Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Not My Vault!

As you may or may not know, I've been working in the Marketing Department of a local bank for the past three years. Sadly, the bank failed and was bought up by another bank in August. As a result of this merger, by job will be eliminated at the end of December. Thanks, Economy! You're the greatest!

But enough of my whinging. The bank building in which I work was built in 1914 and contains an absolutely beautiful and awesome old safety deposit vault. Before I leave the bank forever I wanted to be sure I got some photos of this amazing looking vault.

Here's a wide shot of the vault with the enormous door wide open. According to the unofficial tour guide at the bank, this vault housed the safety deposit boxes of the cream of Evansville society, back in a time when people didn't wear pajama bottoms to the grocery store.

The vault was designed to impress, with lots of unnecessary but opulent details.

Whenever I'd go downstairs to the vault if felt more like a movie set than the interior of a bank. It's like some kind of steampunk time machine or a portal into some other dimension.

The vault was transported to the bank site by horse and wagon. It was lowered into the ground in 1912 and the rest of the bank was actually built around it. The building was completed in 1914.

The vault's made mostly of steel with lots of brass trappings and decorations.

Working in the Marketing Department, I never had much reason to go downstairs to the vault. I would occasionally be asked to help close it, as it takes two people. I loved going down there and just staring at the thing. I was always fascinated by the design and craftsmanship.

This, obviously, is the back side of the massive door.

A closeup view of the intricate workings inside the door. It may not show up here, but there's a thick panel of glass covering those gearing mechanisms.

Those gearing mechanisms control the locking rods (I'm making up my own names for the parts as I don't know what they're officially called). When you turn the handle on the front, all those silver rods slide out into corresponding holes in the door frame. There are 24 locking rods radiating out from the center of the door. Needless to say, no one besides Superman is gonna budge this door once it's locked.

Here's a better view of the locking rods. That discoloration on the lower silver part of the door isn't dirt or rust. I'm not exactly sure what it is; I think it's just showing up on camera, as I didn't notice it in person.

Now that is a big-ass door. It's a good three feet thick and weighs 37 tons. Yeah, tons. That's 74,000 pounds.

Despite this massive weight, the door is so precisely balanced that one person can open and close it. It ain't easy; it takes a bit of pulling to set it in motion, and it takes a long time to move it, but it is possible. It's amazing to think that you're moving something that weighs 37 tons.

Once the door's moving, you have to start pulling in the opposite direction when it gets to the halfway point in order to slow it back down so that it doesn't slam into the frame!

Here's a closeup of the outer ring of the door. Those giant bronze nuts and bolts there? Totally for show. They're just covers that can be unscrewed and removed. There are actual bolts underneath, but they're not as large. I guess the real bolts would probably get scraped and worn when tightened, so these covers keep everything looking shiny and new.

Wow, all those fingerprints look awful. They're not as noticeable in person.

The thing that impresses me most about the door is the craftsmanship. This thing was built a hundred years ago. Think about the level of technology available then and then try and imagine how they could have possibly machined something as precisely as this. Those locking rods you see sticking out there? You can't slip a piece of paper between them and the sockets. They fit together that tightly. Amazing.

In fact, once the door is shut the vault is air and water tight. Evansville experienced a massive flood back in 1937, causing the entire basement of the bank to be under water for weeks. Despite this, the inside of the vault (and the contents of the safety deposit boxes) remained absolutely bone dry!

The vault's cool to look at, but be sure you don't accidentally get shut inside it. You might be able to survive overnight, but if you got locked in on a Friday? There wouldn't be enough air to last you until Monday.

The vault has a time lock to prevent it from being opened before the pre-set time. Even if you enter the correct combination, it won't open unless the time lock is at zero. As I took these photos I could see tiny gears spinning away behind the little clock faces.

A big-ass door needs some big-ass hinges to hang on. Here's a couple of shots of the upper hinge.

Here's a closeup shot of the front side of the door.

A few more closeups of the front side of the door. That spinning handle looks a lot like a ship's wheel.

Funny story: since the door was open when I was taking these shots, the front of it was hidden against the wall. I had to close it part way in order to get some photos of the front side. I pushed it hard for a minute until it started slowly moving, then stepped between the door and wall to take some photos. As my attention was focused on the camera, I didn't notice that the door started slowly moving back toward the wall, and me. Luckily I looked up and saw it coming at me and slipped out of the way at the last second, before it pinned me to the wall until someone found me.

