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A Community Anchor in a Story Sea?

Was Humboldt Park’s Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank Built to Last?

“It was magnificent…To me it’s like stepping into a cathedral that you would see in some other part of the world, but in your own neighborhood.”

-Bill Smiljanić-Pérez. Founder, North & Pulaski Historical Society

“If there’s a disaster, let’s say a fire at a building, there’s an immediate board-up service that comes right after the fire trucks leave and the site is secured. However if there’s no disaster, there’s nothing that happens but …an open window or a door that’s been pried open, it’s impossible to get immediate action.”

-Ward Miller. Executive Director, Preservation Chicago

This is the story of Humboldt Park’s Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank building. Constructed as a monumental symbol of neighborhood stability, surviving the Depression, adapting to changing demographics, winning landmark recognition, ransacked for brass fixtures, then ultimately becoming a mecca for urban spelunkers rafting into the flooded basement vault– somehow the building still stands today.

Credits & Bibliography

  • Producer: Rob Reid
  • Audio & Video Editing: Joshua Riechers


  • Ward Miller. Executive Director, Preservation Chicago.
  • Josie Pacheco. Vice President-Branch Manager, First Midwest Bank.
  • Pete Schmugge. Executive Director, Northwest Connection Chamber of Commerce.
  • Bill Smiljanić-Pérez. Founder, North & Pulaski Historical Society.



  • “Exploring an Abandoned Chicago Bank (Flooded Basement Example).” YouTube, uploaded by Free4All. 14 November 2020,
  • “The Flooded Titanic Bank Vault- DEEP DIVE”. YouTube, uploaded by Jason. 27 March 2020,
  • “Exploring a Massive Abandoned Chicago Bank with a HUGE Vault.” YouTube, uploaded by Decaying Midwest, 10 December 2021,
  • “Rafting in Massive Flooded Abandoned 1920’s Bank Vault.” YouTube, uploaded by RnK All Day, 25 August 2018,


  • “The Heist.” Rustic Overtones. Rooms by the Hour, Ripcord Records, 1998.
  • “I Know.” Josh Leahy. Open, Barley Scarf Records, 2022.
  • “In My Room.” Josh Leahy. Open, Barley Scarf Records, 2022.
  • Original soundtrack material by Josh Leahy.

Selected Articles

  • “Owners of Landmarked Buildings Could Pay Big for Neglecting Properties.” Block Club Chicago. 3 April 2018.
  • “Some Landlords Keep Their Storefronts Empty For Years– And Get Tax Breaks For It. Business Leaders Want To Change That.” Block Club Chicago. 4 October 2021.
  • “City Council Backs Plan to Turn West Side Bank Building Into Latino Heritage Center, Affordable Housing,” Block Club Chicago. 21 July 2021.
  • “City digs up interest in sites long neglected.” Chicago Sun-Times. 3 May 2021.
  • “Greater Chicago and the Outlying Banks.” Chicago Tribune. 28 July 1921.

Selected Documents

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