The First National Bank Building, also known as the Fayette National Bank Building, is a historic fifteen-story high-rise located at 167 West Main Street # 1006. It was designed by a prominent New York architectural firm called McKim, Mead, and White, and it was the first skyscraper in Lexington. When the building opened on January 29, 1914, the public was allowed to ride the elevators to the roof of the building to see a panoramic view of Lexington.
This was the first time an experience like this was offered to the residents of the community. The skyscraper cost over $400,000 to build at the time, which adjusting for inflation means it cost roughly $10.6 million in today’s dollars.
The First National Bank Building’s first use was to house the Fayette National Bank. The bank was founded in 1870 and thrived in the years leading up to World War I. The bank’s directors wanted to build a structure which would echo this prominence. According to an article by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bank president J. Edward Bassett wanted McKim, Mead, and White to create an architectural gem in downtown Lexington that “would serve as a catalysis for other commercial activities that would renew Lexington’s financial future.”
After the building was no longer used as a bank, it was difficult to find a suitable purpose. In 2012, the 21c Museum Hotel company bought the First National Bank Building for $3.1 million. 21c hired New York based firm Deborah Berke Partners and Pittsburgh based firm Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel to be the adaptive reuse’s design team. Both firms had experience in the past working on historic preservation adaptive reuse projects as well as working for the 21c Museum Hotel company. According to the firms, the company wanted to “embrace the original features of the building to create a space in which contemporary and historic meet and contrast. Contemporary design is combined with the restoration of the building’s Ionic exterior columns, marbled walls, Tennessee Pink marble flooring and vaulted ceilings with ornamental plater patterns.” According to Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel, “PWWG and Deborah Berke Partners worked with the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service to navigate complex design, code, and construction challenges while restoring and integrating the “character defining features” of the original structures.” They were able to retain the First National Bank Building’s original windows, store fronts, and metal relief panels. The adaptive reuse project received an award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the American Institute of Architects Pittsburgh chapter.
The project included 7,000 square feet of contemporary art exhibition space, an 88-room boutique hotel, the Lockbox restaurant and bar, and conference spaces totaling 112,000 square feet. The construction cost $27,000,000. To help fund the project, 21c reached out to the city of Lexington as well as applied for state and federal historic tax credits. The company received a $14 million loan from Central Bank as well as a $1 million loan from the city of Lexington. The company also had private sponsors from the community such as Alltech president Pearse Lyons and former University of Kentucky and NFL football player Tim Couch.