A memory bank

Mrs. Alta V. Lee with her daughter and grandson in Long Beach, ca. 1955.

Recently, on a trip to Long Beach, California, I did what most people do when they visit their home town. I did a bit of sightseeing. With my daughter and her fiancé, we hit the urban streets hoping to find the perfect little Italian restaurant. I hadn’t been downtown in literally decades, so it was interesting to see what about my old city had and hadn’t changed.

Naturally, the kids had to listen to me talk about ‘the old days,’ what used to be ‘here or there,’ and of course they had to hear tales of the old roller coaster that went way out over the ocean in a death-defying swirl of creaking bolts and lumber.[1] (I’ve decided it’s sort of fun to watch the kids’ eyes glaze over…) However, a curious thing started to happen to me as we went up and down one of those streets. I became a little boy again.

Now, for those of you who know me (or have seen my bio picture here at Vita Brevis), I am certainly not a kid anymore. But as I drove down one street in particular – Pine Street – I was transported back into a world of rustling winter coats and automobiles honking their horns. Once again I was clinging to my mother’s hand as we rushed through two huge doors into the lobby of a Bank of America.

The year was about 1959. And, yes, we hadn’t gone there to do any banking. Rather, we were there to visit my grandmother – presumably on her lunch break. At the time my grandmother was known as Mrs. Alta V. Lee. As a divorced single mother and grandmother, she worked as a teller at the bank for a number of years.

As a small child I can remember my mother sitting me on the ledge of my grandmother’s teller’s window. I can see all of her wonderful stamps and inkpads, and looking up I can see an immense ceiling, trimmed in dark wood. Of course there was the money too – all of those curious dollars and coins that surely belonged only to my grandmother. What a wonderful and busy place!

So sixty years later, as my daughter drove down Pine Street, I started looking for the old bank. But where was it? Couldn’t they have just left it where it was in 1959 so that I’d know where to find it? I wanted to show my children the glass block sidewalk that ran over the basement lunch room. It was here that we watched blurry shadows of people walking over us while we shared lunch that day.

I wanted to figure this out. Had the Bank of America building really been there? Surely it had to have been. I’d just go home and ask… Oh, yes, wait. Who exactly would I be asking? There is no one in my mother’s family left to ask about the Long Beach of 1959. My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease prevents discussing even the simplest memories. It was going to be up to me to locate this “memory bank.”

“There is no one left for me to ask…”

I started with the obvious, Googling Bank of America and its history in Long Beach. This was okay, but it gave me two possible answers. There were two buildings within three blocks of each other that had served as Bank of America branches during the first part of the twentieth century. I tried the local historical society, but they were unable to help with out of town research requests. I tried city directories, but how could I be certain I had the right building?

Then I remembered an old employment letter my grandmother had received from the Bank of America congratulating her on her years of service. The letter was dated 1959 and stated she had been employed for 15 years. My answer as to where “her” Bank of America was at the bottom of the letter:

Bank of America/1st and Pine Branch

Bingo. I had my bank. I had my building. Now I could let both memory and knowledge come together.  As Jan Doerr described it in a recent post, the tiniest scrap of paper can reveal such a great truth.[2]

My grandmother’s Bank of America branch was housed in what was known as the Enloe Building.[3] (I’m just glad I didn’t make it all up or dream it.) The funny part is, we drove all around Long Beach, looking for the perfect Italian restaurant, when the most appropriate one was calling out to me all along.

101 Pine Avenue, Long Beach. Courtesy of birdseye.com

You see, the Bank of America space at 1st and Pine was converted during the 1980s in an urban renewal project. It now serves fine Italian cuisine. The dark wood ceiling of the bank now serves as a main dining room. I now see that my memories of this bank may have paid dividends after all. I can’t wait to go back!

Notes

[1] Known as the “Cyclone Racer,” it was part of “The Pike,” a Long Beach amusement park, and ran from 1930 until 1968.

