Face to Face With the Central National Bank

It’s another hot, muggy afternoon in downtown Richmond. I’m like a frog, scaly and sticky, or – better yet – Frogger, dodging cars as I cross the street. Half-dehydrated, delirious, with miles left to go.

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The scene is Broad Street, with old rusted signs for jewelry stores, the long vertical ones you don’t see anymore. Morton’s. Stonestreet. Half the storefronts are shuttered, the remaining businesses an odd juxtaposition of cheap convenience stores and expensive eateries.

Up ahead to my right is the Central National Bank building.

The art deco edifice, the only skyscraper for blocks, was designed by the legendary architect John Eberson with the help of Richmond own’s Carneal, Johnston, and Wright. Eberson was a New Yorker famous for inventing the atmospheric movie palace, with chintzy pastiches of exotic decor and “stars” that shine from the theater ceiling.

By comparison, his work on the Central National Bank was reserved. The very top of the building resembles a ziggurat, but otherwise it’s a stylized take on classical design.

For decades, it was a centerpiece of Richmond.

At the moment, it’s empty. Decayed even, though not for long. Renovations are underway. Soon, it’ll be a real, live hipster apartment building.

Just then, a sonorous voice echoes off the pavement.

Sir!

But from where? The sky?

“Excuse me, sir.”

Another sound, like a thousand bones snapping at once, fills the street. A dark shadow descends over me.

“Above you, sir!”

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It was the building. And now it’s moving, leaning over me with a curious expression on its… face? If you could call it that. Eyeballs ring its top, and what I’d taken for spires suddenly reminds me of a mustache.

“I understand.”

Understand what? Did someone slip LSD in my coffee this morning? The cars are driving by as if a talking building is an everyday occurrence. This can’t be happening. It can’t be.

“My appearance is odd. I can promise, however, that I’m not the only talking building in the world. And some are far worse.”

I imagined a generic strip mall talking, and I had to admit, I could’ve done much, much worse for my first talking building.

“How’s it going?” I ask. Why the hell not? People can talk. So can a building.

“Terrible. A moderately affordable apartment building? Me? Why, I’m the finest building in Richmond! I ought to house important executives, men in baggy suits that chew the end of their cigars. I’m exclusive.”

It’s clear his sense of the world is a bit dated. Still, he has a point.

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“This city went to the dogs when they built Minoru Yamasaki’s Federal Reserve Bank building over there. Yamasaki… ugh, he was a scientist, not an architect. He wielded a ruler like a teacher wields a paddle. He should’ve stuck to motorcycles.”

“You’re thinking of Kawasaki.” How dare I correct a building.

“Kawasaki, Yamaha, Yamasaki. It’s all Japenese to me. This world is about quantity now, not quality.”

I don’t know what to say. The building is evidently quite bitter, but who wouldn’t be?

“I apologize. That was off-color. Anyway, all I really wanted to tell you is that your shoes are untied.”

I look down. The building is right.

“Thank you!” I say.

But it looks like the Central National Bank building again. No eyeballs, mustache, or mouth, only an imperious skyscraper like any other skyscraper.

A man shakes me on the shoulder.

“Hey, you alright, boy?”

“I don’t know. I think so.”

“Say, you got fifty cents?”

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