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Main Street was the commercial axis of early Houston, running from the wharves at Allen’s Landing south onto the open prairie. The intersection of Main and Franklin was once the bustling center of the city's financial district, sometimes called the "Wall Street" of Houston because of the multiple financial institutions on lower Main Street.

The earliest commercial buildings lining Main Street were simple clapboard, wood-frame structures - looking not much different than houses - including the bank buildings that developed at the intersection of Main and Franklin.

With the discovery of oil in near-by Beaumont and the opening of the Houston Ship Channel, Houston boomed in the early part of the 20th century, right up until the Depression. The wood-frame financial institutions lining the blocks of Main Street, including the Commercial National Bank, were demolished and rebuilt, changing their architectural styles, and the face of the street, from Victorian to Beaux-Arts.

Originally designed by Lewis S. Green and Gerhard C. Svarz and constructed in 1904 under the presidency of W.B. Chew, the new Commercial National Bank Building was the earliest of the structures erected. It was also the first skyscraper - at six stories - in the financial district. The building's construction signaled Houston's intent to become one of the most prosperous commercial centers in the Southwest. The bank, founded in 1886, had close ties to the cotton industry.

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During construction
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W.B. Chew
First President of Commercial National Bank
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Lobby of Commercial National Bank
The six story office building is one of the largest Neo-classical buildings remaining in Houston. Its interpretation of this style, popular during the early part of the 20th century for commercial structures, is unique. With little embellishment, the façade of the building is none-the-less interesting because of its use of the rounded corner bay and because of the colonnaded, central bay windows in each of the two street faces, which make it a dominant element of the lower downtown streetscape. Sited at the northwest corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue, the building stands on an important corner, once central in Houston's commercial district. Because of its location and its architecture, restoration of the building was important to preservation of the character of this early 20th century section of Houston.

The structure was renovated in 2000 using TIRZ assistance. The scope of work consisted of exterior demolition, façade rehabilitation/renovation, basement vault topping, and streetscape enhancement within the public right-of-way. The building received a Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance in 2001 for its exemplary restoration by a group of Houstonians headed by Andrew Kaldis and Gary Leach.

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Historical sketch of completed building

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