There’s a distinct charm in antique browsing and buying in a building that is itself an antique.
Built in 1926, the neo-classical revival-style American Trust Company building, now Vintage Bank Antiques, dates to the time when banks were the most important buildings in town – and looked the part.
It occupies one of the most prestigious corners in town, Main Street (as Petaluma Boulevard was then known) and Western Avenue. In earlier days, this side of Main Street was the more desirable side, and this block was the heart of the business district. Vintage Bank Antiques begins the block and is bookended on the Washington Street end by another repurposed bank, the former Sonoma County Bank, now home to the Petaluma Seed Bank and Baker Street Heirloom Seeds.
This building is not quite the granite temple it seems. Stroll around to the back of the building, on American Alley. Put your hand on the building, first near the ground, then higher up. Feel the difference? The bottom is indeed granite, thus cooler than the upper terra cotta blocks coated with the realistic Granatex. While you’re there, glance at the Western Street edge – you can see where over-large trucks have scraped and bumped off corners and the sand-colored stone peeking through.
Where Western meets the Boulevard, be sure to check out the exterior mural of a old-time bank teller, complete with sleeve protectors and a green eyeshade. This replaced a former trompe l’oil mural of, what else, a bank vault.
Warren Davis bought the building in 1995, after it had been vacant three or four years. “We had antique stores in Healdsburg,” he said. “We knew what we’d use it for.”
Nineteen years later the former bank houses 30 dealers offering three floors worth of vintage items. Art, jewelry, china, military, silver, furniture, stained glass – they’re all here.
Davis, who’s owned antique stores since 1976, has been doing what he’s loved ever since he can remember. “I think I was born this way. My mother swore my first word was ‘picture.’”
Dealer Victoria Evans offered a tour of the impressive building, including the vault. Although this feels solid, soundproof and secure, the treasures it now holds are not cash and coin but more cabinets, cupboards and cubbyholes crammed with heirloom objects.
Although the main floor was cleared of the teller cages, the interior still features the original marble floors, tall, carved stone walls and ornate tiled ceiling. It’s recognizable as a one-time bank and is still a beautiful piece of Petaluma’s past.
Looking out the side windows, visitors have a wonderful view of the town clock on top of the Masonic Building as well as the ironfront Victorians that line the south side of Western Avenue.
The basement is a warren of rooms, including what was once a dining room for bank staff. Evans pointed out that part of the basement extends under Petaluma Boulevard
“I don’t think it’s possible,” Evans said, “to be in this building and not get addicted to art. Warren’s dealt in paintings for years. You get sucked in and the next thing you know, you’re buying art. This place is so much fun.”
Customers agree. In fact, Davis said, “We get people asking us if they can be locked in the vault for a few hours. I tell them, ‘But, what if we couldn’t unlock it?’”
Davis clearly enjoys what he does and has a nice sense of humor about it. When buying items, while he knows what he thinks is beautiful, “if the price is right, I’ll buy it if it’s ugly. After all, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.” And, he added, “Anything is worth what someone’s willing to pay for it.”
What about the problem many dealers face – falling in love with, and keeping, items they’ve purchased?
“That’s easy. There’s no more room at home.”
Vintage Bank Antiques is located at 101 Petaluma Blvd. North. The business is open daily: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Call 769-3097.