve member banks was slated for Cleveland. Following its 1914 establishment, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland was housed on the second floor of the Williamson Building overlooking Public Square. It served the Fourth District of the Federal Reserve: member banks in Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 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 & Weeks was hired to design a new home for Cleveland's branch of the Federal Reserve. Four architects and a team of draftsmen worked for thirteen months on the design. One thousand sketches and nearly 2,000 blueprints were prepared for the new structure. Construction began in 1921. Two years and $8.25 million later, the Fourth District Federal Reserve Bank formally opened on August 23, 1923, an event attended by an estimated crowd of 40,000.

The pink Etowah Georgia marble building fits well with the Beaux-Arts character of neighboring Group Plan buildings, such as the Cleveland Public Library and Public Auditorium. Inspired by the Medici palace in Florence, the Federal Reserve Building is reminiscent of a modern Italian Renaissance palazzo.

The grandeur of the bank's exterior is equaled or even surpassed by the intricately detailed lobby. Gold marble walls and pillars complement the ornate iron grilles that protect twelve large ground-floor arched windows. The vaulted ceiling and layout remind one of a Roman basilica. Dignified statuary, paintings, and ironwork speak to the history of the Federal Reserve institution and the ideals underlying its development.

Beyond its classical lines and elaborate interior, the building’s other design mission was to communicate soundness and safety. Exacerbated by several financial panics, people’s trust in banks waned in the early 20th Century. The Federal Reserve System was created to stem these concerns, but the physical demonstration of security was equally important. Toward this end, the Cleveland facility’s fortress-like structure includes hidden gun ports and observation windows and slots for sharpshooters under the third step of the main entrance. It also is purported that small artillery cannons or revolving gun turrets are hidden beneath the base of the statues at the building’s entrance. Inside, the two-story vault has concrete walls 6.5 feet thick. The bank vault door—100 tons and five feet thick—is the largest of its kind in the world.

All in all, the building—inside and outside—seems to say “Not only is your money safe but it’s living better than you are.” What’s more, you’re welcome to go visit your money, or at least see where it’s hanging out: Check the Federal Reserve Bank website for tour hours.

Images

Integrity and Security, 1933

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 View File Details Page

Run on Society For Savings Bank, 1910

Run on Society For Savings Bank, 1910

Serious financial panics occurred in 1893 and 1907, causing more and more people to be distrustful of banks and bankers. Congress responded by creating the National Monetary Commission in 1908 to develop a solution to recurring financial crises. This ultimately resulted in the creation of a central Federal Reserve system that could issue currency. Pictured above is a run on the Society for Savings Bank (now Key Bank) in 1910. Nearly 5,000 people, mainly immigrants, waited in line for hours to withdraw money after rumors of a financial crisis circulated throughout the city. Society for Savings paid out more than $1,000,000 in one day. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection View File Details Page

Federal Reserve Vault, 1923

Federal Reserve Vault, 1923

Security was key to the design of the Federal Reserve Bank; so much so that an independent building was constructed around the bank's vault. Concrete walls 6.5 feet thick and interlaced with metal surround the two-story, 133-ton vault. The vault's door weighs 100 tons, has possibly the largest hinge in the world, and is more than five feet thick. Transportation of the door, which was manufactured in New York, required 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 generate its own electric power, steam, and air conditioning. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections View File Details Page

"Energy In Response," 1924

"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 View File Details Page

"Steel Production"

"Steel Production"

"Steel Production," a mural by Cora Millet 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 of Walker & Weeks throughout the 1920s. In addition to 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 View File Details Page

Exterior, 1961

Exterior, 1961

Designs for the Fourth District Federal Reserve Bank were prepared by Walker & Weeks, one of the most prestigious and prolific architectural firms in Cleveland during the first half of the 20th century. While best known 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 & Weeks include Severance Hall, the Superior Building, the Board of Education Building, and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection View File Details Page

Bonds Being Received, 1942

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 View File Details Page

Main Entrance

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 | Creator: Photograph by Frank Aleksandrovicz View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Richard Raponi, “Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/310.
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