Greg Moore lives in Glendale and hasnt been to Mesa
in 15 years. But his cousin Darren, from Virginia, has read the legend
of the Lost Dutchmans Mine and wants to hike the Superstition Mountains.
Darren had been laid off from his job at a brokerage firm and, reinventing
himself and his road to wealth, has come to the Valley to utilize the
hot job market. To him, talking Greg into doing things has become
an artform; this was not the first treasure hunt they had
taken. They are driving toward the flat purple mountains below the yellow
sun on a paling blue sky along the US 60 highway and approaching the Alma
School Road exit when Darren points out the towering blue building off
to the left. Darren asks if it was the one he saw outlined in blue lights
as his plane flew in last night. Greg confirms this, adding that the Financial
Plazas dominance of the skyline out east makes it ideal for pilots
to line up with as they fly in towards Sky Harbor International Airport.
He knows this because he had been SUNDT Contractings Supervisor
of Construction for the building, and, taking pride in Darrens interest
in this fact, suggests they take a look inside. Darren agrees, and Greg
banks his 2000 Ford F350 Extended Cab onto the exit ramp.
William Smith, Jr. yawns again and blinks a few times. Hes
been working since 11:00pm the night before, and hes wondering where
Jason is. Jason shouldve taken watch at 8:00am, when the building
opened to the public, but hes young and naive and often late. William
doesnt mind the double pay overtime, but hes tired this morning.
Scores of people going to their jobs have already passed him, and scores
more will keep doing so. William likes his job, as most of the people
who also work here are pleasant: the Van OSteen Lawyers, the small-firm
lawyers, the stock brokers, insurance company executives, the bank tellers.
He stands and walks across the marble floor to the windows and peers out,
looking for any sign of Jason. As he does this, a well built man in a
black turtleneck toting a large suitcase enters the building directly
in front of him, but William is paid to keep out those whose manner of
dress conflicts with the rich interior of the building, and thus doesnt
even look up.
The man walks right past William, and shares something in
common with the guard. They dont know it, but they both have the
same first name. William Miller, however, is known to his few friends
as Bill, and he has come to this building almost 30 times in the past
four days, each time with a large suitcase under his arm. His instincts
are correct that nobody ever uses the fire escapes.
Bill began to hate the blue tower when his father lost his money,
Bills college tuition and inheritance when Western Savings and Loan
went bankrupt in the late 1980s. His dad lost everything and had
to come out of retirement, while everyone who was responsible for the
fiasco either became governor or quietly disappeared for a few years and
then reappeared without missing a penny. Adding fuel to the fire, nobody
would give Bill a loan, because some blockhead in the Bank of America
Credit Department had marked his own credit rating with bankruptcy. So
instead of going to college, Bill joined the U.S. Marine Corps., and for
four years was indoctrinated with every method of killing invented. Bill
excelled in demolition, and he had done a bang up job dismantling cocaine
processing plants in California . Since Bill hadnt been quite right
in the head before his tour of duty, he hasnt a chance now.
Stephanie Kyle pulls her brown hair out of her eyes and would
have suspected something but she was busy every time Bill came and went.
They had met at Fiesta Mall across the street in the Hardware Department
at Sears, and he had asked her out, then taken her to the Black-Eyed Pea
Restaurant just southwards down the street. Stephanie was no fool, and
after the initial excitement of new love wore off, her girlfriends
suspicions were confirmed. Bill was crazy, so she dumped him. It wasnt
hard for her - she had been interested in Angus, the new teller, since
she had started training him last week. They had met as he tried to find
his way into the bank, which is hard to do because the sign is small and
on the inside of the reflective glass door.
Stephanie lives in Gilbert but is from New York and thus the
building doesnt amaze her, although it is easy to park and find
the bathrooms. She has no idea how so many people can find reasons to
come into the bank every day. The creepiest is bleach-blond -flat-topped
Matt McMann, who always comes to her window. She had met Matt over at
Bills house watching the Suns get killed by LA a few weeks ago.
Stephanie and her girlfriend both wonder if opening a new account in this
branch and then coming in and making only two and three dollar deposits
a few times a day is his way of flirting. Its ineffective, because
she can see that he has only amassed $53 in the account. She pulls her
hair out of her face, sighs, and looks left, towards Angus.
