Bank building celebrates 50 years on Jamestown
On Monday, July 1,Bank of America welcomed guests to 29 Narragansett Ave. to celebrate the building's fiftieth year on Jamestown's main street. The building changed leases numerous times, but has remained in the business of banking since the first ribbon cutting a half century ago.
Jamestown Historical Society members filled the front room of the bank to share cake and lemonade served by branch manager Tara Shanahan. Jamestown veterans smiled as they remembered the old Santos' market, torn down and replaced with a building that has catered to the island's financial needs for five decades. Pictures on the wall revealed early glimpses of Narragansett Avenue and views of the bay as seen from the property in the early years.
Old friends remembered Shirley Dee Olsen, native islander and first manager of the original Industrial National Bank, which opened in 1958. Olsen knew Jamestown needed a bank in those days, and urged the Industrial National to be the first. Islanders even formed a bank committee, local historian Sue Maden remembered.
Olsen's daughter, Linnea Petersen, recalled the days when her mother landed the job as branch manager on the island. "It was unusual for a woman to be a manager in those days." Petersen said. "They called her, 'Teller in Charge.' The money was good, but they wouldn't give her the title."
Petersen reminisced about her mother's promotion to the Jamestown branch. Olsen worked for Industrial National in Wakefield, and upper management asked her to do the demographics of the island for the new branch. "They warned her that just because she did the demographics didn't mean she was going to work here," her daughter added.
Olsen knew that some people took the ferry to use the bank in Newport, but many residents continued to stuff cash under their mattresses. She convinced her employer that staff was needed that island residents recognized and trusted. Olsen was the familiar face that people could trust in learning how to use a bank. She pushed to be appointed to Jamestown, knowing she would be successful, according to Petersen.
Success is what Olsen and the first bank on the island experienced. "She was well-known around town," Petersen said. "She helped a lot of people who weren't used to dealing with a bank." Olsen was particular about the staff she was allowed to hire as well. "She wanted people anyone could relate to," her daughter added.
Petersen recalled the kind words that flowed from the community when Olsen died suddenly in 1970. "People came up to me and said, I wouldn't have gotten my first account if it weren't for your mom, or, I bought my first house because of your mom," she said.
The Bank of America has been on the Narragansett Avenue location only since 2005, but the employees were all smiles. "We're really excited to be celebrating the building's 50 years," Shanahan said.
Petersen looked around at the cake-munching guests and anniversary balloons. "She would be very proud of this 50-year anniversary," she said of her mother.