The former bank building at 20 Petaluma Boulevard South (shown below) is getting a lot of attention these days. It’s been vacant for a long time and is located next door to a proposed hotel site. Read on if you are wondering what the history of this building and site is.
What was most recently known as Bank of the West started as the locally owned and controlled Northbay Savings and Loan, which was founded in 1965 by Herold Mahoney, James McDowell, Victor L. DeCarli, Donald Ramatici, Arthur W. Parent, Martin Stinar, and Dr. Ray Nizibian. The 8,500-square-foot structure was completed in 1974. Bank Building and Equipment Corp. of Burlingame and its associated architect, Frederick Lesan, prepared the plans, and Swallow Construction was the builder. Before construction could begin, a 1907 garage designed by Brainerd Jones for John A. McNear, Jr. had to be demolished. Sparks Motor Service, and later the Petaluma Express Company Van & Storage would occupy the building.
Other buildings on what would become the bank property fell victim to the wrecking ball years earlier. The most notable was the American Legion Hall, which sat approximately where the bank’s parking lot is today fronting Fourth Street. The hall was torn down in 1966. Before it was the American Legion Hall, it was the Unique Theatre, and before that, Turner Hall.
A Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1923 shows other structures that are now gone. It’s curious to see how many businesses and buildings could populate a block in years past to be replaced by just one building and a large parking lot in the 1970s – a pattern of development that is not in keeping with current urban design practices that emphasize density and positive pedestrian experience over the automobile.
The Northbay Savings & Loan and later Bank of the West offered more than financial services. The building was designed to include a nearly 1,500-square-foot community room and kitchen to be used by nonprofit organizations. Much thought went into creating a homey atmosphere for bank customers. Prue Draper, Social Living Editor for the Petaluma Argus-Courier, described the building’s interior in a December 6, 1974 article as having “a color scheme of warm oranges and browns, with a main business area centered around “an impressive fireplace and conversational grouping of couches that invited visitors to stop and relax.” It was a different era, to be sure. Today, fewer and fewer people patronize brick-and-mortar banks, and when they do, they aren’t likely to linger.
And as far as lingering goes, that is what this building is doing in its current vacant and unmaintained state. There are no apparent signs that it is for lease or sale, and it has become a detraction from an otherwise vibrant downtown. Let’s hope that changes soon.