The 'M' Building and Tower - Atlas Obscura

The 'M' Building and Tower

Locally known as the "Onion” and the "Egg Beater,” Casper’s most recognizable buildings are beloved local landmarks to many, and eyesores to others. 


Looking across the skyline of Casper, Wyoming, one structure stands out, seemingly rising as high as the Casper mountain range in the distance. Built in the 1960s as Casper went from a backwater to a metropolis flush with oil money, the former Wyoming National Bank complex represented the city’s embrace of modernity. This municipal landmark is as distinctive to Oil City as the Space Needle is to the city of Seattle, but over the years, it has changed hands, names, and even has had to fight for its continued existence.

This site consists of a pair of related structures built at different times by two different architectural firms, on behalf of the Wyoming National Bank. The bank building itself is known for its distinct rotunda built by famed Modernist architect Charles Deaton. Deaton is perhaps best remembered these days as the architect behind Kansas City’s Truman Sports Complex, or the bizarre and unfinished Sculptured House on Colorado’s Genesee Mountain

Deaton believed in the power of curves and sculpted concrete. As he wrote for Art in America, “Man lived in the rolling hills and curvilinear caves, rounded thatched roofs, and molded mud huts long before Euclid’s geometry squared up our cities.” The resulting building, which opened on May 3, 1964, resembles a giant peeled onion, surrounded by 17 leaf-like blades, each 44 feet tall and made from 21 tons of concrete. This allowed the bank’s lobby to appear to be a grand open space free of supporting columns, originally with the tellers ringing the edges of the rotunda. The building immediately stood out and was heralded by its benefactors as the future of bank design.

In 1968, the building was joined by a tall neighbor. Likely inspired by the wave of Modernist towers built across North America in the wake of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, local architect Harold Engstrom set out to build the world’s tallest time and temperature display. The resulting structure stands 177 feet tall, making it the tallest building in Casper. It would display the time and temperature across the city for more than 20 years before the clock was removed in 1992. The building was acquired by Wells Fargo in the late 1990s, and the tower would display its logo for more than 20 years.

Instantly as divisive as it is recognizable, the tower has often been compared to a giant egg beater. Local legend encourages you to stand under the tower and spin around in order to get the full experience. However, by 2016, the fate of the tower was in jeopardy, as Wells Fargo announced that the tower would be removed for safety concerns. Historic preservation advocates rallied to save the egg beater tower, the city’s iconic eyesore. Eventually, as zoning laws would have prevented a replacement of similar height, the bank moved ahead with its restoration instead. Soon after, however, Wells Fargo moved out of the complex, and its fate was once again at risk.

Today, the building is no longer a bank, but instead a clinic with a space for private events. The building, now renamed The “M” Building, and repainted to its original pearl white, is rentable for weddings, corporate events, and other special occasions. The tower, now restored, still stands outside, accessible for viewing and spinning beneath. More than half a century later, the buildings still stand out, inspiring the wonder and derision that come from a bold vision of the future.

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