An appeal to save Henri Jova’s futuristic ’round bank’ building along Monroe Drive

By Maria Saporta

One of the most fanciful buildings in Atlanta is facing possible demolition.

Back in 1963. Atlanta-based Trust Company Bank had property to build a branch along the expressway on land sandwiched by Monroe Drive.

It hired renowned Atlanta architect Henri Jova to design a bank branch for that location.

round bank Henri Jova

Round bank building that is currently the Cirque restaurant (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“At the time the building was built, it really was a big step forward for modern design in Atlanta,” said David Rinehart, who was Jova’s partner for more than four decades and who wrote a book on his work. “Because of the site, it was hard to figure out which way to orient the building. He decided a round building would be a solution. A round building would relate itself to the entire intersection of the Interstate and Monroe Drive.”

Now the building is threatened because an applicant – David Blumenthal of Travis Pruitt & Associates – is proposing tearing it down to build a new five-story climate-controlled self storage facility with 85,890 square feet, limited retail and 28 parking spaces.

Seriously? How could we allow one of the most striking examples of modern architecture in Atlanta be replaced by a multistory self-storage building.

round bank

The round awnings on the building provide a timeless look (Photo by Maria Saporta)

What a loss it would be for Atlanta to lose one of Jova’s works of art. Jova was the architect who designed Colony Square, one of the developments that was decades before its time because it combined residential, hotel, office and retail space in one complex in what has since become one of the most important intersections in Atlanta at 14th and Peachtree streets.

Jova also designed the Carter Center and the Carter Library

“Henri was able to convince the conservative Trust Company of Georgia that a round building would be the perfect solution for the face of the bank,” Rinehart said. “It was different than the red brick, Greek revival building style of the other banks. At the time, the building really was a big step forward for modern design in Atlanta.”

The unusual design of the bank building helped it stand to cars driving by on the expressway (now the Buford Highway Connector) – making it a building that sought to have both pedestrian and auto appeal.

Over the years, the building has been several restaurants – including PieBar – an upscale pizza place. Today it is a club – restaurant and bar – called Cirque.

Henri Jova round bank

The interior space is sweeping and beautiful – today as the Cirque restaurant and bar (Photo by Maria Saporta)

We are at an unusual place in history today when several of Atlanta’s modern buildings are turning more than 50 years old – usually a milestone to declare that a building has historic value.

This building is not just significant for being one of the few examples of early modern architecture in Atlanta. It is also unique in how Jova approached designing a futuristic and inviting building at a complex location.

“The round bank building is a significant mid-century modern building,” Rinehart said. “It’s an exciting building. The interior space is sort of a surprise – it’s exciting and calming at the same time.”

Rinehart said that when it was built, Jova told him it earned a mention in Time Magazine (Curbed Atlanta reports that the building was built in 1965, but another website said it was built in 1963).

round bank building

A look at the interior space from the entrance (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“The structure is especially important not only for its historical context but also aesthetically from a design standpoint,” Rinehart said. “There are so few of these examples in Atlanta.  To destroy it for a generic storage facility without further investigation as to a viable adaptive reuse seems very short-sighted.”

The proposal is one of several for new storage facilities in the area. It was one of several being proposed near the right-of-way of the Atlanta BeltLine. In fact, the BeltLine’s Development Review Committee heard a proposal on these projects at its meeting in July.

As Atlanta is building an urban cityscape along the critically-important BeltLine, what a shame it would be to lose one of the few buildings in that area that offers a sense of place.

Henri Jova passed away on Jan. 13, 2014 at the age of 94. The least we could do would be to preserve the “Round Bank” building to make sure his design legacy survives.

round bank building

The round bank building is a striking example of Atlanta’s modern architecture (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

28 replies
  1. Dayla E Baldwin says:

    A freaking storage facility?
    There is one across the street!
    I know because I have a unit there and the only enjoyment I get from going there is seeing this building!!!Report

    Reply
  2. Brandon Ashkouti says:

    Cool building, but if it’s going to be saved, the city or neighborhood needs to buy or lease it. The building is functionally obsolete and the owner shouldn’t be expected to keep it alive with no/intermittent income.Report

    Reply
  3. Joseph Hopkins says:

    When I was an internal auditor for Trust Company Bank, we enjoyed visiting this branch.  It was a bit disorienting inside but still a remarkable building.  I remember the creepy tunnels to the outlying drive-thru teller stations were sources of nightmares later!Report

    Reply
  4. marthaporterhall says:

