A Big Bang in Downtown Mesa
The History of the Financial Plaza
by: Tim Boyle

  Greg Moore lives in Glendale and hasn’t been to Mesa in 15 years. But his cousin Darren, from Virginia, has read the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s 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 Plaza’s 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 Contracting’s Supervisor of Construction for the building, and, taking pride in Darren’s 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. He’s been working since 11:00pm the night before, and he’s wondering where Jason is. Jason should’ve taken watch at 8:00am, when the building opened to the public, but he’s young and naive and often late. William doesn’t mind the double pay overtime, but he’s 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 O’Steen 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 doesn’t even look up.

  The man walks right past William, and shares something in common with the guard. They don’t 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, Bill’s college tuition and inheritance when Western Savings and Loan went bankrupt in the late 1980’s. 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 hadn’t been quite right in the head before his tour of duty, he hasn’t 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 girlfriend’s suspicions were confirmed. Bill was crazy, so she dumped him. It wasn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Bill’s 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. It’s 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 can’t help but see it as he drives around the city. It’s the only landmark left, ever since they dismantled the old blue watertower by his grandparent’s 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 45 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 doesn’t. 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 building’s 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 hallway.

  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

Conley Wolfswinkle

  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. He’s remembering when this tower was his. Gary’s 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 he’d been building only small, 1500 sq. ft branch offices around the Valley, but he’s 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 parent’s 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 them.

  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 Mesa’s 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 Mesa’s 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. He’s 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 Jeff’s 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t hear about the windows cracking and falling out when the highlight stones heated up, that the glass wasn’t 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. Sun.

  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 didn’t 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 conversation’s 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 there’s 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 “you’re 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:
Gary Driggs
Rebecca Driggs
Gerald Shelley
Greg Moore
Lamar and Virginia Shelley
Carol Boyle
Robert Tolman
The Mesa Tribune Archives
The building manager whose name I still can’t remember