Completed in 1963, the First City Building originally housed the First Security National Bank, the first bank established in Southeast Texas. First Security National Bank, which evolved into First City National Bank, was the largest and most powerful bank in the region for over a century. The First City Building is within the National Register District encompassing much of the Beaumont central business district. It is a prime example of the International style of architecture, which utilizes modern building techniques and materials, such as steel, concrete, and large glass expanses.
The First City Building was designed by Llewellyn William “Skeet” Pitts, a world renowned architect. A native of Uniontown, Alabama, Pitts graduated from Georgia Tech University before moving to Beaumont and working as the resident architect for the Phelan House. In 1931, Pitts formed a partnership with fellow architect, Fred C. Stone. Their firm, Stone and Pitts, ultimately evolved into Pitts, Mebane & Phelps in 1957, and Pitts, Mebane, Phelps & White in 1964.
Stone and Pitts designed numerous government buildings in Beaumont, including the Jefferson County Courthouse, Jack Brooks Federal Building, and Texas Employment Commission Building. They also designed the master plan for Centenary College, the library and chemistry building at Texas Tech University, and the science building at Baylor University. In addition to the First City Building, Pitts designed the United States Embassy in Mexico City, which is still in use, and co-designed the U.S. Department of Labor Office Building in Washington, D.C.
The First City Building is an impressive five story structure constructed with the best materials and most advanced craftsmanship available at the time. Its signature feature is the exterior concrete grille—or solar screen—constructed over a glass wall. The solar screen provides enhanced privacy and a shield from the sunlight. It also adds surface texture and visual drama.
The screen, which encases the north and west facades, begins at the second floor and runs to a point above the fourth floor where it forms a four foot banister around the fifth floor penthouse, which is ringed with ten foot floor to ceiling windows with unobstructed views. The screen is one of the last remaining 1960s era solar screens in the United States. Architecture students from around the country frequently travel to Beaumont to study and photograph it.
The solar screen is composed of 361 precast white concrete panels fabricated out of white cement and marble dust, each of which weigh over a ton. Each panel was hoisted into place by a crane, and attached to steel uprights with stainless steel bolts. The steel uprights are covered with silver anodized aluminum mullion sheaths.
Herring Coe, a noted twentieth century sculptor in Southeast Texas, sculpted the solar screen. Most of Beaumont’s signature buildings of the 1930s were embellished by Coe in some fashion, including the Jefferson County Courthouse and the Jack Brooks Federal Building. Coe also sculpted the statue of Dick Dowling at Sabine Pass, a memorial for the children who died in the 1937 New London, Texas explosion, and the Texas Confederate Statue at Vicksburg National Military Park.
Jonathan W. “Jack” Evans of Houston designed the interior decor of the new First Security National Bank, installing only the best wall treatments, furnishings and accessories. Evans purchased luxury goods from all over the world, including original works of art, wall hangings from Mexico and Japan, teak, marble, and walnut lamps, and ash trays imported from Sweden, Italy, and Norway. The first floor featured teak and walnut paneling set against off-white Venetian Terrazzo. Countertops and columns were of the purest white marble. Desks were constructed of teak. Linen draperies were handwoven in Italy.
Teak paneling was installed throughout the second floor bank lobby and penthouse executive suite. The lobby also featured teak counter tops and a large rugs imported from Puerto Rico. Solid walnut furniture was interspersed between white marble columns. The safety deposit box vault had eggshell vinyl wall covering with accents of black, gold leaf and glistening stainless steel. The customer tables inside the vault were white marble with oiled walnut tops constructed on stainless steel bases.
In addition to First Security National Bank and other prominent commercial and professional tenants, the First City Building was home to the Beaumont Club, a men’s social and dining club formed in 1922. Until the early 1990s, when the building closed, the Beaumont Club was located in the penthouse, and had a commanding view of downtown.
The First City Building was purchased and restored in 2007 by Ted Moor, Sr., a local businessman and entrepreneur. The Coffman Law Firm offices are constructed in the footprint of the former Beaumont Club dining room, incorporating numerous Beaumont Club fixtures and architectural antiques into the décor. The commanding view of downtown remains intact.