Jim McKee: Banks, city grew together

When the village of Lancaster became Nebraska’s first state capital, was platted and renamed Lincoln, about the only structure east of 10th Street was Luke Lavender’s cabin on the southeast corner of 14th and O streets.

Late in 1867 or early in 1868, Squire Blazier’s meat market was moved from the north side of O Street between Ninth and 10th to the southeast corner of 11th and O to accommodate construction of the first U.S. Post Office/Federal Building.

South on 11th Street there was only Valentine Brothers Lumberyard on the southeast corner of 11th and N. From Lincoln’s original population, estimated between 13 and 30 in 1867, the city exploded and with it the city moved beyond 11th Street to the east and south.

A photo taken in 1875 shows the east side of South 11th Street fully occupied by about a dozen small, frame buildings between N and O streets.

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In 1890, when the federal census listed Lincoln’s population at 55,154, the same block held a smaller number of slightly larger buildings, some of brick or stone. On the corner, on O Street, was Harley Drug followed to the south by a lunch counter, the two-story Alexander & Hess Building, a billiards parlor, meat market, tobacconist, poolroom, hat store, cigar store and saloon.

The 1890s proved to be one of national and local economic chaos. From 1891 through 1896, eight Lincoln banks failed or closed with only two of the former eight surviving, First National and the American Exchange.

In 1899 the American Exchange bought First National but utilized the First National’s name. In 1902 Morris Weil and Marvin Aitken formed the National Bank of Commerce at 13th and O streets, and it was predicted that businesses would “soon grow as far east as 14th Street.”

In 1906, as the city of Lincoln moved into the old Federal Courthouse/Post Office at 9th and O, Lincoln’s banks cooperated in establishing the Lincoln Clearing House while Lincoln businessmen Elmer W. Brown, Henry H. Wilson, Frank Parks, E. C. Hurd and Charles J. Olson joined to establish the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association as a mutual holding company wherein the bank was, for all intents, owned by the depositors.

This new financial enterprise began life in the Fraternity Building on the southeast corner of 13th and N streets but almost immediately began plans for its own building.

In 1890, 126 S. 11th Street was occupied by a bookbinder and printer which, by 1910, was the Lincoln Sign Works. By 1922 Lincoln Savings & Loan had somehow become associated with and was located in the Midwest Savings & Loan and, with Midwest Realty, was located at the Midwest Building at 126 S. 11th Street with the second-floor housing six professional business offices.

In July of 1937 a federal charter created Lincoln Federal Savings & Loan. Then, in 1944, Lincoln Federal acquired American Savings & Loan with W. A. Selleck as president which was located at 133 N. 11th Street.

By 1950 the Midwest Building had been renamed Lincoln Federal Savings & Loan Building and only two professional offices were on the second floor, as the bank absorbed the upper story for its own offices.

In 1962 Gerald Maddox and Richard Hitz left First Trust Company to join Lincoln Federal which, by 1966, occupied the entire 11th Street building. The cast of a nearly six-foot-tall Lincoln one-cent piece, which became part of the firm’s logo, arrived in 1973 and was mounted on the renovated 11th Street building. A real estate development business was established by the bank, and branch offices opened in the 1970s.

In the late 1860s, George W. Ballentine arrived in Lincoln, working for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. Ballentine was elected Lincoln City Treasurer in 1874 and began buying real estate in the city, including the northwest corner of Block 67 or the southeast corner of 11th and N, the original, 1867 site of Valentine Brothers Lumber Co., platting it as Ballentine’s Addition.

The quarter block did not develop as planned and was sold at a sheriff’s sale to Samuel Bliss for a reported $30. In 1887 the large, three-story, brick Billingsley-Montgomery Block was completed at 206 S. 11th Street. In 1966 the once prosperous building housed only the Army & Navy Store, the Salvation Army, and the mostly unoccupied Ron-Dale Apartments on the upper two floors.

By 1975, some O Street businesses still existed on the south side of O Street between 11th and 12th streets but most of the east side South 11th Street from N to O Street was listed as vacant in the city directory. Meanwhile the Billingsley-Montgomery Building had been razed and the new two-story Lincoln Federal Building was completed in its place at 1101 N Street with Maddox and Hitz still as officers.

The new building enabled them to offer a drive-in facility and advertise on-site parking. 1980 saw the completion of the Centrum Shopping Center and half-block, multistory, parking garage on the entire block once partially occupied by the now titled Lincoln Federal Savings Bank.

Lincoln Federal Savings Bank now advertises branches across Nebraska with five in Lincoln with one just off 84th and Van Dorn, on Maddox Drive, just a tad east of 11th Street, once the east edge of the Lincoln business district which was once predicted to ultimately stretch to 14th Street.

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Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him at P.O. Box 5575, Lincoln, NE, 68505 or at jim@leebooksellers.com.

 

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