Editor’s note: This article continues a series that looks at Solano County’s historic buildings and places. Articles appear periodically.
SUISUN CITY — Old Town depends on old buildings for its charm. The narrow, brick building constructed in 1876 at 607 Main St. is among the stars.
Back in Solano County’s pioneer days, the building housed the Bank of Suisun. It was the area’s first bank and made founder R.D. Robbins a mint.
“I think it’s a beautiful building,” said Suisun City Councilwoman Jane Day, who lives a few blocks away in an Old Town Italianate house.
The state agrees. In 1982, it declared the building a California Point of Historic Interest.
Having such status isn’t quite in the league with being on the National Register of Historic Places. For that matter, it’s a lesser designation than being a California Landmark. The building doesn’t even have a plaque.
“The criteria is almost identical to landmarks, except it just has to be significant locally, not the entire state,” said Jay Correia, registration supervisor for the state Office of Historic Preservation.
So call the Bank of Suisun a Suisun City historic star. The bank left some 90 years ago and the building’s charms over the years have attracted such businesses as coffee, kayak and antique shops. A few months ago, Bellezza Hair Studio moved there.
Many a downtown has lost its historic buildings as the old gave way to the new. Suisun City’s zoning code dictates that the planning director or Planning Commission must review any proposed demolitions or building alterations to the historic Main Street buildings. Zoning codes talk of discouraging alterations with no historic basis and preserving the character of the buildings.
In the end, the fate of Suisun City historic buildings such as the Bank of Suisun is in the hands of the City Council.
“I think your history is something you really need to retain,” Day said. “I just can’t imagine allowing ourselves to lose that. That’s the biggest mistake we can be making.”
The Bank of Suisun building, as with all of Solano County’s historic structures, is the story of people. In this case, the key man is R.D. Robbins.
Robbins came from Maine to California and Suisun City in 1860, back when central Solano County had only a few hundred residents. He was a 21-year-old trying to better his lot in the world and he had a long climb to make.
He initially had little money and worked as a laborer in Suisun Valley. Then he became a clerk in the local lumber yard. In two years he owned a half-interest in the business and eventually the whole thing.
His ambitions didn’t stop there. He and four other men in 1876 formed the Bank of Suisun. Papers to incorporate filed with the Secretary of State early that year list capital of $100,000 in shares of $100 each.
The bank initially was housed in that brick building at 607 Main St. Robbins took a personal role in running the daily business.
For example, there was the time in 1893 when J.P. Evans came to town and checked into the Suisun Hotel. Evans drank heavily and lived on fried chicken and oyster cocktails, “more food than the ordinary mortal would,” according to the Los Angeles Herald – yes, a Suisun City story in those days could even rate coverage in Los Angeles.
Then Evans ran out of money, so he walked down the street to the Bank of Suisun and asked Robbins for a loan. Robbins refused, showing himself no soft touch for a sob story. The man later got arrested and taken to San Jose to stand trial on burglary charges.
Robbins’ star continued to ascend. In July 1900, Gov. Henry Gage appointed him as lieutenant colonel of his staff.
The San Francisco Call on that occasion listed Robbins’ glowing resume. It called him a leader in the Republican party, president of the Bank of Suisun and Bank of Vacaville, “prominently connected” to 12 other banks and among the largest fruit growers in California.
“Today, he is the wealthiest man in Solano County, his fortune being in the millions,” the paper reported.
He also had a wife and six children, two of whom had graduated from the University of California.
In 1919, Robbins died at about age 80. At that point, the bank was in that same 1876 building.
That changed in 1927. By then, the independent bank under Robbins had been taken over by the Anglo, London and Paris Institution. The new owner made plans for a new Bank of Suisun building.
This building would be in Spanish Renaissance style with reinforced concrete and designed by San Francisco architect W.H. Crim Jr. Crim designed a number of buildings in San Francisco that remain today, both commercial and residential.
“All modern equipment and furnishings will be installed, with tile floors and steel equipment of all types,” the Fairfield-based Solano Republican reported.
All for a cost of $40,000. That’s about $529,000 in today’s dollars.
That second building is at 601 Main St. and today also houses a hair salon, Knotty Hair Salon. Day owns this second bank building.
“There’s three vaults still in there,” Day said. “They’re in very good shape. But you don’t dare close the doors, because you’ll never get them open again.”
So the Bank of Suisun ended up giving downtown Suisun City two historic gems. Both today are hair salons.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.