Spaces: UM-Flint’s Historic Northbank Center

A peek inside a University place.
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What was once a bustling 1920s bank building in Flint, Michigan — designed, no less, after the Ancient Temple of the Four Winds in Athens, Greece — today serves a very different, yet equally active, role for the UM-Flint campus and the community.

The Northbank Center (NBC) no longer houses the bronze-framed teller cages of its heyday, but other original features still exist, including the walk-in bank vault now occupied by art students rather than security guards. Upper floors that once accommodated a gym and men’s locker room now boast a video production studio to enhance online and distance learning, and the Innovation Incubator, where staff help local businesses and nonprofits.

Yet it is the Grand Ballroom (pictured above) — the scene of countless University events — that visitors marvel at most, with its 5,000 square feet of floor space and 30-foot ceilings ornamented with fluted pilasters.

Dating back to 1919, the 12-story structure, originally named the Industrial Savings Bank building, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Made of Indiana limestone and light-colored brick, it cost $1.5 million to construct and featured marble-lined corridors, some of which remain to this day, as does a cornice of copper lions’ heads encircling the top of the 11th floor.

Upon its opening in 1923, the bank became a member of the Federal Reserve System, the first to join in the state of Michigan. Directors of the bank included the axle manufacturer Charles Stewart Mott — who in 1926 established the C. S. Mott Foundation in response to his deep concern about the welfare of Flint — and General Motors Vice President Walter P. Chrysler.

Thanks to a $450,000 gift-grant from the Mott Foundation, UM-Flint acquired the NBC in 1999. A year later, $3 million worth of renovations created office and classroom space as well as the ballroom. It is also the location of the campus’s dance and art studios as well as a number of academic programs.

“The Northbank Center has become more than a historical site,” says Jen Hogan, a UM-Flint spokesperson. “It is a place where memories are created. Academic ceremonies, weddings, and other celebrations have made this space the place where we come together to honor our colleagues, our families, and our friends. It is without a doubt one of the most special places on our campus and in the community.”

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