The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle started out in 1888 with some major industries including a lumber mill, tannery and iron foundry. By the 1920s there were only two large business sites and there were other subtle signs of decline in the business climate in Fremont. Fremont had become a mostly-residential neighborhood with a business district along North 34th Street, containing small stores, restaurants and services such as laundries and automotive repair shops.
The two largest companies in Fremont in the 1920s were Bryant Lumber Mill and the McMullen Company which provided building materials and fuel. Executive officers of these two companies joined together to form a banking business, filing an Article of Incorporation with the State of Washington on October 10, 1922. The bank was named Queen City Bank and opened at 3424 Fremont Avenue at the southeast corner of North 35th Street.
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Founders and officers of the Queen City Bank
Named president of the new Queen City Bank was Lewis V. Peek who had come to Seattle from Wilmot, South Dakota. As of 1922 L.V. Peek, age 59, had been in Seattle about ten years and had brought business and banking experience with him from his years in South Dakota. He had been involved in real estate investments in Wilmot and had twice served as mayor.
L.V. Peek’s involvements in his adopted city of Seattle can be explained by his associations with a Masonic fraternal group, the Doric Lodge No. 92 of Fremont at 619 North 36th Street. As a fraternal brotherhood the Masonic Lodge provided a place for business networking and assurance of trustworthy business relationships, since members of the Lodge were sworn to honesty and mutual help. Executives from Bryant Lumber such as Edward T. Verd and J.B. Stuart, along with John McMullen, president of McMullen Fuel and Building Supplies, were also members of the Doric Lodge. These men were the founders of the Queen City Bank. They likely chose Lewis Peek to be president of the bank, because they knew and trusted him as a Doric Lodge member.
The Lewis Peek family lived on Burke Avenue in Wallingford. In 1918 their only son married Fanny, youngest daughter of J.B. Stuart of Bryant Lumber, the biggest company operating in Fremont at that time. Bryant Lumber was at 3201 Fremont Avenue North, next to the bridge.
Mr. Stuart had a house built for the newlyweds at 4009 Burke Ave N., next door to the Stuarts and one block from Lewis Peek. Lewis Peek’s son had worked closely with him in other business enterprises and he became an employee at Queen City Bank when it opened in the autumn of 1922.
Queen City Bank: why the name?
Real estate promoters gave Seattle the nickname “Queen City” in 1869. Over the years this description of Seattle was widely used so that there were quite a few businesses by that name, not tied to a specific location or neighborhood of Seattle.
We may wonder why the founders of the Queen City Bank did not use the name “Fremont Bank.” The reason is probably because there had already been a bank by that name in the neighborhood a few years earlier. Fremont Bank had been in a building built for it at 3416 Fremont Avenue and operated until the bank failed in about 1915.
At the time of the opening of the Queen City Bank in 1922, they might have liked to use the old Fremont Bank building but that space had been taken over by a grocery store.
As Fremont businessmen, the founding officers of the Queen City Bank may have wanted to start a commercial bank conveniently located for them but perhaps only temporarily in Fremont. Most banks were built in brick or masonry to give an impression of solidity and stability. The new Queen City Bank was housed in an existing wood-frame building, constructed in 1909, on Fremont Avenue at the southeast corner of North 35th Street.
Although the Queen City Bank opened in Fremont in 1922, it may have been the intention of the bank’s founders from the beginning, to move the business to the Wallingford neighborhood as soon as they could. Wallingford is located east of Fremont, about half-way between Fremont and the University of Washington. Like Fremont, Wallingford is a neighborhood which developed on the north shore of Lake Union and had a streetcar line from early years.
In the 1920s Wallingford was in a very strong growth period. The neighborhood had a very dynamic Commercial Club made up of businessmen who were determined to develop a great retail district along N. 45th Street, as it is today. In the 1920s Wallingford was in the midst of a boom in residential housing, with houses being built at higher cost and quality than existed in much of Fremont. The growing middle-class population of Wallingford created a customer base for an extensive retail district.
In early 1925 newspaper articles announced that the Queen City Bank would move to a new building at 1701 N. 45th Street (corner of Densmore Avenue N.) in Wallingford, to be built and owned by the bank itself. This solidly-built two-story building is now occupied by a Wells Fargo Bank (no connection with the Queen City Bank.) The building has some storefronts, offices and upstairs apartments. The building was constructed in two phases over 1925-1926. The eastern half, built in 1926, is three stories tall with more storefronts at the sidewalk level and upstairs apartments.
Events of 1925: the bank robbery and the bank’s move to Wallingford
Events of September 29, 1925, may have caused the Queen City Bank to move from Fremont to Wallingford earlier than originally planned.
On September 15, 1925, a gun was smuggled into the King County Jail in downtown Seattle and six prisoners forced a guard to open the door and let them escape. Some of the escaped prisoners left town but some others stayed in hiding in Seattle. They came up with a plan to rob a bank to get money to live on.
On Tuesday afternoon, September 29, three of the escaped prisoners drove around looking for a place to do a hold-up. They spotted the Queen City Bank on Fremont Avenue at the corner of North 35th Street. Their plan was to leave one man in the car at the curb, who would drive away as a decoy after the robbery, while the two men who robbed the bank would make their escape in a different direction.
Two robbers entered the bank. They held four employees and two customers at gunpoint while taking about $7,000 from the bank vault. One bank employee risked his life by pulling the alarm bell while the robbers were still inside the building. The alarm was heard by people on the street and in nearby stores, and the chase was on.
The two robbers burst out of the bank. To make their escape, they tried to carjack someone but that car wouldn’t start. The robbers carjacked a second driver, dropping some of the stolen money while clambering from one car to another.
