Listed in Arkansas Register of Historic Places on 04/05/17
The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building was designed by local architects Mott, Mobley, Horstman and Staton in 1963. The Mid-Century Modern structure was renovated in from 2011-2013 to serve as the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) by Polk, Stanley, Wilcox Architects. The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion C, with local significance, as an example of a Mid-Century Modern design by the Fort Smith architecture firm of Mott, Mobley, Horstman and Staton.
The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building was designed by local architects Mott, Mobley, Horstman and Staton in 1963. Joe J. Haralson was born in Georgia in 1895. He attended the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) where he earned a Master of Science degree. After his graduation, he worked for a time in Indianapolis, Indiana. Then in 1917, he moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to establish a new architectural practice. In 1919, Haralson went into partnership with E. C. Nelson, who also graduated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Nelson initially practiced in Alabama and served in the Army during World War I, before moving to Fort Smith to work in partnership with J. J. Haralson.  The partnership of Haralson & Mott was original formed in 1935 when Joe J. Haralson asked Ralph O. Mott to partner with him to create a new architectural firm. Their first office was located in an office in the Merchants Bank Building at the northeast corner of North Seventh Street and Garrison Avenue.
Ralph Oliver Mott was born in Stark, Iowa, in May of 1903. He earned his Bachelors of Architecture from Washington University of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1925. After he graduated from college, Mott worked a few years as a draftsman for William B. Ittner Inc. in St. Louis before starting work with the architectural practice of Haralson & Nelson in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He worked for Haralson & Nelson off and on for the next few years. At one point, he also worked with Harry D. Payne of Houston, Texas. In 1935, he was promoted to partner and the name of the Fort Smith firm changed to Haralson & Mott. In 1945, Mott was appointed as a member of the State Board of Architects, where he served until 1975. In 1948, the Fort Smith firm of Haralson & Mott established a second office in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which was named Haralson & Horstman. During that time, Mott also served on the Fort Smith Building Code Board of Appeals from 1957 until 1976. He was also active in national organizations and was an important factor in the establishment of a national Architectural Registration exam as administered by the National Council Architectural Registration Board, on which he served as secretary, vice-president, and president from 1858 until 1966.
Original partner Joe Haralson passed away in 1955, leaving the firm to become Mott, Mobley & Horstman. By 1961, the firm of Haralson & Mott had become the firm of Mott, Mobley, Horstman & Staton with the addition of architects Robert E. Mobley and William L. Horstman, as well as structural engineer Eugene L. Staton. Robert Eugene Mobley was born in Monticello, Arkansas, in December of 1922. He earned his Bachelors of Architecture in 1951 at Oklahoma A & M College (Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma). William L. Horstman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in April of 1911. He attended the University of Cincinnati from 1928 to 1929 and then earned his Bachelors of Science in Architecture from the University of Illinois in 1938. He joined the Fort Smith architectural firm in 1948. The firm worked on many projects across Arkansas, including the University of Arkansas Library (Vol Walker Hall) at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1935; Central Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith in 1954; the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium from 1937 to 1955; St. Edwards Mercy Hospital of Fort Smith in 1955; and the 1967 J. B. Paine Men’s Dormitory at Arkansas Polytechnic College (Arkansas Tech) in Russellville, Arkansas.
The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank Building
Modern architecture was slow to take root in Arkansas. Although modernist designs had existed in the United States since the late 1920s and the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of Modern Architecture vaulted the new style into the national consciousness in 1932, the advent of the Depression years and the focus on war production in the 1940s delayed its spread to much of the rural south, including Arkansas. With the economic growth of the post war-years, new booming industrial centers and educational institutions created a new opportunity for building, with forecasters of the era predicting that the years 1950-1975 would see as many buildings built in the United States as had been built in all the years before 1950. These predictions proved to be true and architects across the state would take a major role in defining the architectural production in Arkansas in the decades that followed.
