Filming in Owatonna

Posted by Director Mark Richard Smith on December 8th, 2008

During Thanksgiving weekend, our production crew trudged up to Owatonna, Minnesota to film one of the crown jewels of Louis Sullivan’s works, the former National Farmers Bank, completed in 1908. It was the first of a series of eight rural banks Sullivan designed between 1906 and 1919. We had the privilege of filming two other banks in Grinnell, Iowa and Columbus, Wisconsin in the summer, and we just barely got this shoot done before the Minnesota winter got too severe.

On Friday, November 28, our producer, Mike Kwielford and his coordinator Rocco Cataldo, our cinematographer Pete Biagi and myself flew up to Minneapolis and drove about an hour south to Owatonna. Our crane operator, Mark Woods, met up with us after driving up from Chicago with his 40-foot “jimmy jib” and some other equipment. We met up the next morning with our assistant cameraman, gaffer and grip all hired from Minneapolis. For the most part, the weather cooperated and we got some great footage. We were lucky because the next day while we filmed the interior snow was blowing outside.

These “jewel box banks” are remarkable examples of Sullivan architecture for a number of reasons. A few of them, including the one in Owatonna that now functions as a branch of Wells Fargo, have never ceased operating as banking institutions, and they continue to act as vital centers of their communities. No two of them are alike, and their ornamentation inside and out shows how Sullivan kept creating works of incomparable beauty even as he faced humiliating financial and personal setbacks in the last stage of his life. To my knowledge they haven’t faced the threatening advance of redevelopment that destroyed so many Sullivan buildings in larger cities. However, the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last summer severely damaged the Sullivan bank there and its future is uncertain. Read about it here.

Here’s a good visual survey of the banks.

Thanks to Julie Proft of Wells Fargo for spending all day Sunday inside the bank with us, and all the Owatonna residents who had to negotiate all our orange cones in their town square, or wait while we shut down traffic entirely. Just like the great people in Grinnell, Iowa, earlier this summer, we appreciate your welcoming us and putting up with all the disruption!