Dale Wyngarden: Can historic bank building escape redevelopment trend? – HollandSentinel.com

A letter to The Sentinel a while back extolled the architectural magnificence of a downtown bank for sale and expressed hope for its preservation. It triggered both memories and reflection. I opened my first checking account and took out my first mortgage in what was then People’s State Bank. Founded in 1905, and operating in this grand edifice built in 1928, People’s Bank and First National Bank a half a block away were the solid rocks of financial stability that had served Holland for generations. And both were in magnificent downtown landmark buildings.
But not long thereafter, tectonic shifts in banking began. People’s was sold in 1973 to Old Kent, headquartered in Grand Rapids, which in turn was sold to Fifth Third, an Ohio bank. A friend affiliated with the Bank of Holland suggested I should support local banking, so I shifted my meager accounts, only to see The Bank of Holland morph into Midland’s Chemical Bank, then the Minneapolis TCF Bank, and most recently Huntington Bank headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. So much for local loyalty.
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But along with tumbling ownerships, the way we bank changed dramatically. Branch banks sprung up like mushrooms after rain, offering front door parking and almost assuredly next-in-line service. But our quest for convenience didn’t end there. Canopied drive thru expansions soon let us bank through sliding drawers in bulletproof plate glass, or by shooting missiles through suction tubes. The collateral damage that came with convenience, however, was the end of face-to-face across the counter civil interactions with another person. But this alienation wasn’t finished. Today, virtually all my banking is done from my recliner on my iPad. And on the other end, a computer is most likely completing the transaction.
Banking may have been a trendsetter, but much of the business world soon joined in. Eating out used to be a double treat. Someone else cooked and cleaned up, and for serious people watchers, a restaurant dining room was a veritable delight. Today, any restaurant expansion is most likely to the drive-through lane. People are still happy to have someone else cook, but seem more content to eat at their desk, in their car, or on their sofa. Poof! There goes social interaction.
The pharmacy where I shop just added double drive through pickup lanes. Poof! There goes more interaction. And in the store, watch out for those crazed shoppers for hire. People seem increasingly content to let someone else do their shopping, reducing their own role to simply driving up and popping open the trunk or tailgate. Not much interaction there.
On a dull day, I could be easily entertained by sitting near the front window and watching the parade of delivery trucks. … Post Office, Amazon, UPS, FedEx and others … passing back and forth, often multiple times a day. The grandiose department stores that brought vitality to city centers are gone, and their scaled back successors that migrated to malls are fading fast. Amazon is the mother of all online shopping, but Wal-Mart, Target and a host of start-ups are trying to gain turf. Selections are remarkable, prices are hard to beat, and delivery is merely a step behind instantaneous. But gone are the days of dealing with people when we choose online shopping.
I kiddingly suggested to a friend that the day might come when we have libraries without books. It was said tongue-in-cheek, but in truth the last three books I checked out, read and returned were done from my easy chair, thanks to Hoopla, an on-line service of Herrick Library. The combination of COVID and technology have also turned Sunday morning from routine to choice: dress up and go to church, or kick back and watch it on line? By the end of our pandemic, many of us may opt for a new normal.
Much human interaction has gone by the wayside as technology replaces people. So yes, I share with my friend Don a concern that the magnificent and pricey bank for sale downtown is a relic of a bygone era. What new business will keep a huge, ornate, and probably very energy inefficient two-story lobby? Can this building escape the trend of turning everything downtown above the ground floor into apartments? Can the public afford to subsidize what private enterprise may not be able to sustain? These are tumultuous times with the ways we work, shop and interact in upheaval. City planners face a formidable task guiding us into a future fraught with uncertainty. They have my gratitude.
— Community Columnist Dale Wyngarden is a resident of the city of Holland. He can be reached at [email protected]