The modernism of 1940 through the early 1950s was a time of new sleek, functional forms combined with new materials. The post-war period saw a radical change in the architectural profession, with modernism becoming a powerful force in the architectural profession. The early revolutionary modernism of the 1920s and 1930s had given way to a more developed celebration of modernism that was applied to all types of forms in all kinds of locations.  Architects across the nation had started exploring modernism during the 1920s and 1930s. The International style, one of the first common stylistic expressions of the modernist era was just finding a foothold in the United States before the outbreak and disruption of World War II. The early growth of modernism was largely due to the definition and promotion of the style by the creators and students of the Bauhaus in Germany. The Bauhaus school was founded by Walter Gropius as an all-inclusive arts institution in 1919. It combined all fields of art together in a comprehensive program emphasizing the ties between all fields of art and the universality of artistic principles. This new aesthetic was achieved by combining glass within a steel structural system with other new materials to create open interior spaces and quickly spread from Germany to the United States in the period between the wars. 
One of the most famous early modernist designers to relocate to the United States was the German born Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. His American designs most notably featured exposed steel frames sheathed in glass. In 1956, Mies Van der Rohe completed the important modernist work, Crown Hall, on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. This glass and steel structure celebrated the pure form and open functionality desired by Van der Rohe and is celebrated by many as one of the most important mid-century modernist structure in the United States. The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building’s exterior vertical banding is a visual echo of the modernist metal structural frames of earlier years.
The design for the Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building used two-story masses arranged around a central three-story elevator shaft. The intersection of the masses served as the original interior lobby space. Also, the use of large panels of glass allowed the lobby, the main public space of the bank, to be full of natural light and to have a very open feel. This openness was further highlighted by the large floating staircase at the southwest corner of the original lobby space. The form of the building, with its large rectilinear masses; use of glass, concrete, quartz aggregate and metal throughout; and the repetitive banding on all facades, are all characteristics of the prevailing Mid-Century Modern aesthetic of the 1950s and 1960s. Also, approximately every three feet, the museum has vertical, enamel-baked structural steel façade tubes that have been clad with aluminum to add definition. This further enhances the building’s strong linear elements and bold horizontal features. The design for this building used the “clean lines and open spaces” of modernist architectural forms to give the Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building a structure that portrayed openness, transparency and progressiveness. This use of contemporary architectural styles was not unique, as many other banks as well as other businesses and institutions continue to use the structure they commission to signal their past and their vision of the future.
The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank was established in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1934 as a savings and loan association. In 1983, the bank was changed to a federal savings bank and the name was changed to Superior Federal Bank. In 2001, the name was changed to Superior Bank, F.S.B.. In early 2003, Superior Bank operated twenty-four branches in central Arkansas, including Conway, Hot Springs, Jacksonville, Lonoke, Maumelle, and Morrilton. By the end of 2003, Arvest Bank acquired Superior Bank, F.S.B., all of its assets and bank buildings following a $211 million dollar buyout.  The main bank building on Rogers Avenue became a branch bank for Arvest Bank. After a few years, the Rogers Avenue branch was shut-down and the building was donated to the Fort Smith Art Center in January of 2009. In 2010, the Fort Smith Art Center was renamed the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) and work to renovate the newly acquired building into a new museum space was well underway by 2011.
The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM)
The current Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) had its beginning in 1948 as the Fort Smith Chapter of the Arkansas Association of University Women (AAUW).  In September 1950, the AAUW held its first exhibit at the KFPW Studios Fine Art Gallery in Fort Smith. In 1951, the AAUW became the Associated Artists of Fort Smith (AAFS) and began exhibiting art and holding classes across the city. This group began exhibiting art and holding classes in various locations throughout Fort Smith. In 1960, the Associated Artists of Fort Smith purchased the Vaughn-Schaap House, built circa 1855-1857 in the Victorian Second Empire style by Ethelbert B. Bright, to serve as their headquarters. Restoration of the home was completed in three phases from 1960 to 1985. This restoration project helped to jumpstart other restoration projects in the surrounding Belle Grove Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 1973. The Art Center offered valuable resources for the community and their families. Local and regional artists had studio space, and local art lovers had a place to go to view the latest exhibits and artistic trends and attend artist-lead workshops and family art days.
In 1968, the Associated Artists of Fort Smith incorporated as the Fort Smith Art Center. The Art Center called the Vaughn-Schaap House home until the donation of the former Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building along Rogers Avenue in 2009.
