Derelict bank-vault photos

Jase sez, "I was doing a promo shoot for a friend's band. Their practice space was on the top floor of this old building, but they'd seen this old, disused bank vault in the basement. From now on, every time I picture intricate steampunk metalworking, I'll picture the inside of that vault door." Link (Thanks, Jase!)


  1. That is gorgeous. Who’d think they’d put so much detail on the inner workings of the back side of something stored in a basement?

  2. The thing is, bank vault doors have always been gorgeous on the inside. Even modern ones are polished within an inch of their lives (so to speak). Older ones have the most gorgeous chasing you’ll ever see. My family company had an office safe that dated from around 1910 or so. It was dull on the outside – had probably been painted several times so God knows what it looked like originally – but on the inside, the inner side of the outer doors and the outer side of the inner doors both sported intricate, scenic oil paintings.

    Being at that time a bonded locksmith, I took the lock apart once. The wheels themselves were all intricately chased, even though they’d never be seen by anyone but a locksmith.

    Bank vault doors are gorgeous because they are designed to impress customers and potential customers with the wonderfulness of the vault that’s guarding their money. It’s pretty direct salesmanship. But century-old combination locks were gorgeous where no one but the trade would ever see, and I think it was out of pure pride of workmanship.

    That, or to convince any locksmith that saw it that this was a lock they might want to install for their own customers. Or maybe both.

  3. One of my favorite joys of being a small town banker is the incredible variety of bank vaults I’ve seen over the years. For sheer clockwork porn, nothing beats the sight of several tons of steel at the mercy of delicate timer springs (you do realize every bank vault has a clockwork, no?).

    Perhaps it is the clockwork that does it. Nobody, I mean NO_body is getting in the thing until that clock expires. Or maybe it is the tonnage of the doors…

    Either way, the things are cool. Marry the precision of a Swiss watch with a Sherman tank? One is sure to find steam-punk nirvana nearby.

  4. Yes, it’s the combination of brute force and intricate clockwork that does it for me.

    So strong, and yet balanced and…intricate.

  5. A new bar just opened up in my town that’s in a building that used to be a diamond brokerage, and they kept the big diamond vault in the back. (The bar is creatively named The Vault.)

  6. Being able to actually get my mitts on things like this is the biggest reason why I became a locksmith for a while.

    It was a heady time but not something to make a living at when you can do the same kind of intellectual work on computers and earn a lot more.

    Locksmithing and programming are pretty much alike. I suspect that, had I lived several hundred years ago (and not died instanter), I’d’ve been a watchmaker.

  7. Mr. Protocol, that’s wonderful. I had no idea. I don’t suppose you have any photos?

  8. The building I live in also used to be a bank building, circa 1910. One night after carousing at the bar, we snuck into the basement construction area and peed in the vaults. The area is now a “vip ultra lounge”. So it goes.

  9. For the record, no flash. You can check the EXIF data on the files if you feel the need. The area was a pitch black basement, no lighting. The clients brought their own spotlights for the shoot and that’s the light in the photos.

  10. I had the joy of being locked in a bank vault, somewhat older than that one, back in the 60s, twice. The ex-bank was a gift shop at the time, and one of the sons of the owners boasted that he could get out of it. Then after his brother let us out, the first kid locked us both in it, and the brother opened it easily.

  11. To Teresa N-H: Alas, no photos. Servicing that old safe lock, taking it apart, cleaning the wheels, admiring the chasing, showing the parts around to the family, was all too much fun. I never thought to photograph it. The safe had been around for my entire life, and a good deal longer than that, too. The office dated from sometime around the mid-Permian era. It was beyond my ability to conceive that someday the safe would be gone, and the office would be a roofless ruin, as it now is.

    I do not know where that safe is now. I do not know where I might find one like it. I do know that the doors were full of concrete, and that although it was on (large iron) wheels, the office had obviously been built around it – so even if I found another one, there’s no way I could move it or take possession of it.

    Modern combination locks, like S&G door locks, are really dull and boring inside.


    It’s true: I hadn’t contemplated it before, but this technology was the real-world apex of what is now the steampunk aesthetic. And bank vault doors are the only place the general public will ever be able to see it.

    Support your local locksmith. He’s seen things you can only dream of. :-)

  12. My company office is actually inside of an old bank (Seattle). I walk by two vault doors like this all day long. It is pretty cool. Always impresses the guests. The vaults are now our copy rooms. Damn high-tech copiers won’t let me copy money though.

  13. Thank you, Mr. Protocol. I’ll never get to see it, but there are now no limits on what I can imagine about it.

    Ernie, those are way pretty, especially that second one.

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