Decked out in twinkling lights and home to this year’s town Christmas tree, Bank of America Park in the heart of downtown has been transformed into a wintertime wonderland festively fit for Santa’s impending arrival in Sequim.
The landscaped park at the southeast corner of Sequim Avenue and Washington Street has long been a community gathering place dating back to the town’s founding and was perhaps none more so than during the four decades it housed the Bank of Sequim.
Occupying an impressive two-story brick building that opened in the fall of 1936, the full service financial institution was – as many longtime locals can attest – as much about people as it was business. From tellers who knew their patrons by name to bankers who assisted customers at any hour day or night, hometown banking was – in a word – personal.
“That bank was responsible for me having the wrong opinion about banking and how it’s done. I never thought anything of calling a banker after-hours and having them come down to the bank to give me some money to buy a hot deal,” Ray Nason said of his dealings with the bank as a teenager in the 1940s. “That’s how I figured bankers acted. Boy, what a surprise when I found out how it’s not.”
That level of personalized customer service also included being an unofficial welcoming place for new and prospective area residents.
“The bank would be one of the first places people who had moved to town would visit to establish their accounts and get their affairs in order,” said Sequim native Jim Steeby, whose mother Betty Silva Steeby was a 34-year bank employee. “My mom would often be one of the first people to meet them when they showed up. This led to many of her lifelong friendships.”
For Steeby, given that his mother worked as a teller from 1945-1979, the Bank of Sequim is inextricably weaved into his family history. Such linking threads include childhood memories of playing baseball at summertime company picnics, family snapshots of a beaming Betty showing her newborn son to co-workers inside the bank and entertaining stories of pranks among employees.
“Back then, a piece of fabric was used for checkbook bindings and all of the tellers had a good supply of them,” Steeby recalled of one especially memorable prank. “One time, a co-worker had a new suit that he was very proud of. He happened to bend over to pick something up and one of the tellers ripped one of those fabric checkbook binders in half, making it sound like he ripped his pants.”
The bank building itself also holds a unique place in the family narrative of siblings Steve Olts and Sally Sue Barry. As one of two dentists in Sequim in the 1930s and 1940s, their father, Dr. Kenneth Olts, maintained a dental practice in the bank’s second-story office space for some 20 years.
Hometown banking ends
Following celebrated additions of a drive-in branch in 1968 and a facility expansion and remodel completed in 1971, the Bank of Sequim was acquired by Seattle-First National Bank in 1976 and became its Sequim branch. In electing to build a new Sea-First Bank facility – now Bank of America – along South Sequim Avenue where the drive-in branch was located, the former Bank of Sequim building was demolished in the fall of 1979.
“They started tearing it down and the bricks were all out on the sidewalk. Everybody was just picking them up and taking them home,” recalled former Bank of Sequim customer Mayme Faulk. “I got some of the bricks and made a little barbecue pit at the house.”
Other vestiges of the Bank of Sequim remain sprinkled around town, including advertising novelties and a glass door painted with the bank’s name in the collection of the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, as well as the old drinking fountain that served thirsty passersby for decades outside the bank’s Washington Street entrance. Dedicated in 1930 by the American Legion Post 62 in memory of World War I veterans, the now-defunct fountain currently resides in Seal Street Park.
Steeby said he also has some bank mementos that were given to his mother upon the building’s demolition, including her teller stool, a slab of marble from her teller station, and a brick. Unlike other bricks removed from the site, Steeby said, his mother’s contains a rather poignant message written onto it by bank vice president and manager Bob Phillips:
“I used to whisper good morning to you as you would walk by. Keep me to help you remember those days.”