Historic Structures

Central National Bank Building (Apex Liquor Store), Washington DC

Date added: September 29, 2010 Categories: Bank

Built as the St. Marc Hotel in 1860. In 1887 the Central National Bank assumed ownership of the hotel and commissioned architect Alfred B. Mullett to design the addition on the west facade. The addition included the two corner towers.

The ST. MARC HOTEL was established in 1855 by John H. Semmes. It became one of the foremost hotels in Washington. Under Semmes' proprietorship, rooms at the ST. MARC rented for $1-$2 per night for a single room and $2-$3 for a double room. H. C. Bowers secured a lease from Semmes in 1879 after which he completely remodeled and refurnished the building. John F. Fitzgerald became the proprietor of the hotel in 1885 and remained with it until the building was purchased by The Central National Bank in 1887. A commercial guide to Washington published in 1887 noted the ST. MARC's "...elegant apportionments, fine cuisine, and unsurpassed location, being in close proximity to several lines of streetcars and the center of the business part of the city."

The Central National Bank was the primary tenant of the building, which is generally referred to by this name, from 1887-1907. The Central National Bank was organized as a national bank on April 11, 1878. For several years, it occupied the Bank of Washington building, 322 C Street, N.W., before purchasing the ST. MARC HOTEL building at the apex of Pennsylvania Avenue and C Street on July 1, 1887. The bank occupied the ground floor of the building and had its vaults in the basement and on the second floor. The upper floors were rented to brokers, lawyers, insurance and real estate agents, a printer, publisher, artist and notary public. The "Central National Bank", under its first president, Samuel Norment, engaged Alfred B. Mullett to give the building a unique image. The west facade and two towers were added to accomplish this end. James L. Barbour, one of the previous owners of the building, became the first vice-president of the newly formed bank.

Nearly twenty years later. The Central National Bank merged with the National Bank of Washington. The National Bank of Washington, formerly The Bank of Washington, was the first bank to be chartered in the city of Washington in 1809. The newly formed bank moved into the older bank's building and "The Central National Bank" building was retained as an investment.

After the bank's departure from the building, the lower floor corner (west) room was rented to a series of cigar stores. The space defined as 633 Pennsylvania Avenue was rented to a men's furnishing and clothiers store, Greenberg & Kuntz. Jacob Melvikov Men's Furnishings followed Greenberg & Kuntz in the space. The upper floors remained professional offices. The Apex Liquor Store began occupying the ground floor of the building in 1945. Two lawyers leased space on the second floor of the building until 1970. The Apex Liquor Store now has additional office space in one of the rooms on the second floor. The third through sixth floors of the building have remained vacant since 1950.

After weathering the long decline of downtown Washington, the Apex Building was renovated in 1984 by Sears, Roebuck, and Co., as headquarters for its Sears World Trade arm. Sears added a story on top of the building but otherwise generally restored the exterior to its original appearance, with the exception that they decided to paint the brownstone an odd mocha color that it still retains today. Sears stayed in the building for less than a decade, and now it is the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.

The exterior bearing walls of the building and the vertical circulation shaft are structurally sound, as are the basement and first floors. All upper floors have major structural damage. Wall, ceiling and floor finishes become progressively more deteriorated as one reaches the upper floors of the building.

Over-all dimensions: The building is trapezoidal in plan. Its west facade, which faces onto 7th Street, measures approximately 39'-6"; the Pennsylvania Avenue facade measures approximately 44'-11". An eastern wall runs perpendicular to Pennsylvania Avenue for 33'. It then runs and continues 23' perpendicular to C Street. The C Street elevation measures approximately 53'. Towers flanking the front facade have 7' radii taken from the former interior wall junctures. The west facade has three bays between the towers and is six stories high with another story in the conical roof of the towers. The main body of the building is five stories.

arcade of segmental arches which support the north and south bearing walls of the building. Smaller piers support the structural arches below the west facade and towers. These brick piers have two 10" high courses of roughly cut sandstone. The basement contains two additional significant features: the two bank vaults which are located in the northeast corner within the building's perimeter and the coal storage areas under the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue, C Street and 7th Streets. Circular coal chutes, cut through the pavement of the sidewalks above, are visible in the ceiling. There are six on the north side of the building, five on the south side and three on the west side.

