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The historic building represents a multitude of histories converging in Humboldt Park by the 1920s. The original "Pioneer" refers to the Chicago area's swampy frontier beginnings. Chicago's growth and its 1871 Great Fire aided in the neighborhood's population growth. Furthermore, the robust national economy and "Golden Age of Banking," coupled with Illinois laws that forbade branch banking, led to the establishment of nearly 200 "neighborhood banks" throughout Chicago's communities. The historic building's size and ornate architecture demonstrate local banks' influence during the 1920s. The building served the community as a neighborhood bank from 1925 through 2008. Its 1994 ownership and name change from Pioneer to Banco Popular reveals the neighborhood's evolving demographics, from one dominated by European immigrants to those from such places as Mexico and Puerto Rico. 

2023 Photo of Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank Building (Banco Popular)

2023 Photo of Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank Building (Banco Popular)

West Humboldt Park’s Pioneer Bank, taken in 1934

West Humboldt Park’s Pioneer Bank, taken in 1934

In the mid to late nineteenth century, the area that became the Humboldt Park neighborhood appeared as a flat, marshy swampland. But, the 1871 Great Chicago Fire spurred a population shift away from Chicago's downtown region to neighboring, outlying communities. By 1886, Chicago annexed Humboldt Park, which meant the neighborhood gained access to the city's public services, water utilities, and school system. Furthermore, streetcars expanded to the area in 1886, and Chicago's elevated railway arrived in 1895, connecting downtown Chicago to the neighborhood. Thus, Humboldt Park's population rose steadily. Still, one would have found a mix of residences and farms in the area when the Pioneer State Savings Bank opened in 1913. (The Pioneer name stems from many of the bank's original directors and stockholders who descended from pioneer families who settled in the area before its annexation to Chicago.) 

Nearly 10,000 banks opened during the 1920s, continuing a trend in bank openings that began after the Panic of 1907; about 30,000 banks operated in the U.S. by the start of the Great Depression. However, large banks could not take advantage of this expanding market in Illinois because of its laws prohibiting bank branching. Because big banks mainly avoided Illinois, local entrepreneurs established state and private banks in developing markets, including Chicago's outlying neighborhoods. Sixty-six neighborhood banks operated in Chicago in 1914, a number that climbed to 195 in 1929. Pioneer opened in that environment of an expanding economy and quickly developing urban community. 

By 1918, the Humboldt Park neighborhood had largely shed its swampy and rural past, appearing entirely urban with continuous blocks of commercial buildings. Pioneer moved from its original two-story masonry building to a new two-story structure that same year. In 1924, the Pioneer State Savings Bank merged with the Scheubert & Amberg State Bank, another independent bank located nearby, and became the Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank. That year, the consolidated banks' shared assets totaled $7 million in deposits, a vast increase from the $100,000 in deposits the bank recorded in 1913. 

The expanded Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank opened its now-historic building in 1925. The bank operated on the lowest floors, while businesses leased offices on the top floors, earning the bank extra money. When it opened, it towered over other buildings, most of which stood one or two stories. The building's size and ornate Neo-Classical Revival design speak to Pioneer's influence and dominion in the neighborhood. Like most neighborhood banks, Pioneer Savings became intertwined with the local economy, offering everything from savings accounts to laborers to business loans. The bank served the neighborhood for nearly seventy years, having survived the Great Depression. 

In 1994, Banco Popular, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, purchased the bank and facility and continued to serve the area until it moved to a new location in 2008. The bank ownership change speaks to the neighborhood's changing demographics, with Humboldt Park home to numerous immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. In 2008 Banco Popular moved their operations to a new building, leaving the historic structure vacant. In 2023, the Chicago City Council approved a $13 million tax incentive for the Park Row Development company to transform the landmark bank into a multi-purpose building consisting of offices, a cafe, affordable housing units, and a community space. 

Bloom, Mina. "Pioneer Bank Developer Gets $13 Million From City To Bring Languishing West Humboldt Park Site Back To Life." Block Club Chicago

April 20, 2023.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks. "Landmark Designation Report: (Former) Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank Building." City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. 2012. 

Davel, Jen and Tracey A. Fortier. "Registration Form: Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank." National Register of Historic Places. 2022.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

By SwissAmish - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

City of Chicago, via Block Club Chicago: