Friday, August 9, 2013
Peoples United States Egyptian Building Coin Bank in University City Missouri
This metal architectural model and still bank has the inscription, "People's United States Bank, St. Louis, Mo." on the front of the base and on the side, "Mail Bank." The large replica, measuring approximately 9 1/8" x 6" x 3 ¾" tall, is in the Egyptian Revival style complete with sphinxes, obelisks, and friezes of hieroglyphics. Made of two different types of metal - the roof and base are made of nickel, while the sides and doorways are probably pot metal, finished to resemble bronze and copper. The facades feature bricks, 21 tiny steps up to each of the 4 doors, and a total of 28 small sphinxes. The friezes include pharaohs, horses, archers on chariots, lions, and hieroglyphs. The roof comes to a ridge and has standing seams and gutters. The bottom has a trap door with a keyhole. The coin bank is a replica the ‘Egyptian Building’ built in University City, near St. Louis, Missouri. Edward Gardner Lewis founded the People's United States Bank in 1904 to provide banking by mail services to his “Woman's Magazine” subscribers. The nickel and copper-plated model of the planned bank building was offered to children to help them learn the value of saving money. When the People's United States Bank was closed and thrown into receivership, Lewis sold these little savings banks for $1.50 through his magazines, under headlines like "Lest We Forget!" Edward Gardner Lewis (1869–1950) was a controversial promoter, magazine publisher, political activist, and founder of two utopian colonies who was later indicted several times on federal charges. Between 1903 and 1915, he acquired land parcels near the site of the St. Louis World’s Fair and developed subdivisions. After incorporating University City in 1906, he served three terms as mayor. During this time, he built the Woman's Magazine Building, an Egyptian temple and an Art Academy. Later, the Federal Government was successful in shutting down Lewis' "U.S. People's Bank," a mail-order bank which would have offered services in direct competition with postal money orders. The bank was established as a postal bank to serve the rural population that subscribed to his magazines. At the time, banks were unregulated and uninsured. In 1905 the US Postmaster General concluded that Lewis had engaged in mail fraud and ordered the St. Louis postmaster "to return all letters, whether registered or not, and other mail matter...directed to the said parties, to the postmasters at the offices at which they were originally mailed....with the word 'Fraudulent' plainly written or stamped upon the outside of such letters or matter." With the inability to receive any mail, either personal or business, Lewis and the bank were out of business a year after its founding. After Lewis was acquitted, the Post Office revoked the second class mailing privileges for his magazines. The matter was brought to Congress who ordered a $1.5 million payment to Lewis in compensation for his losses at the hands of the Post Office Department. After the bank was closed in 1905, architect Herbert C. Chivers' plans for the intended Egyptian Revival style building were adapted for use as the publishing plant for Lewis' newspaper venture, "The Woman's National Daily." I found just a few photos of the real Egyptian Building. In this aerial image where the structure can be seen on the right and these images show the building during construction. These photos show the general shape of the structure, but not the obelisks and elaborate statues that the coin bank depicts. Where these ever added? The Egyptian Building was torn down, but I have not yet been able to find out when and why. Other buildings survive including the rococo-style City Hall at University City.