My grandmother loved to tell stories about the “beautiful Heber Valley.” Many of her tales, however, centered around one landmark, the Bank Block building.
Located on the corner of Center Street and Main Street, the Bank Block was built in 1904 by a successful local merchant, Abram Hatch, to house the first bank in the Heber Valley. The building’s signature sandstone was cut from the Lake Creek Quarry in the foothills east of Heber. The stone inscription on the north side of the building simply reads “Bank Block,” and, 114 years later, that’s what locals call the building today.
In 1906, a group of investors formed the Heber Mercantile Company and constructed a wood-framed building that connected to the south wall of the bank. The Consolidated Wagon and Machine Company originally occupied the south end of the new building, and over the years these buildings have housed the local high school, a library, county public welfare offices, a drug store, professional offices and so much more. With so many occupants over the course of a century, the buildings have many stories to tell.
My grandmother delighted us with such stories. She worked the soda fountain at the drug store and sometimes did Abram Hatch’s books. She was dared to ride her pony through the front door of the Mercantile and out the back, which she did — twice! She tutored Hatch’s daughter and “matched pennies with the boys” just back from World War I.
She was even working as a telephone operator the night the Heber Bank was robbed. My grandmother said a car cruised the block at midnight and the girls thought it could be a bootlegger, so they checked the door locks and made sure the blinds were drawn tight. They remembered hearing a clanking sound but thought it was Mr. Hatch’s son knocking out the coal clinkers while he was stoking the furnace. Other than that, it was a quiet night — until the Sheriff banged on the door.
At the time, a red light was mounted to the front of the building. Its purpose was to alert the Sheriff of an emergency, and the telephone girls were in charge of turning it on — the equivalent of our modern day 911. The light never turned on and people were complaining, “Why didn’t the telephone girls connect their calls?” The answer was simple: the bank robbers had cut the telephone lines, broken into the bank vault and pried open the safe deposit boxes!
The Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s brought financial hardships to our valley and the Heber Bank failed after its doors closed for 90 days. Property values plummeted by 60 percent and unemployment sent many people back to the farms.
In January 1937, an explosion in the building’s furnace caused a fire that destroyed the Mercantile and damaged the Bank Block. The Mercantile board voted to rebuild a smaller building that served the community for years. In February 1972, a second fire ravaged the wood-framed building that housed the local Safeway. Once again, the people of the Heber Valley stood around and watched the buildings burn. The sandstone Bank Block building survived but the rest of the block was a scarred, empty lot until a renovation in 2000.
The new owner and architect wanted to honor the history of the old buildings. The sandstone masonry needed extensive renovations including replacing or cleaning the stones, and repointing the masonry joints. The renovations included preserving the original vault and reproducing early 20th century architectural elements. A new addition was designed to retain the look of the old Mercantile.
The basement window wells and the stairway along the north wall were restored, and the builders discovered several bank records within the walls, along with the old stone table that was used to make candy at the drug store. The new owner also wanted to restore the Bank Block building’s original purpose and the building again became the home of the Heber Valley Bank.
The Bank Block has inspired many tales in its long history — of stores visited, dentist appointments kept and missed, books borrowed, and fires that blazed — tales that are forever burned into our community’s memories. As it stands today, the Bank Block continues to inspire stories of our “beautiful Heber Valley.”