Lima’s skyscraper

January 21, 2009


LIMA - What goes up must come down.


Welcome to the rollercoaster world of banking in Lima.

Nowhere is a story more dramatic than the history of the multi-story building on High Street, now home to Lima's main Chase bank location.

Before Cook Tower was even an idea, let's go back to the 1800s in Lima via newspaper accounts from that era.

City Bank of Lima

City Bank of Lima opened its doors in 1874.

"The City Bank ... is now operating and asks a share of the public patronage," according to an item from May 20, 1874.

This bank was located at the Baxter Block and later the Mitchell Block. In fact, the Mitchell family was heavily involved in the leadership of the institution.

"We predict immense success for this new banking house, for people can transact business with them without being afraid of a repetition of last fall's proceedings in that corner," an item from May 7, 1874, reported. The location was the former Farmer's Savings Bank, which apparently went under.

In 1890, a "handsome red stone building" was constructed for its home. "It was built for a bank and contains all the modern conveniences and equipment required for banking purposes, including beautiful furniture ... and the most approved type of vault, safe and safety deposit boxes."

Ohio National Bank

Ohio National Bank was organized March 29, 1887.

"The president of this bank, J.C. Thompson, and the vice president, J.B. Roberts, are old citizens and very conservative and successful businessmen. ... Although comparatively young in years, this bank has been wonderfully successful, its success being due to its careful and conservative management," an account from 1889 reads.

Ohio National Bank reorganized as The Old National Bank in 1907 and first operated in the Ashton Block and then the Opera House Block.

The Old National City Bank of Lima

On June 20, 1925, the two banks merged. They decided upon the name The Old National City Bank of Lima. After much sorting out of officeholders and the like, the bank announced a building project like Lima had never seen. They were to build a tower at West High Street for the new headquarters.

"Architects from Walker and Weeks, of Cleveland, will arrive in Lima Thursday to confer with bank officials. Excavation will get underway at the site of the proposed structure by next week," a story from Sept. 9, 1925, explained.

The project was open to bids later that year.

"Tabulation of the bids and the award of the contract for this 15-story skyscraper assures immediate construction and completes the plan for a new $2.5 million skyline for Lima in 1926."

And just a few months later, it was moving day. An article from Oct. 28, 1926, explained:

"Pedestrians in the downtown section gazed in wonderment Wednesday afternoon as they watched a small army of policemen march to Main and High street, armed with everything but the court house cannon. ‘What's up?' was the question of many of the folks and the thoughts of all. ... When all the policemen reached their designated spots, a side door of the City Bank was (opened) and three men, bank employees, emerged. They each carried packages wrapped in newspapers. ... It was a thrilling sight for those who happened to know what was going on but a heartbreaker for any gunmen who may have been lurking in the fortified territory."

An account published the next day boasts of 10,000 visitors to the bank's first open house - open from 3 to 5 and 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday. Viewing hours were also held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and for exact hours unclear Saturday to "accommodate those who visit Lima weekly from a distance."

The rain didn't stop Lima residents from taking in the Thursday event, which required nine policemen just to keep the line moving.

It must have been a spectacle. Floodlights illuminated the outside of the building, and no expense was spared on the interior. The Louis Rich Orchestra from Cleveland played on the first floor, and the Bob Delkman Orchestra played on the ninth floor. It wasn't just the lobby that was open to visitors that night.

"This (ninth) floor has not yet been subdivided into offices and it will be converted into a lounge from which visitors can look out over the city," an account read.

And there were flowers everywhere.

"Architectural beauty shared honors with the splendor of the floral display ... The lobby and main floor resembled a magnificent chrysanthemum show more than a building for the transaction of commerce, and visitors were amazed at the wealth of flowers so artistically grouped in every niche and corner," the opening day story reported beneath the headline, "Bank lobby wilderness of flowers." A vast amount of newsprint was dedicated to listing a description of each bouquet and who gave it.

Standing in the middle of all this was bank President Frank L. Maire, meeting and greeting beneath a huge mural that was his personal donation to the building's lobby. Maire was listed as "chief mover" in the organization of Lilly White Oil Co. and his pockets apparently were deep. The mural, by Cleveland artist Glenn Shaw, was on a canvas 42 feet wide and about 18 feet high. It featured figures representing home life, agriculture, commerce, industry, finance and science.

The new bank wasn't just a pretty face. It offered substance in the form of the most modern vaults.

"It is secured when locked by 24 locking bolts each made of four inch steel bars weighing 110 pounds each. These bolts operate so smoothly by means of gearing devices that a child can throw them into position with the hand wheel on the outside," a story said of the main vault, in the lobby. A second vault was in the basement for "the storage of jewelry for patrons" and other bank records.

Things were good.

But then things were very, very bad. The Great Depression ushered in the 1930s, and Lima residents made a run on The Old National City Bank of Lima. Faced with extremely heavy withdrawals, the bank was forced to close to business April 27, 1931.

"Notice of the closing of the bank was placed on the door in the middle of the afternoon and the news spread rapidly through the business district. Outside the bank a score of curious onlookers watched as depositors entered the institution to read the notice of closing. The afternoon passed quietly," an article said.

From that point, items popped up in the newspapers as businesses and heirs of officeholders tried in court to get their money out of the bank. The tone is decidedly dour.

In September 1931, the Mitchell family - once well-known for involvement in the bank - was in the news. Frank R. Mitchell, who then lived in Fort Wayne, Ind., was arrested in Lima for passing a bad check for $50. The check was written on a Old National City Bank account. Another Mitchell, Elmer B., was killed after being run over by a cab in Oklahoma in 1935. Elmer's younger brother, Thornton, died in the very same way in 1915.

The bank was officially done by 1939. It was able to pay only 65 percent of its dividends, meaning almost $690,000 was lost to depositors and creditors.