Tom Watson Says Farewell to Former Workplace, First Pasadena State Bank Building [GIF]
A local icon has fallen.
The First Pasadena State Bank Building disappeared into a cloud of dust this past Sunday. From a safe distance, TCB Regional President / Chief Lending Officer Tom Watson took photos on his iPhone while he watched his old bank building collapse.
For Watson, the pile of rubble held more memories than he could count. After all, it was there he spent 17 years of his career, from the summer before his junior year in high school at age 16 to leaving the bank at age 33 for new opportunities.
Looking at the faded, shuddered building in 2019, it may be hard for younger folks to see the tower as it once was. However, this building was a central part of Pasadena for many years. Construction began in 1961 and for the next two years, the development consumed the town—generating more buzz every month. And for good reason. The bank was ahead of its time in both architecture and amenities.
The modern design was state of the art—futuristic. It was one of the few towers modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright’s work that managed to make it past the conception stage. Texas architect firm MacKie and Kamrath were determined to see their ambitious, 12-story wonder a reality. A bank brochure perhaps encapsulated the building’s look best, dubbing it “a fitting symbol of Space Age industry and finance.” It was truly the pride of Pasadena, ushering in a promising new era.
“During the first five years after the building we completed, architects would fly in from all over the United States to get a look at the building. That’s how unique it was.” said Watson.
Before branching became legal, First Pasadena State Bank not only claimed the title of largest bank in Pasadena, but it was also the tallest building—and only skyscraper—in the city.
“At the time, the bank had the largest motor bank of any bank in Texas,” Watson recalled. “Fridays were always very busy. Police officers were hired to direct the traffic. Cars would get backed up into the street, all waiting to turn into the bank’s motor bank.”
Through the decades, Watson held many titles at the bank. Starting in high school, First Pasadena State Bank is where he turned a part-time job into a long, successful career.
“I certainly started out with no title,” laughed Watson. “I ended up working in just about every department in the bank—assistant in the stockroom, stockroom manager, assistant in the bank’s mailroom, manager of the mailroom, teller, new accounts, customer service, credit department, credit manager, installment lender, and Senior Vice President and Commercial Lender.”
Tom Watson is now one of the organizing directors of Texas Citizens Bank. Texas Citizens is the only bank domiciled with its main corporate offices in Pasadena.
First Pasadena State Bank Building was given a national stage when President Lyndon Johnson’s helicopter landed on the bank’s rooftop. Johnson gave a speech on the flat part of the building’s roof.
“It was an unforgettable experience. The opportunity to help plan an event of that magnitude at a young age, that was very special,” said Watson. “I specifically remember someone in the campaign party wanting to bring the children to the front so Johnson could shake their hands for the camera.”
The photographer did not miss a beat. The photos ended up in newspapers across the country.
Christmas in Pasadena
If you asked the average Pasadena resident what they remember most of the building, they would likely tell you Christmas. The lobby was decked, poinsettias everywhere, wreaths hung, and every December, Santa made his grand entrance. High school choirs took turns singing in the balcony overlooking the lobby every Friday during December.
Key to the Kingdom
While many Pasadena residents have fond memories of the spacious lobby, few can say they stepped foot on every floor. In his 17 years at the bank, Watson saw more than the building’s 12 stories. As the stockroom manager, Watson stumbled upon the realization that the stockroom key also granted him access to the best view in the city—the rooftop observatory.
“Another noteworthy moment is the time a close coworker, George, got stuck the dumbwaiter,” Watson recalled with a grin. “The snack room closed at 5 PM, but the younger crew worked well past that hour. So, George had the idea to sneak out snacks. Everyone has one of these friends, the ones that never get caught. Every night, George would get in the dumbwaiter and ask us to press the dumbwaiter button sending him to the snack floor. He’d grab the snacks we wanted and would leave money on the counter to pay for what he took.
We did this many times without any hiccups. But one night, the dumbwaiter got stuck. We asked if we should call our boss, but George said to keep trying to get the dumbwaiter going. So, we pulled on the cables over and over without luck. Finally, George agreed to let us call our boss, Mr. Fleming. When we told him what had happened, he didn’t say a word, though he was clearly upset. Mr. Fleming drove back to the bank and tugged on the cords much harder than we ever did until the dumbwaiter started working again. Mr. Fleming left without a word, scaring us more than anything he could have said. We were sure we were all fired, but thankfully, that turned out not to be the case.”
Before the Fall
The bank changed names several times throughout the years, the economy and the legalization of branching playing a large role in the turnover. After more than a quarter decade, the bank finally closed in 1990. Yet, the city continued to hold out hope for a revitalization effort.
Then, a series of unfortunate events took place. First, Hurricane Ike took its toll in September 2008. Just months later, the recession affected the greater Houston area.
While the economy eventually recovered, asbestos eventually brought the building down. The Pasadena giant took a whopping $2 million to tear down—$1 million for the asbestos and $1 million for the demolition.
The Final Blow
This last Sunday, July 21, 2019, the First Pasadena State Bank Building collapsed in front of an audience of Pasadena residents and reporters.
Metal beams will be recycled, bricks will be sold as keepsakes, but the building itself is gone, falling (quite literally) from its former glory.
While the local icon has left a hole in the city, longtime Pasadena residents like Watson will forever cherish the memories they made there.