The Republic Bank Building’s Death-Ray Beacon
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
I’m not a big collector of things, but when I saw this little book-shaped bank, probably a promotional item given away by the Republic National Bank in, I would guess, the 1950s, I really wanted it. I love that building, and I especially love images showing that powerful sci-fi-looking beacon on top of it.
About that beacon. I’ve never actually seen a photograph of that thing in action … until today. Here is a great photo (I’d love to see the original…) by Dallas Morning News photographer John Mazziotta (he won a photography award for this photograph, which he titled “Cyclops”). This was taken about a month before the building’s grand opening in 1954, during a test-run of the blinding searchlight. (The Davis Building — previous home of Republic National Bank — is seen at the left.) (Click to see larger image.)
“The beacon will be visible for 120 miles.” … ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILES?! I can’t even imagine what that death-ray must have looked like, rotating and pulsing and stabbing through the night sky probably hundreds of times every night. (I just checked on this. The light rotated twelve times a minute, or once every five seconds. 720 times an hour! If this pace actually kept up over the years, that’s thousands of times every night!) At some point, the beacon was turned off, most likely from complaints from pilots trying to fly in and out of Love Field (possibly from Atoka, Oklahoma, which is … 120 miles from Dallas).
When the Republic Bank Building opened in December, 1954, it was Dallas’ tallest building — helped out by the added oomph of that rocket on top. In an article detailing the specifics of the building, was this:
“The 150-foot ornamental tower…supports a beacon light with a lens five feet in diameter. The rotating light of almost a half-billion candlepower was designed for visibility of 120 miles.” (DMN, Nov. 28, 1954)
Wow. I don’t even know what “half-billion candlepower” IS, but I bet it cut through the night sky like a hot knife through butter.
I have searched and searched to find out when the beacon/searchlight was finally turned off for good. My assumption was that it was fairly early on, because I’m sure it was a major problem for aircraft and was probably shut down at the emphatic insistence of the F.A.A., but when I asked around on a history group, people told me they remembered seeing it in the ’60s (a couple of people even said they thought they remembered it in the ’70s). If anyone can tell me when this beam finally stopped beaming, I would love to know.
The rocket’s original red, white, and blue lights — made not of neon but of “Lumenarc” tubing (“a newly-developed, super-brilliant luminous tube” – DMN, Dec. 1, 1954) — were turned off in the 1980s, but lighting returned in the early 2000s when the building was being remodeled for residential living, and it continues to stand out as an important part of the Dallas skyline.
Today (via RepublicCenter.com)
That giant lens is still up there, and it might even still function, but the building is no longer the city’s tallest, and were it to be turned on today, that light would pierce right through neighboring buildings — not over them, but into them. If it hit you, it would be like an old cartoon where you would be able to momentarily see an x-ray image of your skeleton. Here’s a photo from 2006 in which you can see the light at the top of the rocket. (Click it!)
There’s also a great photo of this which I included in one of my favorite Flashback Dallas posts, showing the rocket and searchlight from above, taken in 1968 from Republic Tower 2, here.
This is an interesting article, which gives more specifics about the rocket structure. You can go INSIDE of it!
Lastly, here’s a news item about how the glow from the rocket’s red glare, diffused by condensation on a cold night, caused Dallasites to think there was a fire raging on top of the building.
That “book bank” is mine! It’s very small — about 3.5″ x 4.5″, covered in blue cloth to mimic a book (it even has a title — “Book of Thrift” — embossed on the spine); it was manufactured by Bankers Utilities Co., which made similar novelty banks for companies all over the country. It has no key — I found one comment online that suggested that they were never issued with keys because the banking institution wanted the young owners of the banks to have to go into the bank in order to retrieve their savings — just like Mom and Dad had to. It’s a cool little bank — much better than a toaster!
(I have no connection with this, but if you’d like a bank identical to this one — but in green — there is currently one on eBay, available to be bid on, here.)
Scott Dorn’s photograph can be viewed on Flickr, here.
Not sure what “candlepower” is? I read the Wikipedia article, here, but I’m still not exactly sure. Imagine the light from half a billion candles, I guess. In other words, BRIGHT. Super-cool. Retina-damaging.
The building is now Gables Republic Tower (website here), a ritzy apartment building.
And, again, if you have information about when the plug was pulled on the painfully powerful revolving spotlight, let me know!
Click pictures for larger images.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.