The robbers then made a critical mistake. Instead of driving north toward less congested areas where they might have escaped, the two men drove their getaway car southward across the Fremont Bridge, toward downtown Seattle. Police officers who had commandeered civilian cars to make chase, caught up with the bank robbers at the intersection of Dexter Avenue and Roy Street in South Lake Union. The bank robbers crashed their car into a slower-moving bakery truck. One man had a broken leg and was captured while still in the vehicle. The other fled on foot and was apprehended in an alley after a blaze of gunfire from police.
An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper of September 30, 1925, was headlined “Police Gamble with Death to Catch Bandits.” The article said:
“Absolute disregard of personal safety marked the capture by Patrolman Orgie Rush (of the Wallingford police station) and R.A. Sands of headquarters staff, of T.H. Johnson and James Fanning, two of the Queen City Bank bandits. Both patrolmen fearlessly faced death, Rush engaging in a revolver duel at close range with Johnson.
In a volunteered car, Patrolman Rush took up the chase of the bank bandits. Reaching the robbers’ wrecked machine at Dexter Avenue and Roy Street, Rush discovered Johnson prepared to make a fighting last stand from a woodshed in an alley nearby. With revolver drawn, Rush started down the alley. A spurt of flame from Johnson’s gun and a bullet whizzed by Rush’s head. Three more times Johnson fired, while Rush emptied his revolver in return. As Johnson started to fire a fifth time his gun jammed. Rush, Sands and three other patrolmen leapt in and captured Johnson.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 30, 1925, page 2)
How did the bank robbery affect the operation of Queen City Bank?
The publicity about the September 29th robbery might not have been good for bank business if it created a public perception of unsafe conditions at the Queen City Bank on the corner of N. 35th Street in Fremont. Bank president Lewis Peek may have had to answer questions about bank safety, though he himself had completely missed the robbery — he was out at lunch when it happened.
Suddenly, with no announcement or fanfare about the completion of their new building, the Queen City Bank moved from Fremont to Wallingford on October 29, 1925. Wallingford had a police station located only one block from the Queen City Bank, and the bank was never held up again after the move to Wallingford.
The Bonnie-and-Clyde era of bank robberies did not begin until after the onset of the economic crash called the Great Depression in 1929, but the Queen City Bank robbery of 1925 similarly captured the public imagination. The story of the bank robbery was heavily covered by news media for weeks after the event. Even seven years later when one bank robber was again on trial, the Queen City Bank robbery was in the newspapers. That year, 1932, the Queen City Bank quietly closed its doors and went out of business.
Bank and business closings during the economic depression in the 1930s
The decade of the 1920s was a prosperous period in the United States. Few people foresaw the financial crash of 1929 which would bring the economy to a screeching halt. Although we don’t know if the bank robbery publicity of 1925 contributed to the demise of the Queen City Bank, we do know that more and more businesses closed in the early 1930s as the effects of the economic depression were felt.
Along with the closing of the Queen City Bank in Wallingford in 1932, Fremont’s last two major industries, Bryant Lumber and McMullen Building Supplies, went out of business around the same time as the bank. Since the executives of those companies were also officers of Queen City Bank, it may be that, having no more business operations, they did not need the bank any more.
In a 1952 article in the North Central Outlook, a Wallingford community newspaper published by the Stapp family, it was stated that no one had lost any money at the closing of the Queen City Bank in 1932. In the environment of distrust of banks during the economic crash which had begun in 1929, many people had already withdrawn their savings. At the time of the bank closing in 1932, the Queen City Bank must have had sufficient funds to pay out to everyone who still had an account.
The Queen City Bank Building at 1701 N. 45th Street in Wallingford became the site of a Benjamin Franklin Thrift Store in 1933 until that business failed, too, and closed in 1938. The space was then leased to a wholesale auto parts store from about 1939 until after the end of World War Two in 1945. Beginning in the more prosperous 1940s and 1950s, over the years various banks once again opened in the building which today has a branch of Wells Fargo Bank.
“Eulogy for Stan Stapp (1918-2006),” HistoryLink Essay #7792 by Walt Crowley, 2006.
“Queen City.” HistoryLink Essay #181 by Greg Lange, 1998.
“Seattle Neighborhoods: Wallingford – Thumbnail History.” HistoryLink Essay #3461 by Paul Dorpat, 2001.
“L.V. Peek purchases bank stock,” Aberdeen Daily News, South Dakota, August 2, 1906, page 3.
“Articles of Incorporation,” Seattle Daily Times, October 11, 1922, page 20.
“Police Gamble with Death to Catch Bandits,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 30, 1925, page 2.
Biographical and research info:
Census and city directory listings via Seattle Public Library, 9th floor genealogy department, and Washington Digital Archives.
“Doric Lodge History,” Doric Masonic Temple, 619 North 36th Street.
“Lewis Victor Peek Biography,” History of South Dakota, Vol. 2, 1904, pp. 1197-1198.
Personal correspondence, Rolene Schliesman of Wilmot, South Dakota, via e-mail 2011.
A Preliminary Sketch of Wallingford’s History, 1855-1955 by Tom Veith. Department of Neighborhoods, City of Seattle Context statement of Historic Resources Survey of 2005. Footnote on page 62 refers to a February 9, 1952 edition of the North Central Outlook newspaper, pages 6 and 7, which mentioned the closing of the Queen City Bank in 1932.
Property records – addresses and build dates: King County Parcel Viewer. Original construction permits of 1925 and 1926 for the two portions of the new bank building in Wallingford: microfilm library of the Seattle Dept. of Construction, 20th floor of the Municipal Tower, 700 Fifth Avenue, Seattle.