The bank vaults are located 2' in from the east wall of the building and the building's northern perimeter. The northernmost vault was used for records storage. It is 5' wide x 10' deep with 12" thick walls. The adjacent vault is 8' wide x 10' deep with 2' thick walls. A 12" brick wall runs directly to the south of the vaults for 30'. Another brick wall meets this one at a right angle and continues north to within 2' of the C Street facade forming a separate vaulted room. Access to this room from the first floor is provided by a marble and cast iron staircase on the west side of the space. Square cast iron piers with beaded corners flank the entry to the stairwell. It is bolted into piers and into brick walls at the north and south. One cast iron column is adjacent to the west brick wall of the vault room near its intersection with the south wall of the room. The elevator pit and the electrical service box are in a room in the southeast corner of the basement directly beneath the ground floor entry to the upper floors of the building.

First floor plan: The first floor contained the open banking area of the "Central National Bank". A platform, 4' above the main door, is in the northeast corner of the space. This was once the bank director's office. It is 17' deep and runs 22' north to south. A 15" thick bearing wan perpendicular to 7th Street encloses its southern side. There are four steps at either end of this platform; one set provided access to the U-shaped customer circulation area and the other provided access directly into the tellers' area, which is no longer apparent. A customer circulation area ran along the north, south and west walls enclosing the tellers' area. The north and south arms of the path were 4' wide and the west path, 10' wide. The major entry into the bank was centered on the west facade and opened into the 10' west corridor of the first floor banking area. Marble tile flooring along the north wall remains from this period. The main banking floor is now occupied by the display shelves of the Apex Liquor store. The southeast corner of the first floor contains vertical circulation to the upper floors of the building. It is reached internally by a door at the southeast corner of the sales floor and by an exterior entry in the east bay of the Pennsylvania Avenue facade. The stair runs up from the exterior door along the east wall. The elevator is adjacent to the stair to the west. A service shaft is directly west of the elevator shaft. A 9" thick bearing wall runs parallel to the Pennsylvania Avenue facade at a distance of 21'. It forms the support for the top landing of the stair and the rear wall of the elevator shaft.

Second floor plan: There were originally three rooms on this floor serving as the dining rooms of the St Marc Hotel. The rooms were divided into offices and a vault was installed on this floor during the Central National Bank's tenancy, and professional offices were located there from 1907 through the 1960's. Rooms line the north, south and west walls of the floor and open onto an 8' wide central corridor parallel to Pennsylvania Avenue. Access is provided by a stair at the east end of the hall. A secondary hall, parallel to 7th Street, provides access from the center hall to the bathroom in the southeast corner of the building and to the stairs up to the remaining floors.

Third, fourth, fifth floor plans: The layout of the halls, stair, and bathroom of the upper floors is similar to that of the second floor while the arrangement of rooms differs. There are six rooms opening off of the center hallway: two large, round corner rooms with a single narrow room between on the west end of the hall, two rooms to the north of the hall, and one room on the south side of the hall. A 30" wide open stair, located along the north bearing wall of the center hall, leads from the fifth floor up to the sixth floor.

Sixth floor plan: The basic layout is similar to the lower floors. The southern tower is currently inaccessible.

The stair from the ground floor down to the basement vaults, now blocked off at the ground floor, is enclosed on either side by cast-iron walls that were made to simulate wood paneling. The treads are marble and the risers are of cast-iron. The first to second floor stair is an open, straight run stair with marble treads and metal risers which are inset with square glass blocks that are impressed with a waffle pattern. The cylindrical brass handrail is supported by ornate 8" wide cast-iron balusters of a floral design. It has a cast-iron fluted cylindrical newel post with a ball on top. The second to third floor stair has painted stone facing on the treads and risers. Stairs from the third through the fifth floors are 4'-6" wide and constructed of wood. An open wooden stair from the fifth to the sixth floor has a straight run with a small landing four risers below the top of the stairs. Its wooden newel post is octagonal. It has turned wooden balusters and a simple wooden handrail. All stairs appear to be structurally sound.

Central National Bank Building (Apex Liquor Store), Washington DC 1967 WEST (FRONT) ELEVATION

Central National Bank Building (Apex Liquor Store), Washington DC VIEW FROM THE SOUTHWEST