New bank portrays modern approach in stone

Established almost a century ago, Farmers and Merchants Bank branches have steadily expanded across Southern California. Because the bank branches are currently being remodeled and upgraded, it was decided that the decades-old Farmers and Merchants Bank in Long Beach, CA, was to be torn down and replaced with a brand new building. In planning the new 10,000-square-foot bank, the designers of the Fernald Design Group -- also in Long Beach -- wanted to address the conservative nature of the bank, while also giving it a modern flair.

"This was the first new building for the bank in 30 years," said Leslie Gentile, partner at Fernald Design Group. "The client required a building that would remain strong in appearance for many years."

The designers chose Chocolate sandstone from India, and French Azul Casis limestone -- both supplied by Tri-Stone Co. of Los Angeles, CA -- in a total of 6,000 square feet to clad portions of the building. The Chocolate sandstone was used on the exterior, cleft-finished with a band of honed. Flamed Azul Casis limestone was used to complement the sandstone, for the exterior main entries.

Both stones were also brought into the interior of the building. The sandstone was used for the inside of the conference room, with a flamed finish. Azul Casis limestone was extended from the exterior to the Banking Hall floors, but honed rather than flamed.

"Their 100-year-old landmark building in downtown Long Beach has limestone floors; the Azul Casis provided a modern edge to this timeless material," said Gentile. "This building lies on the edge of a redevelopment area, where darker flagstones were used. The city requested that we address the colors. Our project did not warrant the use of 'cultured stone,' and found that the Chocolate sandstone provided variation and uniqueness to the building."

Additionally, Black Molgano granite, also from Tri-Stone Co., was used for the interior teller counters.

Construction was done in three phases, due to existing buildings on the site. Bremco Construction, Inc. of Long Beach, CA, installed the stone.

"The walls were mechanically fastened, using an epoxy and wire on the stone, wrapped onto the framing," said Chris Letterman of Bremco Construction. "Then a cement/sand mixture was used for a secondary holding with the wires. The floors were all thin-set."

A challenge was met while the four workers who installed the project put up the exterior stone. "Originally, the stone was to be dimensional stone, with full corners, sills and cap," said Gentile. "Due to budget constraints, we had to use more of a thin-set approach, although stone is also mechanically fastened. Obtaining the monolithic appearance was essential and was achieved by using a mitered corner, which the installers found difficult, with the varied thickness of the cleft stone. The installers modified [the stone] on site for the conditions."

The installers modified the stonework by using the wire method with the sand/cement. "We had to use a method that the structural engineer approved [for detailing the stone]," explained Letterman. "This one worked."

After a 10-week stone installation, the bank opened in December 2002. "The Bank and its customers are very proud of the results," said Gentile. "Although the building stylistically might not be to everyone's own personal taste, the materials used and the uniqueness of the building have been much appreciated by the community."

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