The cultural significance of RAM’s Permanent Collection is extensive. RAM holds one of the largest collections of Boehm porcelain in the state, numbering 131 pieces. It is home to a fabric and embroidery Prussian purse from 1762, a rare stereoscopic photograph by Hansard & Carden c. 1882, an original oil on canvas painting from 1905 and a c. 1918 cast iron sculpture of local legend, Mr. Peanut. The collection also features lithographs of Joan Miro (1893-1983), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Helen Gerardia (1903-1988), and a lithograph by world-renowned lithographer, painter, teacher, historian, and book illustrator Charles Banks Wilson (1918-2013) who also called the Ozark Mountain region home.
The museum also has five pieces by local, acclaimed American painter and sculptor John Bell, Jr. (1937-2013), two works by Oklahoma artist Gene V. Dougherty, and two large scale sculptures by recycle artist Jaak Kindberg. The collection also boasts an original oil on canvas painting by still-life composition painter Richard V. Goetz (1915-1991). Other local and regional artists represented in the museum’s collection include Kay Aclin, Alvin Allen, Jr. (1925-2008), Beverly Austin, Edward Bedwell (1921-2009), Fred Cousins, Sandra Dixon, George Dombek, Michael Donat, Nancy S. Farrell, Gene Franks, John Wesley Good, Louise Halsey, Rod Hannaman, Daniel Kerlin, Sam King, Pat Lappin, John P. Lasater, IV, Jimmy Leach, Barbary Loften, Julie Mayser, Robert McGehee, Jane Osti, Linda Palmer, Charles Peer, Martin Peerson, Casimir John Rutkowski (1941-2005), Denise Ryan, Jason Sacran, Mark Stallings, Ginny Crouch Standford, Lyle Ward, Jeff Willard and Jeff Young. Also, four trees on the property have been wrapped in over 9,000 hand-drilled clothespins by Miami based artist Gerry Stecca as an environmentally inspired art installation.
In addition to ongoing exhibitions the museum offers classes for children and adults; including children’s summer art camp; classes on photography, sculpture, and pottery; after school programs through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs, and a homeschool student program. The museum also offers art focused community events such as opening receptions, galas, and artist-led workshops. The museum also runs a specialty gift shop featuring one-of-a-kind items created by local and regional artists.
The stunning transformation from bank to museum was completed by Polk, Stanley, Wilcox Architects who were tasked with the job of repurposing the abandoned mid-century building into a 16,000 square foot state-of-the-art museum. Being mindful of the building’s future purpose as a museum, the existing terrazzo floor was maintained in the lobby and the monumental floating, steel and terrazzo staircase was also left intact. The beautiful two-story Carrara marble support column was also left untouched and is visible from the lobby as well as the original Carrara marble surrounding the elevator. In the two main galleries, lobby and Museum Store the ceilings were left raw, leaving painted steel support beams and ducting exposed. The floors, in the two galleries, were stripped down to the concrete then stained and polished to a high-gloss sheen. This industrial look was maintained to compliment the lobby’s terrazzo floors and quartz aggregate that adorns two of the lobby walls. The museum opened to the public officially in January of 2013.
In January of 2013, About You Magazine named the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum one of the “Top 10 Historic and Cultural Sites in the Region”.On January 10, 2014, the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum project was chosen for the Historic Preservation Alliance’s prestigious “2013 Excellence in Preservation through Rehabilitation Award.” RAM was also awarded the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) “Gold Award for Commercial: Adaptive Reuse” and in June of 2014 was awarded the “2014 American Institute of Architects Gulf States Region Merit Award.” In June of 2015 RAM was named in TheCultureTrip.com Ultimate Guide to Arkansas’ 10 Best Art Galleries and Museums.”
The main goals of the museum are to make art accessible to the public and to protect and preserve the art for future generations. Through the ages, art has shaped the very fabric of our society, making the buildings that house these works shrines to human thought and experience. The historic and regal building that houses the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum is as captivating and dynamic as the art inside.
Statement of Significance
The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building was designed by local architects Mott, Mobley, Horstman and Staton in 1963. The mid-century modern structure was renovated in 2011 to serve as the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (RAM) by Polk, Stanley, Wilcox Architects. The Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank building is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion C, with local significance, as an example of a Mid-Century Modern design by the Fort Smith architecture firm of Mott, Mobley, Horstman and Staton. The building is not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to the loss of historic integrity on the exterior and interior of the building.
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