After searching for it for a few minutes, Tim Boyle passes
through the glass, brass trimmed door in the front, and takes notice of
the security guard, who is past the rows of elevators and staring out
the window on the far wall of the lobby. Tim is an architecture student
from ASU, and is writing a paper about the building. It has long fascinated
him; he grew up in Mesa and his Grandfather and Uncle Robert had a law
firm on the third floor when he was younger. Although Tim rarely comes
here, he cant help but see it as he drives around the city. Its
the only landmark left, ever since they dismantled the old blue watertower
by his grandparents old house. Tim lives three miles north on Alma
School, and yesterday evening at sunset he was blinded while pulling into
his condo complex by the burning orange sun reflected off the 45º face
of the skyscraper. It so impressed him that he grabbed his wife and pulled
her out onto the street to see it, taking risks and pictures in the middle
of three-lane rush hour Alma School Road.
Tim meanders slowly up the lobby floor, inspecting the granite
floor and dark wood walls to see if they are real or not. He wonders if
the brass trimming everything is solid or plated. He takes photographs,
and keeps eyeing the guard behind the enormous guard station to see if
he cares, which he doesnt. Tim moves to the second story via one
of the five express elevators in the center of the lobby. On the second
floor he meets with the buildings manager and promptly forgets her
name. She is friendly and tells him that the building is cooled by a water
system fed through a cooling tank below ground, but that her knowledge
of the design stops there and so she allows him to thumb through the blueprints
which she had stuffed in a corner. So Tim glances over page after page
of floorplans, diagrams, information, and numbers. The details confirm
that the brass is real and that the floor plan of the building is shaped
like a sawed-off Superman symbol, with a very simple layout. He also learns
the building was designed by Langdon Wilson Mumper from California, Structural
Engineers Brandon and Johnson, Mechanical Engineers Bridgers & Paxton,
and Landscape Architects Fong & Associates.
Tim leaves the office with a word a thanks to the manager
and several flyers informing him that this is the best office space in
the East Valley, that it rents for $24 a square foot, and that it has
suites up to 20,000 sq. ft. available. He gets a drink from the brass
drinking fountain then walks down the hallway a few feet through the dark
wooden door into the bathroom, where he surprises a man in the midst of
shaving. Through their conversation Tim discovers that this man merely
uses the bank on the lower floor, but is on his way to work and decided
to shave first. Tim remarks that it is a far finer bathroom than his own
and thus a splendid place to shave, and then hurries back out into the
As Tim approaches the fire escape at the end of the hall,
he finds the door to one of the suites open, and walks in. The room seems
to be a storage room; full of doors and door handles and plastic wrap
and unbuilt metal shelving. There are three table sized glass boxes cutting
through the middle of the floor that tell Tim he is in the space directly
above the bank. He is behind the tellers, so he looks down to see a girl
pull her hair out of her eyes and type the account number of the fellow
in front of her. Tim notes the guy only has $53 dollars in the account
before he decides that if he got too much information this way he might
be tempted to use it for evil, and so he walks back into the hallway,
goes to the elevators, and heads to the top.
Gary Driggs holds one of the back doors opened for a man with
a large suitcase , then walks slowly across the lobby, absorbing the splendor
from the polished brass, green-gray marble, and Mozambique wood. Hes
remembering when this tower was his. Garys grandfather began Western
Savings and Loan, his father expanded it, and then Gary lost it. Now he
builds and runs hotels in Arizona and New Mexico. Gary was the money behind
this tower, the Western Savings Financial Plaza, as it was called when
first built. Before this tower hed been building only small, 1500
sq. ft branch offices around the Valley, but hes always been interested
in architecture. Architect Al Beadle designed several of his banks, and
Gary now lives in an Al Beadle designed house.
Local developer Conley Wolfwinkel was the vision behind the
sixteen story building and its 300,000 sq. ft. of office space. He had
sought to build The Crown Jewel of Mesa, and developed the
land that had been his parents farm into the only significant tower
in the city. Conley had chosen the architectural firm of Langdon, Wilson,
& Mumper due to their work with similar buildings, and Gary approved
The first difficulty had been getting everyone together from
the various mechanical, electrical, and engineering firms in Canada, New
Mexico, and California. The second difficulty was the air conditioning.
The system was poorly designed at first, so Gary had an idea, contacted
a friend of his, and they designed a system that would pump water from
a huge tank underground throughout the structure, cooling it significantly.
The building was retrofit with this change but the cost was soon absorbed
by the money saved on electricity. Gary has actually taken this idea further
in his recent hotels: they freeze water when electricity is cheap during
off-peak hours, then use that to cool buildings during on-peak hours.