Here's some views of the door frame. Again, most of these details are decorative rather than functional.

Here we can see, sort of, the actual vault. The gate was locked so I couldn't go inside. All the safety deposit boxes have been emptied in preparation for the closing of the bank. 

Each safety deposit box had two locks in it. The bank had a key and the customer had one as well. You couldn't get into any of the boxes without both keys. Just like launching a nuke!

It's hard to see here, but just a few feet behind the gate is a mirrored wall (I had to stand off to the side so that the flash didn't reflect in it). Supposedly this was so that clients could watch what the bank employees were doing as they handled the boxes.

A closeup where you can kind of see the boxes beyond the gate. The boxes were very decorative and opulent as well; the fronts were made out of some kind of light-refracting metal that produced a distinctive pattern.

Here's the entrance to the Stargate, er, I mean the vault. There's even a little ramp to walk up, just like on the show. Lock Chevron Three into place! As I said earlier, when you're down there it feels like you're on a movie set. It looks for all the world like some kind of portal into time or something.

This is a shot of the "escape hatch" on the back wall of the vault. I think most vaults have hatches like this as a safety feature, in case some hapless clerk gets trapped inside. The time lock prevented the main door from being opened except during business hours, but the escape hatch could opened at any time- from the outside. You can't open it if you're on the inside, so if got trapped inside, better start holding your breath until someone notices you're missing and opens the hatch.

I have no idea what's going to happen to the vault once the bank closes for good in December. I would hate for it to just sit down there and fall into disrepair.

Even if another bank bought it, safety deposit boxes are going the way of buggy whips and powdered wigs. I bet if you asked a thousand 20 year olds if they knew what a safety deposit box is, 999 of them would stare blankly at you and then go back to texting on their phones. It's just not something people under 50 seem to need anymore.

That's a real shame too. It's such an awesome piece of history and craftsmanship, it needs to be seen by everyone. Maybe they could turn it into a tourist attraction?


  1. sadly, the vault door will probably be sold for scrap metal, which is a real shame because "it belongs in a museum"!

  2. love this piece of work, i may use it in a futur rpg.
    I'm sure it something dortumder likes to see but to to break!

  3. That door does look steampunk and I thought "Stargate" before I read your remark about it. Too bad about the bank closing, hope you find something better in the meantime. Stupid economy.

  4. Xandines: OK, I had to google "Dortumder" to figure out what you were talking about. I get it now!

    Dawn: Yeah, there's even a little ramp leading up to the Stargate, just like on the show!

    I have no idea what I'm going to do after the bank closes. I've been sending out resumes and trying to network, but there just isn't a lot out there right now. Low paying retail job, here I come!

  5. even if the vault falls into disrepair,you have helped(thru photos) to preserve it. a very cool piece of yesteryears technology. I can't imagine the cost in todays dollars to build this vault.

  6. Thanks, Mark. Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Hi Bob, My name is Faith and I am a locations scout for an LA production company. Is this bank here in LA? I would love for my current production to film there. My email is - hope to hear from you!

  8. Metropolitan safety deposit box Limited or bank safety deposit boxes limited (‘Metropolitan’) was originally formed in 1983 to construct and operate the Belgravia safety deposit box , Metropolitan’s safety deposit box facilities are strategically placed in the inner central area of Metropolitan London. The Company is the largest independent provider of mailbox post & mailbox post & mailbox post & mailbox post & mailbox post , residential mailboxes & residential mailboxes & residential mailboxes & residential mailboxes & residential mailboxes & gold bar for sale& gold bar for sale & gold bar for sale & gold bar for sale & gold bar for sale , bank safety deposit boxes & bank safety deposit boxes & bank safety deposit boxes & bank safety deposit boxes , safety deposit box & safety deposit box this service in the United Kingdom. The two vaults provide thousands of boxes in 16 different sizes ranging from one-foot square and two-inch high boxes up to walk-in secure storage areas. The locations of the vaults are in Knightsbridge and St John’s Wood.

  9. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

    safety deposit centre


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