AV Bank

The First Bank of Lancaster (1912).

A few months ago, I wrote about the valley’s first financial institution, the Antelope Valley Bank, which was within Jacob Scherer’s general merchandise store.

The bank opened in 1891 and encountered many difficulties during its few years of existence and was destroyed by fire in 1895. It was not until 1912 that the valley would once again have a bank for its citizens.

The new generation of Lancaster banks began with the Bank of Lancaster and the Farmers & Merchants Bank. There were later banks, but only these two are being discussed here.

The Bank of Lancaster was established in 1912 with capital being supplied by local businessmen. However, this new bank, which was on Sierra Highway, soon met the same fiery fate as its predecessor.

Nevertheless, the community leaders realized that a bank had to be rebuilt, as at this time, the Antelope Valley was recovering from the disastrous earlier drought years and was experiencing a booming economic period due to the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Businessman John W. Jeal (1866-1933), who owned the Lancaster Hotel immediately east of the railroad depot, decided to build a new Lancaster Bank. A few words regarding the most interesting Jeal: originally the owner of a New York general merchandise store, he relocated to Hollywood and was arrested for selling liquor without a license at a roadhouse on Hollywood Boulevard in 1904.

He moved to Lancaster (1907) and became the proprietor of the “temperance” — no booze — Lancaster Hotel. He purchased the entire block east of this hotel which was soon known as Jeal’s block.

On the southwest corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Yucca, he built an attractive new one-story brick story structure — the new Bank of Lancaster — which opened in June 1913. J.A. Varela’s general merchandise store was immediately west of the bank. Fortunately, this building still stands.

Through the years, different enterprises have operated here such as the Golden State Company and Fisk Tires, and is home to Healy Anytime Glass Co. Be sure to visit this store and step back in time.

In December 1913, this bank had $58,607.58 in assets (about $1.6 million today); of course, Jeal was the bank president while Earle Roberts became the vice president. Alice Adams Rutledge — aka the “Mother of the AV” because of her extensive reality transactions — acquired the prosperous Jeal business block in 1914.

The local banking industry was doing so well that there arose the need for competition as the newspapers noted: “Lancaster boasts two prosperous financial houses, the Bank of Lancaster and the Farmers & Merchants Bank, both of which are soon to occupy attractive and substantial buildings.”

New bank building rising at Lancaster

“Work on the Farmers & Merchants Bank building is well underway, and the contractors expect to have the structure completed within 5 weeks (Los Angeles Express, July 5, 1912). This small wood bank which was on the south side of the Boulevard near the post office took a while longer to build.

The Farmers & Merchants Bank was founded in 1871 by 23 prominent Los Angeles businessmen, with an initial capital of $500,000. The three largest subscribers were financier Isaias W. Helman ($100,000), former California Governor John G. Downey ($100,000), and Ozro W. Childs ($50,000) who in later years became the founders of the University of Southern California along with Robert Widney. Having a such a prestigious branch established in the Antelope Valley certainly appealed to the residents.

New bank is opened

Lancaster Goes to the Front With a New Financial Institution Which Has Long Been Needed.

“This is a red-letter day in Lancaster and the Antelope Valley. It is the occasion of the opening of Farmers & Merchants Bank of Lancaster, an institution long needed for the development of this section and at last an accomplished fact. The bank starts off with a paid-up capital of $25,000, and a strong directorate and set of officers.

George H. Fuller and T.K. Temple of Lancaster are president and vice-president, and I.E. Dodge is cashier and secretary. Leo Harris, the foremost merchant of Lancaster is treasurer and Jay E. Randall, the well-known attorney of Los Angeles is the bank’s attorney. The bank has substantial backing and connections and should prove a boon indeed to the business and ranching interests of the Antelope Valley” (Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1912).

Lancaster’s economy was improving, and in 1915, this bank merged with the Bank of Lancaster to become the Antelope Valley Bank — not to be confused with the present-day Antelope Valley Bank — in a new modern business edifice on the south side of Lancaster Boulevard. This financial institution later became the Bank of Italy. I will examine these two later banks in a future article.

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