Napoleon State Bank
Last month, I was contacted by a woman named Rona who asked me if I could do an illustration of her great-grandfather’s bank on Court Place in Pittsburgh. She didn't have much info about the building itself, but provided me with a drawing that was printed in the newspaper. So what I did next was I checked out Google Maps' Street View of the street I knew to be Court Place in Downtown Pittsburgh, which runs right alongside the Boulevard of the Allies ramp. I searched up and down the street, which is the location of Pittsburgh's very small Chinatown neighborhood, but didn't find anything remotely resembling the drawing that she'd sent me. So I knew immediately that the bank building was no longer standing. Reverse image search on Google also turned up nothing. I did find information about a Napoleon State Bank in Indiana, and was thinking that maybe this was a drawing of one of those banks. I couldn't turn up much of anything else on Google.
I decided to turn to Charles Succop, who runs the excellent Pittsburgh History (@pittsburghhistory) and Pittsburgh Then and Now (@pghthenandnow) accounts on Instagram. He was able to find information on a Napoleon State Bank at 601 Grant Street in 1923, right across the street from the William Penn Hotel. However, this Napoleon Bank looked nothing like the drawing, nor was it located on Court Place. Charles was later able to find some more information, including a map from 1923 and then a photo of the building from November 14, 1937! It turns out the bank building was located on Wylie Avenue, which today only runs through the Hill District and ends at the former site of the Civic Arena, but in the 1920's, it extended all the way down to the Allegheny County Courthouse. At some point in the 1930's, Wylie Avenue was renamed to Court Place based on its proximity to the Courthouse. I showed the photo to Rona who told me that the bank was turned into a cafe/bar by her great-grandfather and his sons after the Great Depression. So obviously this building existed sometime in the 1920's and 30's and was demolished sometime before 1980 when the One Mellon Center skyscraper was built on that site. So the next step was to find an approximate date for construction and demolition in order to complete the illustration.
I signed up for a free trial on Newspapers.com, which was a resource I found out about while researching my family tree. I did searches for "Napoleon State Bank", "Napoleon Bank" and "Napoleon Cafe" to see what I could turn up. I was able to find the drawing that she'd originally provided me in the November 6, 1927 issue of the Pittsburgh Press. That article said the bank was going to be opened before the first of the new year, so that gave me a construction date. Further research found an article from 1923 which noted the incorporation of Napoleon State Bank by Louis Napoleon, A.E. DeMillio, Peter Statti, James P. Herron and Pasquale Ferrari at 601 Grant Street, which explained the information Charles had found. I was eventually able to find an article from 1977 in the Pittsburgh Press about the impending demolition of the entire block of Court Place in preparation for the building of One Mellon Center. A man was interviewed reminiscing about the "old Napoleon Bank" being located where one of the walls of the Carlton House Hotel stood. So that means the bank was demolished when the hotel was built. A little further research, both on Newspapers.com found that the Carlton House Hotel began construction in 1950 and opened the next year. So that means the Napoleon State Bank at 15 Court Place was standing until at latest 1950.
This was a fun little project to work on, and introduced me to a period of Pittsburgh history that I didn't know about! Thanks Rona, I hope you and your family enjoy the illustration and thanks to Charles for his help researching!