Have You Seen
First National Bank of Orange
The 1887 Bank of Orange building stood on the north side of East Chapman at the entrance to Plaza Square. It was replaced in 1928 by what are now the offices of Wells Fargo.

Back in the day, any town worth its salt had its own newspaper, a local streetcar line and a hometown bank.

Orange got its first bank in 1886 when the town was just 15 years old. Known simply as the Bank of Orange, most of the stock was owned by Santa Ana businessmen, with just a few local men on the board for window dressing. They built a substantial two-story brick office building at 101 E. Chapman a year later.

In 1905, a group of local investors bought out the Bank of Orange and also founded the First National Bank of Orange. Both of these banks had their own state-chartered savings bank attached to them. In 1927, all four institutions were combined and continued as the First National Bank of Orange.

Not long after, First National tore down the 40-year-old Bank of Orange building and built a new, classical-style office on the same corner, which opened in 1928. In the meantime, they operated out of a temporary office at 20 Plaza Square – now the Assistance League thrift shop.

The new First National was designed by prominent Los Angeles architects Morgan, Walls & Clements, who designed a number of landmark buildings in the area. Perhaps the most visible of their creations is the old Samson tire factory along the I-5 – now The Citadel outlet stores in the City of Commerce.

Having your own bank was a huge asset to a community, and First National did all it could to help people out during the Depression, in addition to supporting the war effort during World War II.

As Orange County grew in the 1950s, so did First National. In 1955 they opened their first branch (at Tustin and Collins) and built an addition on the east side of the 1928 building. In 1963, they changed their name to the First National Bank of Orange County and built another addition that took their offices all the way to Orange Street. By 1977, First National had eleven branches scattered all over the county.

But they knew the days of locally-owned banks were numbered here, and in 1978 agreed to sell out to Wells Fargo, which continues to occupy the old building to this day.

There’s a bicentennial plaque on the south wall of the old First National building, still looking almost as bright and bronze as it did when the building was dedicated in 1976.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2013 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Phil Brigandi, Photo courtesy of the Orange Public Library and History Center
Colorized by the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

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