Real Estate

For Sale: A Dozen Photos of the Mighty Mercantile National Bank In the 1940s

A couple of years back we virtually toured the Mercantile Bank Building as it looked following its 1958 redo, when Heritage Auctions made available 17 never-before-seen photos of R.L. Thornton's skyscraper taken by legendary Chicago-based architectural-photo firm Hedrich Blessing. Those photos, offered in a single package initially guesstimated to be worth several thousand, never did sell (thought for sure Forest City would have snapped 'em up). Only recently, on behalf of a still-interested Friend of Unfair Park, I asked Heritage's PR man Noah Fleisher is the seller was still interested in parting with the pictures. He said he'd look into it.

Then, a couple of days back, Friend of Unfair Park PeterK dispatched me a trio of photos taken inside the mighty Merc in the 1940s, not long after it was finished in '43. Back then, of course, it was a significant structure for myriad reasons: It counted among its architects Walter W. Ahlschlager, famous for his work in Chicago and New York City. It was, by all accounts, the sole significant skyscraper built in the U.S. during World War II. And it was, till '54, the tallest building in the city.

Turns out there are far more than three photos of the Merc being sold on eBay: A seller in San Diego is sitting on a dozen, each still sitting a mere $9.99 with four days left, all but one taken by William Langley, whose own career appears to span the rough-n-tumble days of the Dallas Dispatch to the Texas Centennial Exposition in '36 (where he rounded up "beautiful bevies") to an ad assignment so unusual (at the time, at least) it landed him in Life magazine in 1959. (And Langley, intriguingly, mentored a young Jeff Kimball, who would go on to become the cinematographer responsible for the look of Top Gun, among other familiar titles.)

I'd begin the tour here. Then, in no particular order: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and, finally, here. Interestingly, the last photo -- the only one with actual people in it -- wasn't taken by Langley. At least, it's not credited to him. Rather, says the seller, the back of the photo is stamped: "HARRY BENNETT - 2108 McKinney - Dallas, Texas Phone 7-4906."