    Thanks for reporting on the building, Maria. I’ve often wondered what was happening to it. I’ve admired it since it was built. Can you give us an update on the Crum & Forster building?Report

    Reply
  5. gtschmidt says:

    If it’s structurally sound, why work to save it? Turn it into an event space, unless it’s already being used that way. Are there any tax code savings for historical buildings?Report

    Reply
  6. junehodges says:

    This bank reminds me of another “round” bank that once graced Atlanta’s skyline….the 19 story gold hued C&S tower at the corner of West Peachtree and North Ave.  Built 4 years after the Trust Company building on Monroe, it survived about 25 years until demolished in 1993.  Because of how it had been constructed (a tall concrete core with the  floors hung from it looking not unlike a stack of huge dinner plates while under construction) it took nearly a year to demolish it. The Atlanta Time Machine has some great photos of this striking building.Report

    Reply
  7. scooter says:

    Because it’s an example of “modern” and has existed 50 years are not reasons to save this obsolete and dysfunctional building.  It’s design wasn’t liked by many people when it was built, it hasn’t served its users well, and it has been vacant for long periods.  I’m not saying that another storage facility should be built on that site (and it is a difficult to develop location), but the article and comments provide no persuasive reason not to improve this property.Report

    Reply
  8. Dowager says:

    Other posts: “. . . the city or neighborhood needs to buy or lease it.”
    “Could it pay for itself as an event space?”
    Yes. It should house a museum of transportation, the best idea out there before the landlocked aquarium idea caught Bernie Marcus’s eye. Atlanta has, is, and always will be a transportation center.  Jova’s whimsical design just makes it more appealing as a public building. Think Pampidou Center in Paris.Report

    Reply
  9. very anonymous says:

    This is one of the coolest buildings in Atlanta. I tried to buy it back before it was sold for a restaurant. Only a certified IDIOT would consider tearing it down and only a greedy idiot would consider replacing it with self storage. I don’t have anything against self storage but if you want to build something that contributes NOTHING to the city do it on property that is not highly visible.

    This would make the coolest working space for a we work or some coworking space….or a great bar….or even a restaurant. Why do we always have to fight these battles?
    thanks for bringing this to our attention. Lets make sure they cant get a demo permit. wheres the petition. Ill sign and Ill make a contribution to buying it.

    David Blumethal would tear down the Fox is he could make a dollar doing it.Report

    Reply
  10. Wormser Hats says:

    very anonymous  I’m going to hazard a guess that Blumenthal and Travis Pruitt & Associates are just consulting to the owner/developer.  It’s likely they aren’t the brains behind the proposal, just the hired-muscle.Report

    Reply
  11. mikeleeph12 says:

    How many storage facilities does Atlanta need for wealthy people to store their junk?  We have already lost an Atlanta institution, the Varsity, at Cheshire Bridge and Lindbergh, to one of these monstrosities.  How many more landmarks must Atlanta lose for the 1% to feel satisfied??Report

    Reply
  12. Wormser Hats says:

    Arguably, we didn’t lose the Varsity junior to a storage facility. That institution (even I enjoyed as a kid), was lost to quality and consumers making different choices in dining. The shell that houses the business had limited potential that none sought to exploit.Report

    Reply
  13. Curiousbatlanta says:

    It would be great if there was a name of an organization that wants to “save” or is posting notices of hearings and the like so we can get our voices heard……..Report

    Reply
  14. JB says:

    I don’t really care about this building; I usually wouldn’t comment but there are a lot of “save it” comments so just wanted to put it out there.Report

    Reply
  15. LeilaDelphine says:

    Our small company occupies a building on Monroe Drive.
    We want to have retails, restaurants, and a walkable neighborhood in this area, especially with the Beltline coming

    soon.
    We’re opposed to the Suntrust building being converted to a self storage
    facility. Cirque restaurant seems to be doing very well. IF this
    building had to be demolished, the lot, due its location (stuck between
    the Buford connector and Monroe) should be claimed by the city of
    Atlanta in order to redesign the intersection and improve traffic in the
    area.
    2115 Monroe Drive is already a very big
    self-storage facility. They used to lease out offices but converted them
    back to storage in the last 3 months. We should see exactly the
    opposite happening and see more offices and more shops.
    We also heard that 2033 Monroe (Proof of the Pudding) might be converted
    into another 4 story self-storage facility.
    It simply doesn’t make
    sense for such a prime location.Report

    Reply

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