601 S. Broad St. stands where South Street and the Avenue of the Arts converge.  Naturally, therefore, this has been the scene of major action over the years.  According to the earliest available documentation, the Southwestern National Bank occupied that Southeastern corner of Broad & South.  (We assume somebody was holding the compass upside down when they named it).

According to the site Antique Bank Notes, the bank began printing bills when it gained its charter 1886.  The bank is shown, here below, in G.W. Bromley’s 1910 Philadelphia Atlas.

Southwestern National Bank, 1910

For the next several decades, as the U.S. economy boomed, so did printing at the Southwestern Bank.  According to Antique Money, the bank printed $1,489,510 over its lifespan.  Adjusted for inflation that’s, like, way more money.  The Department of Records photo here below, taken in 1927, features two happy looking bankers, blissfully unaware of what awaits them. 

Bankers with no idea what’s about to hit them in 1927

According to Philly.com, Southwestern was “clobbered by the Depression.”  Indeed, it was at this point that Southwestern was forced to merge with the Sixth National to form the less confusingly named South Philadelphia Bank.  The image here below, also taken from the Department of Records, shows the corner of the new structure, visible on the right hand side. 

South Philadelphia Bank, looking east on South Street in 1930

The location remained in use as a bank until 1994, when it was purchased by the University of the Arts.  According to Philly.com, a $3.9 million investment produced the Arts Bank, which maintained the bank’s distinctive checkered cinderblock façade but which added a 230-seat theatre for student rehearsals and recitals.

University of the Arts’ Art Bank, 2013


–David Tomar