The third difficulty was the argon lights. Conley and Gary
wanted a nice statement about the power of their companies
and decided a tower in otherwise flat Mesa would be good, but even better
would be to outline it in blue lights at night, an idea that Conley had
after seeing a similar thing on buildings in Dallas. But the citizens
of Mesa were not fooled. It was bad enough to have this big tower go up
in their peaceful suburb, but to light it up at night? That would annoy
nesting birds, induce insomnia, cause car wrecks, stop star gazers, and
invite five hundred other catastrophes. The editor of a local paper, The
Mesa Tribune, took delight in pointing out that Mesas city code
called any thing attempting to draw attention to itself a sign, and thus
the building would be an enormous sign, and ought not to be. But Mesas
City Council knew money and stature when they smelled it and silenced
the NIMBYist qualms with lots of nice words about vision and the future.
They even got Governor Evan Mecham to light it up the first night. The
city code was changed where it needed to be, Conley got his lights, and,
as usually happens with landmarks, most of the enemies of the project
really liked it after a few months. Like the Eiffel Tower before it, an
eyesore became a major symbol of a city.
His building was dedicated the "Western Savings Financial
Plaza", but called the "Western Savings" building. Then
some smart-alec reporter called it the "Blue Light Special",
and the Tribune began calling it the "Thrift." When it was sold
to Bank of America it became the "Bank of America Financial Plaza",
and was called the "Bank of America Building." Most people either
call it that or "The Blue Tower" or "That Tower In Mesa
With The Blue Lights On It." Gary walks out of the lobby, holds the
door for the man with the large suitcase again, looks towards the top
of his landmark, then walks to his car feeling proud about creating something
both unique and remarkable.
Congressman Jeff Flake hurries towards the elevators. Hes
on the same elevator as Darren and Greg Moore, who tells his cousin that
the building cost $21 million dollars to erect, and that an additional
$45 million stocked the inside with all of the expensive veneer. As the
three of them step off on the second floor where Jeffs office is
Greg comments that they used a new system of putting up the spandrel glass
sheathing the entire building, which had been designed by a firm in Canada,
and that it didnt work properly so they build it from the top down
instead of the usual bottom up. Because Jeff is in a hurry to get to his
office, he doesnt hear about the windows cracking and falling out
when the highlight stones heated up, that the glass wasnt tested
to save money, but as he rounds the corner he hears deep, bellowing laughter
as Darren learns they hired an ASU student to watch the building with
binoculars all summer long and alert the maintenance crew when the windows
were about to burst.
Jeff moved his congressional office from downtown to the Bank
of America building shortly after his election. He likes working here:
the decor gives a good impression that he means business, its easy for
the right people to find his office, easy for his secretary to filter
who gets in past the front desk, and Jeff has a great view out over the
people he serves down in the city. The windows let in plenty of refreshing
sunlight during most of the day, though they have to pull down the shutters
as sunset approaches and the annoying light infiltrates the curtain wall
facing northeast. It also gets hot in the afternoon, despite all they
did to overhaul the air conditioning it simply can't compete with Mr.
Tim Boyle has learned alot about the building but is now in
a predicament. He got to the fifteenth floor, noted that it had the same
layout as all the other floors with the exception of a steel drinking
fountain, found that you needed an access code to take the final elevator
to the sixteenth floor and roof, then took a look at the fire escape.
He didnt notice the sign reminding patrons that the fire escape
doors are locked on the inside, and if you let the door close the only
way out is on the ground floor. Tim starts the long walk down from here,
and hears a mumbled voice from below, and he walks quietly so he can hear
what is said. As he descends he can first only make out an occasional
word, and the conversations tone sounds like someone trying to talk
his way out of something. At the eleventh floor Tim overhears a series
of names, at the ninth floor he hears theres one minute left, by
the fourth floor he can hear a rhythmic beeping noise, on the second floor
that its needs to be this way, and as he rounds the final
flight of step he hears youre the best, Matt., and sees
a man in a black turtleneck sitting on the edge of a large suitcase, holding
a cell phone, and looking at a digital clock atop several large cylinders.
Bill looks at Tim in surprise, and then the explosive charges
he has set along the main H-beams of the Bank of America Financial Plaza
detonate simultaneously, and the Financial Plaza collapses into a twisted
steel and glass heap.
This story is fiction although it uses
the real names of people involved it the creation of what is now called
the Financial Plaza. Most of it never happened.
This was written in April of 2001 for Nan Ellin's Architectural Programming
Course at Arizona State University.
Special Thanks To:
Lamar and Virginia Shelley
The Mesa Tribune Archives
The building manager whose name I still cant remember