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Lincoln Tower ca. 1970
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
The German-American National Bank was chartered in 1905 on Court Street, the former site of which is now part of the Courthouse Green. The founders, Samuel Foster and Ohio banker Theodore Wentz, set upon the venture of becoming at that time the ninth bank in Fort Wayne. Just 14 years later in 1918, as a result of World War Iís strong anti-German sentiment, the bank changed its name to the patriotic sounding Lincoln National Bank, capitalizing on the thriving insurance company right down the street ó also founded in 1905, and Samuel Foster was also the president.
In 1928 Lincoln National Bank merged with the Lincoln Trust Company (formerly the Strauss Brothers Commercial Bank) to become Lincoln National Bank and Trust Company. The following year in 1929, Charles Buesching, who as a teenager had been employed by the bank as messenger boy, became president of Lincoln and commissioned a skyscraper a mere half block away at 116 E. Berry for the institutionís new home. Ground broke in August, 60 days before the stock market crashed in October 1929. Despite the nationís financial catastrophe, work continued on the $1.2M building, which was completed the following year in 1930. Adjusted for inflation, that would equate to nearly a $20M building project today. Lincoln not only survived the depression, but thrived, becoming the areaís largest bank of that era.
The 22-story building at a height of 312 feet dwarfed all other buildings in town and in fact reigned as the tallest building in Indiana until the 1960ís. Designed by the Cleveland firm of Walker and Weeks, it was based in part on elements of the Tribune Tower in Chicago. Local architect Alvin M. Strauss was hired as the associate architect for the project. The still beautiful art-deco building incorporates Indiana Limestone, Vermont marble, Italian travertine marble, Milford granite, Terra Cotta, hand wrought bronze and bronze panels, remaining unquestionably one our cityís architectural gems.
After losing money for several years, Lincoln Bank was acquired by Norwest Bank out of Minneapolis in 1993. In 1995 Norwest moved the former Lincoln offices to their new headquarters at 111 E. Wayne at Calhoun streets, and then in 1998 they merged with Wells Fargo. While Norwest was the larger of the two banks, the feeling was that nationally Wells Fargo had a stronger name, and so our Lincoln/Norwest Bank was renamed Wells Fargo in 2000.
As for the Lincoln Tower, in 1998 John Tippmann, Sr. acquired it and had it widely refurbished. Tippmann and a group of local investors that included Keith Busse, Don Schenkel, Craig Hartman, Mike Mirro, Maury OíDaniel, Rick Tomkinson, Pete Eshelman and a few others formed Tower Bank in 1999 and moved into Lincoln Bankís former tower offices. Tower Bank was then acquired in 2014 by Old National Bank, of Evansville, who remain in the Lincoln Tower at 116 E. Berry Street to this day. (Image courtesy ACPL)
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author, and the guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.