Trustmark building change a downtown milestone|[12/18/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Trustmark, the 102-year-old bank building sold last week with plans to transform a portion of it into residential spaces, has a rich history as the hub of downtown activity.

Doctors, lawyers, dentists, insurance companies and, of course, the bank, known then as First National, filled the building until the bank eventually grew to fill most of the eight floors, remembers former employee Barbara Quirk, who worked there from 1962 to 1995.

“The bank took over floors with so many departments,” she said. “When it became Trustmark (in October 1994), most of those departments went to Jackson, and we didn’t need all those floors. That’s when they began consolidating.”

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For years, the bank and one law office, known now as Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess & Rector, have been the mainstays, with some floors staying vacant. While the future location of the law office, which has had its headquarters on the top floor for decades, is uncertain, the bank will maintain its location through a lease agreement with the new owner, First National LLC.

During its heyday, the building was where friends and families would often pass each other while tending to medical, dental, insurance, law or banking needs.

“Everybody knew everybody. It was the bustling scene of activity,” said Warren Guider, whose father Dr. George W. “Hank” Guider, had his dental practice on the fourth floor for about three decades.

Ray Hume remembers his daily walks from school at Carr Junior High School on Cherry Street to his father’s eye, ear, nose and throat practice on the seventh floor of the building that towers over Washington and Clay streets. Dr. Charles Hume practiced there from the time he came to Vicksburg from New Orleans in 1946 until two weeks before his death in 1980. His son, now 59, would wander the various floors of the building visiting with his friends, whose fathers also had practices. He also would work on homework or school projects.

“That’s where everybody used to be. It was like a whole separate community there,” Hume said. “We all knew the people on the other floors. It was fine to wander up and down to just see the receptionist or nurse in somebody else’s office. Sometimes I would commandeer the receptionist’s typewriter to type a paper.”

The building, built in 1905 for $300,000 as the bank’s headquarters and commercial offices, is a sign of a different time for Guider. It was the focal point of downtown life on Washington Street, where many gathered on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

“There was two-way traffic. It was hard to get up and down,” he said. “It was bustling — day and night.”

Stan Kline, who ran New York Life Insurance Company on the seventh floor from 1962 to 1991 when he moved his office down Clay Street, said the building was the place to be for a businessman in Vicksburg.

“It was the most prestigious business location in Vicksburg,” he said. “It was just the hub of activity. You had the bank on the bottom, the law firm on the top and, in between, you had lawyers and dentists… It ran the gamut. If you were in business, you were going to end up there.”

Before working for the bank, where she had stints in the proof department, as a teller, in savings and, finally, as an assistant trust officer before retirement, Quirk worked in the building at New York Life. She remembers it always being the center of life for city residents.

“It was like you went right into the bank building and did everything,” she said.

She, like Kline and many others, remembers the fire that began in the attic of the building in 1987. Kline, who was flooded with memories of his old stomping ground after hearing of its change of hands, said he has files he has kept as a memento — “some with water marks where the water sat on the paper. I kept them for that reason,” he said. “People really rallied around whoever was around during that time.”

The fire, which caused damage to offices on several of the floors, is one of the many tests of time the building has withstood. Another is the 1953 tornado that destroyed portions of downtown.

“I think it broke out a few windows,” Guider said. “That is one rock-solid building. I think it’s one of the better buildings in Vicksburg.”

Hume remembers how his father handled the changing racial climate within his private practice.

“I remember when integration came, he was one of the first to do away with separate waiting rooms,” Hume said. “I asked him why and he said, ‘Because it’s what’s right.’ I learned later what he meant.”

Now, the building, which stands at “the coldest corner in Vicksburg,” Kline said, is facing its next step in history.

It is one of several downtown landmarks where owners have announced conversions into living spaces since downtown living became a growing trend in the past several years. The design and number of units has not been announced, but construction is to begin next month.

Jerry Hall, president of Vicksburg’s Trustmark, said the bank will continue to occupy the basement, first floor and half of the second floor.

Guider, who is 60 now, said he welcomes the new addition to downtown.

“If I was going to live downtown, I’d live in that building,” he said. “It’s going to be unique.”

Hume said, while he wishes things could stay the same, he believes the fact that people are moving downtown will be beneficial to the city.

“The wistful part of me wishes things could just continue, but a viable downtown is essential to the character of our city,” he said. “It does my soul good to see tourists walking up and down Washington Street.”

People living in the building will enjoy one of “the best views in Vicksburg,” Hall said. Principles with the First National LLC have said a rooftop terrace might be part of the plan.

“If someone could do something with this — it’s spectacular,” said Hall, as he overlooked the Yazoo Diversion Canal and Mississippi River from the building’s roof. “In Vicksburg, Mississippi, it doesn’t get any better than this — as far as the view.”

First National began in Vicksburg in 1884. Its first office was on the northwest corner of Washington and Crawford streets and later moved to Clay Street east of Washington Street before its owners built the current building.