2000 Main, "A Block to Bank On!"

By Phyllis Badgley

Two banks in the 2000 block of Main Street remained solvent, in Baker Oregon, during the Great Depression. At a time when numerous banks across the nation were failing, the locally owned First National Bank buzzed with activity. A feeling of security prevailed among customers, whether it was a bearded miner bringing his gold cache to be weighed, or a deposit made by a child clutching a piggy bank.

J. W Stuchell, owner of Baker LaGrande Grocery, was principal stockholder of the Bank. His knowledge and conservative directors successfully kept the First National afloat, when other financial ships were sinking. Bank President, John B. Rogers at the helm, provided guidance through rough waters, during the Depression downturn in economy. Present day Baker Valley resident Edna Rogers Harrell is a direct descendant of Stuchell-Rogers lineage. John Rogers and wife Mildred were generous benefactors for community projects, including Baker's fine public library.

The First National Bank, located at N.W, corner Main & Washington lined the south wall with vertical windows. To the right off the lobby, the director's room featured leather lined oak chairs. Centerpiece attraction in the bank lobby was Baker's famous gold display featuring the 80 oz. Armstrong nugget. Shown in the illustration, Mary Ann Hansen and Edna Rogers admire the display.

Customers of the 1930-40 era were greeted by tellers Gordon Wright, Homer West and "Pinky" Grant. Bookkeeping machines hummed busily at the rear of the building.

Prior to W. W. II Bill Wilson held the title of Bank Vice President of First National. I recall 1940-50s employees Margaret Grant, Belle Brown, Conrad Head, and Gordon Stewart.

In 1960 First National relocated and established offices in a new building at N. E corner of First and Washington streets. Later, First Interstate, Wells Fargo, and Sterling Bank presently operating there. Pioneer Federal Savings occupied for an interim, the vacated Main street location. McAdams Insurance agency presently locates there.

The Sommer building corner N.E. Main and Washington was razed to make room for U. S. National Bank, where it remains today. Lester Hansen successfully led U.S. Bank in the 1960-70 era. He was assisted by officers Tom Hunt, Jyme Stoner, Stewart Sullivan, Bill Chadwick and Jack Pittman. Yes, the coveted gold display in the U.S. bank lobby is a popular visitor attraction.

Yours truly as part of the staff at that time, recalls employees LaVelle Bonbright, Pat Hillmon, Nadine Guymon, Pat Justus, Leona Ellis, Ruth Rasmussen, Elaine Jackson, Dorothy Cassidy, Midge Stiltz, Arlene Kinsey and Francis Williamson.

Qualified High school interns involved within U.S. Trainee program were Bill Carver, Jerry Jordan, Jim Rudolph and Mike Kringlen.

Memories of the N.W. side of Main Street continue to surface. In the 1940 era I recall Bill White's Grocery store next to First National bank. Sinclair's Meat market was included on the premises. Next to that business, a stairway led to the Chinese Tea Garden Café. Our family considered it a treat to eat there intermittently. We sat in a booth designed with a portier of fiber wrapped beads. With childish intrigue the mystery of Chinese culture enveloped me, yet I was too embarrassed to ask questions of the Oriental waitress. My abbreviated child portion of Chinese noodles was topped with sliced boiled egg, and served in a green china bowl that held heat long enough to require a cooling "blow." Tasty broth at the bottom of the bowl appeared all too soon, and beckoned second serving.

Later, under new ownership, the café was named Clover Leaf. Customers sat next to front windows that overlooked Main Street below.

At the street level, Sanford Adler Music store featured Ogretta Carpenter, who graciously played latest sheet music. This increased sales of most popular song "hits" of the day. Adler's front window displayed a large chalk figure of the famous Victrola Dog, with head cocked to one side listening to the Victrola machine. Various instruments lined the walls of the store. Later, Etta Cunning established a greeting card outlet at the music location.

Levinger Drug in mid-block assured customers that 4 registered pharmacists were on the premises: Henry Levinger, John Burgess, O. D. "Jay" McKee, and Charlotte Ward. During W.W. II years, Gus Levy, qualified druggist filled prescriptions. Over the years many capable employees served the drug store customers. Some clerks I remember were Ida Barnett and Sara Ware at the cosmetic counter, Jimmy Lee in the camera department, Lida Howe at the greeting card counter, and roving clerks Wes and Annaleise Johnson.

In December 1958 a disastrous occurred at Levinger Drug. Despite heroic efforts of Baker Fire Dept. assisted by LaGrande Fire Department flames engulfed a half the 2000 block. Leo Adler Magazine office above First National bank was destroyed. The blaze spread to the North wall of Reed's Furniture store, owned by Preston and Marguerite Reed. Next to Reed's, a stairway led to offices above which were affected by smoke damage. Those involved included Dental offices of Dr. Eylar Young, Dr. Wes Rossina, Credit Bureau of Julius Vanderweile, and Baker Business College, operated by Oscar Nygord.

Although the drug store suffered devastating losses, the Christmas spirit prevailed. Salvageable merchandise was quickly displayed in an empty building, half block away. Plywood panels mounted on sawhorses provided makeshift counters.

Rebuilding at the Main street location began immediately. The enlarged store featured huge laminated beams, which spread without posts the full South to North expanse of the building. At that time the feature was considered the most modern innovation in the construction field. The space is currently occupied by Sears Company.

After being rebuilt, Reed's location was occupied by Leonard's Craft shop, and later, John Bohn's Men's store. The stores changed locations once in sequence. In years past, H.C. Stevens clothing store located where Bellas business now. I recall in the 1940s, Mr, Balch managed H.C. Stevens. His daughter, Barbara, graduated Baker High that year. Dedicated clerks at Stevens' store were Wilma Lockwood and Mattie Crimin.

Originally established as Bank of Haines, Baker State Bank located in Baker at Main and Broadway. Directors were Carl Leonnig, Lee Duncan, and John Schmitz. Hugh McCall headed the Bank until his death in 1950. It was McCall who hired yours truly in 1945. He desired employees of long tenure. Several outstanding success stories developed among Baker State Bank employees, and I will write of those in a separate story.

Used with the permission of Phyllis Badgley


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