By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
After housing five different banking entities over the past 37 years, the building at Ocean Avenue and Federal Highway in Boynton Beach will close. And the Bank of America branch that was the most recent tenant will be moving to new digs in Sunshine Square on April 18.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to go where the business is,” says vice president David Singh, who manages the banking center.
And it’s a sign that things are changing in Boynton Beach.
“It’s funny when you think about it, but this is the first time in the 24 years I’ve lived here that there won’t be a bank on that corner,” says Janet DeVries, head of the archives at the Boynton Beach City Library. She also worked in the bank building at 114 N. Federal Highway during her stint as a bank teller from 1989 to 1991.
Senior teller Shirley Bean, who has worked at the bank since 1979, says, “It’s going to be a nice change — like going to a new home … But I hate to see the old building go. I hope they put something nice there to make that area a real downtown again.”
And that’s the plan.
The building owners want to turn the site into high-end multifamily rental units, according to Don Owen, executive managing director of the Patrinely Group, which will be involved in the development. “We want to bring in people with active lifestyles that will attract restaurants and shops to the area,” Owen says.
That would help return the area to what it was in its heyday. That’s when the bank was in “the heart of the city,” says Bill Martin, who has worked in local banking since 1973, most recently as executive vice president and director of Palm Beach Community Bank.
He worked in this location from 1981 to 1985 “for four different banks and didn’t have to leave the building,” he says.
The bank has been important to the history and development of the downtown area since 1915. That’s when the Bank of Boynton opened in a two-story rectangular building on the south side of Ocean Avenue between the FEC railroad tracks and Federal Highway.
Following the 1928 hurricane, the bank moved to a square, solid-looking edifice with three arched windows and an arched doorway on the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue. But the bank lasted only until 1929, when the Depression hit.
In 1948, after a time out and reorganization, the Boynton Beach State Bank reopened and, by 1953, moved to larger quarters across Federal Highway. The bank’s new home was the same building that is now the Congregational United Church of Christ.
By the bank’s 10th anniversary in 1958, the building had been improved and enlarged from 1,200 square feet to 10,500 square feet. Three drive-in teller lanes, “electronic bookkeeping equipment,” and a second floor were added.
And a newspaper article from the time shows bank executive James Sottile Jr., being optimistic about the future.
These expansions “are only an outward indication of our deep feeling about the growth and potential of the Boynton Beach area,” he said.
By 1969, the bank added trust services. An advertisement in the News-Journal proclaimed: “Our new trust department is so important that we decided to incorporate it into our name.” The First Bank of Boynton Beach became the First Bank and Trust.
On its 25th anniversary in 1973, an advertisement in The Shopper reminds bank customers that “We’re the oldest and largest bank in Boynton Beach … but no matter how big we grow, we hope our customers will still be calling us ‘that nice little bank’ 25 years from now.”
To celebrate its silver anniversary, the bank provided “a simple little coffee and cake affair with a chance … to win a beautiful bagful of 25 silver dollars.”
A year later, the bank moved out of what is now the church building to its current location on the east side of Federal Highway. Reports from the day say that more than 15,000 people attended opening celebrations that included a chance to win a Caribbean cruise for two, a “famous completely automatic 35 mm Olympus Camera,” a portable am/fm Panasonic radio and a bagful of 50 silver dollars.
A newspaper advertisement explains the bank’s success: “What’s the big attraction that draws over 17,000 customers? ... The handsome new bank building? ... that huge parking lot? ... The good coffee and orange juice served in the bank? ... Our bright and attractive tellers? … But most of all, we think it’s because our bank was born and raised here.”
The new bank lobby featured a modern design described in this advertisement: “Some of the nicest gals in town invite you to enjoy Banking in the Round … they’re proud as can be of their new, circular teller stations.”
Down through the years, that circular teller cage remained in place although it was cut in size to a half-circle as the number of tellers decreased. And bullet-proof glass was added as America became more security-conscious.
But the bank was more than just a place for financial transactions. It was a concerned neighbor and good citizen. The bank did its part to stem the energy crisis during the 1970s. An advertisement assured the locals: “Lights out! The light illuminating the large sign outside our bank will be turned off for the duration of the Energy Crisis.”
In 1974, the bank started touting bank-by-mail as a way to “Save gas! Save time! Save money!” And “Boynton’s favorite private parking lot now has a brand new Bike Rack for all its bike-pedaling customers.”
The 1970s also saw the bank offering safe deposit boxes, the Christmas Club (“It’s a carefree way to a merry, money free Christmas”), free estate planning and free checking with direct deposit of Social Security checks.
And few could resist “beautiful” Doverstone and Rhapsody dinnerware. A four-piece place setting was “absolutely free” with a $50 deposit; a 45-piece “complete” set for eight was “just” $49.95 with $1,000 deposit.
But now, the bank has lost its lease and is moving once again. This time to the new Sunshine Square office that is in what has become a commercial center.
Rick Suyono, a Boynton Beach police officer and court liaison who has been a customer for 15 years, doesn’t mind the change. “The new office is just down the road and will be just as convenient,” he says.
Sources: Archivist Janet DeVries and the archival papers at the Boynton Beach City Library; Bill Martin, executive vice president and director of Palm Beach Community Bank; Shirley Bean, senior teller at Bank of America in Boynton Beach; and Boynton Beach the First 100 Years (1995) by the Boynton Beach Historical Society and Friends of the Boynton Beach City Library.