Many Utahns may have missed it when Western Savings of Arizona came into Salt Lake City a year ago and quietly set up shop in the old Tracy Collins Bank & Trust building at 151 S. Main. But after Thursday, Western won't be a secret any longer.
That's when Western Savings, with $6 billion in assets, will throw open the doors on its complete restoration of the 72-year-old structure.The Phoenix-based Western Savings will join forces with the Utah Heritage Foundation for a reception and dinner Wednesday night for invited guests, followed Thursday by a dedication ceremony at 11:45 a.m. with tours of the bank immediately following and a photo exhibit. The public is invited to the Thursday festivities.
A plaque commemorating the building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places will be mounted on the exterior.
Heritage Foundation volunteers will serve as guides and will conduct additional bank tours at noon Nov. 14 through 18. Tours of other historic Main Street buildings will begin at the bank at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 10 and Nov. 18, also conducted by the Heritage Foundation.
According to John Driggs, Western Savings chairman, the company has invested more than $1 million in exterior and interior restoration of the building. The final element was the $90,000 re-creation of the original 1916 facade, complete with iron grill work, a new bronze pediment and etched granite.
"Businesses have a commitment to maintaining and preserving the historical significance of buildings in our community," said Driggs.
He said the company has long wanted to expand outside its Arizona borders into adjacent states and since its "family roots" are in Utah, that where they decided to go first. Western Savings also has its Visa credit card operation in Murray where it employs 85.
Driggs' grandfather, Don C. Driggs, was born in Pleasant Grove. He settled the first community in Teton County, Idaho, in the 1880s and named it for himself - Driggs. He founded the savings and loan in 1929 and was its first chairman.
Today, Western Savings stock is widely held and traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The Driggs family retains a minority position.
Driggs said he is optimistic over the potential of the Utah office.
"We have been very pleased with the growth of that branch in just one year," said Driggs, noting he is not overly concerned with the state's currently flat real estate market. "With our long history, we've seen down cycles before, and we know there have always been good recoveries. We're optimistic about this one as well."
Since deregulation, Western Savings - and the S&L industry overall - has broadened its investments out of its traditional niche as a mortgage lender. He said the company has a "strong commercial banking department" and is a major financer of mobile homes.
"There's been some lowering in the percentage of our portfolio in residential lending, but it's not dramatic. Savings institutions still account for about 50 percent of all residential lending."
He said there are no current plans for further expanding Western's operation in Utah.
Despite all the recent bad press on the condition of the savings and loan industry in general and its federal guarantor (FSLIC) in particular, Driggs said the industry remains "fundamentally sound" and that Western has not been adversely affected.
The original Tracy Collins building was designed by Walter J. Cooper and built by the James Stewart Company. The restoration was approved by the Salt Lake City Landmarks Committee. The branch remained in operation throughout the restoration, which began last July, said Stephen M. Coltrin, assistant vice president and branch manager.
Clark Leaming was general contractor, working from old photographs to match the 1916 facade. The Woods and Brass Shop of Salt Lake was commissioned to reconstruct the ornamental metal work and new engraved stones were completed by the Buehner Concrete Co. The entryway and windows were also replaced.
Among the renovation features was the complete restoration of the building's second floor to preserve the original leaded glass skylight.