Helium Balloon and Colorful ‘Dirt’
Mark Union Bank’s Groundbreaking

By BILL LEWIS, of the Gazette Staff

Union National Bank chose a graphic way to illustrate the magnitude of its $9 million new building for which ground was broken Wednesday.  On signal from Earl L. McCarroll, president and chief executive officer, a helium-filled balloon was released on a guy line that had pennants marking the approximate level of each of the 21 floors.

Although the wind carried the balloon toward the southwest and left the pennants on an arc, the device served to suggest the height of what will, in 22 months, become the state’s tallest building.

This was a feature of the outdoor groundbreaking ceremony on the site, the half-block bounded by West Fourth, West Capitol and Louisiana Streets and the alley between Main and Louisiana.  It followed a breakfast at the Top of the Rock Club attended by the city’s and area’s ranking business and civic leaders and newsmen.

Construction Starts With Ceremony

Immediately on completion of the outdoor ceremony, bulldozers, waiting on an unoccupied part of the blacktopped lot, cranked up and began ripping into what has been serving temporarily as the bank’s parking lot.

For once, a groundbreaking really did mark the start of construction.  The ceremony was more colorful than most; The platform was bunting-draped, and backed by a large architect’s drawing of the new building.  In front, on the ground, the bank’s Big U symbol had been delineated in red, white and blue roofing granules supplied by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.  It was into these that a half-dozen men with white painted shovels ceremonially turned the first “dirt.”

The new bank building will tower 279 feet over the south end of the site, with entrances from both Capitol Avenue and Louisiana Street.  At the corner of Fourth and Louisiana will be an auto bank and parking garage, with entrances from Louisiana.  Facing Capitol in a 25-foot setback will be a plaza with plants, a large pool and a fountain.

The building, designed by the Thomas E. Stanley architectural and engineering firm of Dallas, will consist of an 18-story glass curtain-wall tower sitting on a three-story base of white pencil-vein Italian marble and black-vein ebony granite.  Plate glass walls on the first three levels will be set back almost 10 feet from the white marble columns that will rise to the top of the building, at intervals of 24 feet.  The structure will be built by the Pickens-Bond Construction Company of Little Rock.

Top 13 Floors Will Be Leased

The building will contain more than 430,000 square feet, including 157,000 square feet in the auto bank and parking garage.  Union National will occupy the first seven floors containing 90,000 feet.  The 13 other floors containing 165,000 square feet will be available for lease.  The 20th floor will be a restaurant-club and the 21st will house mechanical equipment.  About 900 tons of air conditioning will be installed in such a way that each tenant will control the air conditioning in his own area.

The garage will provide 400 parking spaces for use of bank customers, tenants, and the public.

The building will contain a mailroom staffed by Post office employees.  The main banking room will be at the second level, reached by elevators and escalators.

The underwriting agreement for the insurance of $3.5 million in subordinated convertible capital notes has been executed with Stephens, Inc., with an interest rate of 5 3-8 per cent on 25-year maturity.

The capital notes will be convertible to capital stock at $76 per share at any time, on option of the holder.  The remainder of the $3.5 million in construction costs will be funded through bank equity capital.  The remainder of the $9 million total will be in land costs and bank fixtures and equipment.

Union National began as a brokerage business with $7,500 capital in 1885.  It became S.J. Johnson and Co., Inc., a banking and brokerage firm, in 1893.  On the death of the owner in 1899, the business absorbed the Guaranty Trust Company, Union Trust Company was organized in 1902 as an outgrowth of S.J. Johnson, and a savings department was added.  In 1929, the firm moved from West Second and Louisiana Streets to the present building at West Fourth and Louisiana, and in 1933 its name was changed to Union Bank.  The bank received its national bank chapter in 1934 and became Union National Bank.

Five current officers were Union National employees when ground was broken for the present building.  They are Zack T. Wood, now Board chairman, who joined the firm in 1922; J.H. Bowen, vice president and senior trust officer, and A.F. Burbridge, executive vice president, who came in 1923; Glenn Stout, controller, and Thomas S. Vise, trust officer, who joined in 1927.

Governor Rockefeller participated briefly in the groundbreaking ceremony, as did Mayor Borchert and various others.  McCarroll was master of ceremonies.

The Big U Marks the Spot

Union National Bank’s symbol – in roofing granules of red, white & blue – marked the spot Wednesday where ground was broken for the bank’s $9 million, 21-story office building, due south of the present building (center), which is at Fourth and Louisiana Streets.