More than 25 years have passed since Stacey Reece strolled the hallways of First National Bancorp in downtown Gainesville, but time hasn’t erased memories of working there.
“Very few days pass that I don't reflect on my time in the building,” said Reece, today the franchise owner of Spherion Staffing & Recruiting in Gainesville. “Gainesville's skyline will be forever changed when the building comes down.”
The once-bustling, five-story bank, which had been a downtown fixture since the 1960s, is passing into history with a slow-but-steady demolition. Dismantling began with the parking deck in April then moved to the familiar bank at 111 Green St. on May 19 and was expected to take about four weeks to complete.
Bank demolitionWorkers tear down the old Regions bank, once First National Bank, on May 28, 2021, in downtown Gainesville to make room for The National, a new development featuring apartments and a seven-story hotel.
The building is being removed to make room for The National, a splashy new development featuring apartments and a 7-story Courtyard by Marriott.
The bank was designed by H. Lloyd Hill Architects in 1964-65, said Mark A. Castleberry, an architect with Gainesville’s H. Lloyd Hill Architects & Associates, architect in The National Project.
The building, completed in December 1965, was the headquarters for First National Bank.
When finished, it was “the tallest in Gainesville at the time,” Castleberry said. “ It was (also) the most expensive building built in Gainesville at the time. The column design became part of the logo for the First National Bank, as was replicated on many of their branch bank facilities. It can still be seen around town.”
First National Bank operated until 1981, when First National Bancorp was formed, according to The Times newspaper clips. First National Bancorp was the holding company for several banks, including First National.
First National Bancorp and Regions Financial merged in 1995, with Regions assuming control of the building.
Reece, who worked in the building from 1993 to 1995, recalled “an extremely busy bank building and always full of great people from all over North Georgia.”
In his job as vice president and special projects manager for the Consumer Banking Division, he interacted with “many other departments in the building, so I was consistently on all of the floors. Although each floor was a different department, there were similarities between each of them, especially the long slender windows.”
Reece continued: “We were all privileged to work for an organization that placed the well-being of our community at the front of all it stood for. I always felt humbled to drive into the parking deck and have a parking space at the rear door that opened up near my office.”
Regions operated the bank until 2011, when it moved offices to a new branch on E.E. Butler Parkway. New owners 111 Green St. LLC, a Gainesville investment group including the late Jim Walters, bought the property with hopes of filling vacancies and putting “it back to its prominence,” the firm’s managing director, George A. Hokayem, said at the time.
Instead, the bank stood vacant, occasionally used as a movie set.
The National plans call for a 140-unit apartment building to sit on the former bank site and the 130-room hotel to face E.E. Butler Parkway. A plaza will separate the two structures, spanning an underground, two-level parking deck, Capstone president Jonathan Collins has said.
Capstone also is planning as part of The National a 30,000-square-foot building designed for high-tech conference rooms, business gatherings and a private dining club that will be located at the corner of Washington and Green streets.
Some have derided the building’s fortress-like exterior — an architectural style described by Castleberry as 1960s modernism.
Such comments don’t surprise Reece.
“Although the architecture was unique for the time period, the building had a different appearance if you go back to when (First National) occupied the complex,” he said. “It was pressure-washed annually and was a bright, white building.
With “fountains out front, flags flying from the poles, the nighttime illumination and the large (bank) logo on the sides, many viewed it as an anchor to the Gainesville skyline.”
For his part, Castleberry said, “It is bittersweet to see the First National Bank building being taken down as it was such an important structure for the growth of Gainesville and our architecture firm at the time.
“However, we are honored to be the firm involved in the repurposing of this important piece of real estate.”