[2] Jan Doerr, Diary of an old house, Vita Brevis, 20 September 2017: “proving that even the most mundane, cluttery piece of paper can yield a family story…”

[3] The Enloe Building in Long Beach was also known as the Metropolitan Building, and housed several banks from 1906 through the 1960s. The Enloe building’s clock tower is mentioned in Claudine Burnett’s book, Haunted Long Beach 2: The Odd and Unusual in and Around Long Beach, California.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. An Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

11 thoughts on “A memory bank

  1. It is indeed sometimes those “postscripts to life” that tell us so much. My great grandmother was Elizabeth Longley Adams. I was very close to my grandmother but failed to ask, or remember if I did ask, the ‘why’ of her mother’s middle name. One day several years ago I was going thru some papers & saw an envelope with letter from Elizabeth’s grandmother’s father while serving in the Civil War. I’d read this letter and transcribed it in the past, but for some reason that particular day I noted with amazement that the letter was addressed to Miss Catie Adams at an address in Central MA where she was obviously spending the summer while both her mother & father were serving in the Civil War (her mother was a Civil War nurse at the Army Hospital in Worcester, MA). I had NEVER noticed, or paid attention, that in the lower left corner of the envelope, in tiny print, were the words “C/O O. S. Longley”. I reread the letter, and realized after staying up all night googling around & reviewing my own genie software, that O. S. Longley was Miss Catie’s uncle, married to her mother’s sister, whom I only remembered by her maiden name. Thus my great great grandmother had named one of her own daughters after her own aunt who by marriage was a Longley. What a lovely way to honor her much-loved aunt who had cared for her in her mother’s absence that summer. As it turned out, Mr. Longley was a well-known sheriff and I found much about him and a noted prisoner, and that he had corresponded (not on legal problems!) with Emily Dickinson and was able to further research that! All this goes to show us that as Jeff has said, some sleuthing and paying attention to those details will normally pay a huge return on our research investment. Thanks so much Jeff for posting this! Hope you are not in the area of any fires today!

  2. My grandmother worked at a local cafe. I tried for a few years to find a picture of it. These past 2 years I’ve been updating my family history, going through computer folders, fact checking everything. And in one of my computer folders was a picture of main street and the cafe sign is clearly visible. GAH! I had it all along.

  3. I remember it too, Jeff. I also remember walking down Pine Dtreet to go shoping with Nana. When she lived at 10th and Cedar. Thanks for reminding me!

  4. I arrived in Long Beach in 1955 to work in the local public library. I remember the bank as I did my banking there. However, I think it was located on Pine Avenue, not Pone Street.

    1. Hi Joan – You are so right!! Thank-you for this – And truly I would have realized this important distinction if I had thought about it a bit more or verified it more thoroughly. We used the terms “1st and Pine” or “2nd and Magnolia” so often that I didn’t correctly follow through as I shoud have done. It’s interesting to me that you did your banking there – probably waited in a teller’s line with my grandmother! Tell me please, do you remember the old “glass block sidewalks?”
      JR

      1. Hi Jeff: I don’t remember the glass sidewalks but I bet your Grandma probably helped me with my banking. I left Long Beach in 1996, but even by then there had been many changes in that City by the Sea. Regards, Joan J

  5. I’ve had a newspaper article for years of my grandparent’s wedding. I recently noticed one of the “out-of-town” guests listed had the same last name as my grandmother’s maiden name. It turns out it was her step-uncle…and I found (after much research) that my 2x great-grandfather had not stayed in Ireland (as I had previously thought) but had immigrated to the U.S. and subsequently had a 2nd family. I found (with some internet digging and many calls) where he was buried and visited his grave this summer.

    You are right…the tiniest scrap of paper can reveal a great truth!!

  6. I have only recently experienced the feeling of “there is no one left for me to ask”. Its an awful feeling. It means I am getting too old! All the times I could have or should have asked…gone! So important to document everything for my girls! Great article Pampaw! Xx

  7. I too was born in Long Beach, in 1956. The apartment in the photo of you with your mother and grandmother is just like the first home my parents lived in. They occupied the upper apartment; two apartments on the first floor and one (theirs) upstairs. There are still hundreds of this same type of three-plex apartments all over Long Beach. Theirs was on Clark Street across from the future Lakewood Shopping Center. My mother said they held Easter egg hunts in the empty lot, where the future Bullocks department store would be built. Bullocks was were I bought my wedding dress. Bullocks is gone now, and an Albertson’s grocery store is there.

  8. I remember when Pine Street became gentrified in the mid 1980’s. I worked in the old Home Savings and Loan building on Ocean Blvd at the time. I have dined at L’Opera and the food is very good. Thank you for sharing your trip down memory lane.

  9. Jeff…Is that you with mom and grandma??
    I remember the glass sidewalks but in Berkeley instead of Long Beach. Didn’t realize someone was looking up as we tiptoed over!

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