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Transcipt of interview with John M. Beville by George Braver, March 11, 1981






George Braver interviews John M. Beville (b. 1906) at his home in Las Vegas on March 11, 1981. Braver discusses his move to Nevada in 1926, his personal history, and early banking in Nevada leading up to modernized banking. Beville also discusses his personal experience in the banking business, working in Hollywood as a singer, and brings to the forefront key moments of his life in Nevada.

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Beville, John M. Interview, 1981 March 11. OH-00192. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada


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UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 1 Interview with John M. Beville An Oral History Conducted by George Braver Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 2 The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 3 Abstract George Braver interviews John M. Beville (b. 1906) at his home in Las Vegas on March 11, 1981. Braver discusses his move to Nevada in 1926, his personal history, and early banking in Nevada leading up to modernized banking. Beville also discusses his personal experience in the banking business, working in Hollywood as a singer, and brings to the forefront key moments of his life in Nevada. UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 4 The informant is John Beville. The date is March 11th, 1981 at 4:30 P.M. The place 731 East Sahara, Apartment Number 225, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89107. The interviewer is George Braver, 5100 East Tropicana Avenue, Apartment 16-C, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89122. When did you come to Las Vegas? I came to Las Vegas April 18th, 1929. Why did you come to Las Vegas? Well, primarily I came to Las Vegas for a vacation, but to get, give you a little more background then that, I was working in show business in Hollywood, as a singer, and I had had previous experience in banking, and bookkeeping, and when we had a real bad slump in the theatre, I went to work at a small bank in Hollywood. There I met a friend, er-I became friends with another fellow bookkeeper, he took off and went to Boulder Dam. Well, he went to Las Vegas, because he had read about Boulder Dam, and he thought there might be a future, and in a few months he wrote me a letter, and in this letter, he said, “John, I think you should come over here on your vacation, because it’s an interesting little western town, beer is only 25 cents”— this was during Prohibition— “and it’s a lot of fun, why don’t you just take two weeks and come on over here?” So that’s the way I happened to come to Las Vegas. Only for vacation, now I can, I can extend this further, and say, that without any intention of staying, an event took place that, that caused me to stay. I can go into that later, or I can relate it now. When I got here, the bank was so busy in a boom, which they were not accustomed to, that they needed help, badly. And when I told the president of the bank that I was just going to be around for two weeks, he suggested that I spend that two weeks working for the bank. And I said-thought, well, I can make myself salary at both ends. So, I, I agreed to work for two weeks. And at the end of two weeks, he said “Why don’t you stay with us?” And I said, well, I don’t know, it’s awfully hot here, and it’s awfully small, UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 5 and it’s not Hollywood. “Well,” he said, “Why, why don’t you try it out?” I said, alright! He said, “How much were you making in Hollywood?” I said $100 a month. He said, “We’ll pay you $150. And I said, alright, you have yourself a boy. What was Las Vegas like when you arrived? Well, it was horrible. If you can imagine coming from Hollywood, of which was a glittering city in those days, and getting off at a dusty little depot, with a, a dirt, a dirt street, Fremont Street was, Fremont Street was paved as far as, what is now 5th, or Las Vegas Boulevard North, and Las Vegas Boulevard South. And then, then the rest of Fremont Street was not paved, nor were the side streets paved. The stores were all little 2 so-2, rather 1, 1-story size, with false fronts. It was a ti-, it, it, well, Wyatt Earp, think of Wyatt Earp and John Wayne, (Laughs), and Ronald Reagan, and (laughs) whoever. And you’ve got a picture of a real old western town. And I thought it was pretty bad. Were you the member of any clubs, organizations, or other social events in, in Nevada? After I became established here, I became a member of the 20-30 Club, which was a young men’s club, and I was, I became treasurer, and secretary of that club. Now later, as time went on, the town got a charter for the Jaycees, and I was a charter member of the Jaycees, and again I served on the board of directors, and as a bookkeeper, no, rather as a treasurer, (laughs) and secretary, and we were a very active dynamic group in this town. What banks did you work for? Well, when I got here, there were two banks. Much to everybody’s surprise, a lot of people had never heard of this other bank. But there was a Bank of Southern Nevada, which was a small bank. It was in the vicinity of Main, or where the Golden Gate Casino is now, Main and Fremont. The bank that I worked in, was a First State Bank, which was on the corner of 1st and UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 6 Fremont, which is where the Mint now stands. I only worked in that one bank, at that time. In fact I worked there for 11 years. There, you must remember we had a bad depression then, and a lot of good people were out of work, and those who had jobs coveted them. What was your job? My first job in the First State Bank was the same job that I was doing in Hollywood, which was keeping bank books. That was operating a Bureau’s bookkeeping machine. It was fully electrified, and all the posting was done on the keyboard. What were your duties? A po- posting the daily checks, that came in over the windows, to the accounts of the customers, and the daily checks that came through the mail, through corresponding banks, and the Federal Reserve System to the customers who had mailed them out of town. How many banks were there when you arrived? Just the two. Just the two. Where were they located? Main and Fremont, and 1st and Fremont. Who were the individuals who started the banks in 1905? Well in 19- I wasn’t here in 1905, (laughs) I wasn’t born yet. The history of the First State Bank, in which I worked, it was founded by a southerner by the name of John S. Park, who came from the same state that I come from. I didn’t know him. This was all before I came here. And he was from Lexington, Kentucky. And he came here, and the Union Pacific Railroad— (Tape Ends mid-sentence) In an article you wrote in, in the Nevadan in 1969, you said gambling and tourism is spurred by a Live Wire Fund, what is a Live Wire Fund? UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 7 Well, the way that worked out, our bank, our town in those days was not getting too many out of town visitors, except maybe fishermen, and that sorta thing, or an occasional movie star, like Clark Gable’s wife came up for a, for a divorce. I, I knew the lawyer who, who handled the divorce. And maybe Ginger Rogers would come by, but very seldom would we get anybody of celebrity in town, except for legal reasons. So a group of people in the Chamber of Commerce created a separate organization within the Chamber of Commerce, and called it the Live Wire Group. And the way they operated, the way they assessed funds was to take a percentage of the gross sales of each merchant. A very small percentage, perhaps 1%, and they’d put that in a special fund, and with that fund, they hired J. Walter Thompson Agen- the J. Walter Thompson Agency, and later Steve Hanagan, and through this agency, which was one of the big ones, in the United States, they were able to get magazine coverage, and road signs, and also the Union Pacific Railroad cooperated in every way possible-- to help this thing along. And this was really the advent of our tourism. What started modern branch banking in Las Vegas? Well, I can only answer that by referring to something that I reported in an earlier report of mine, about that. And it ha- it has to go up into the northern part of the state. You see, Nevada in the beginning had a fence across. People in the north didn’t speak to people in the south, and vice-a-versa. It’s just like the Berlin wall, in a way. They, they, we were upstarts and they had no use for us, and, and we all had our own banks in the southern part of the state, and they had their banks in the northern part of the state. There was no cohesion between the north and the south. In fact, to travel to Reno to Las Vegas, or vice-a-versa, in those days, well, the way the roads were, you would have to leave the state, and come back into it. Go into California and come back into it. So there was group, there was a rancher up north by the name of George Wingfield. He was UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 8 also a miner, and a very powerful man in politics. Wingfield had several branches up north, and as I said before we had our First State Bank headed by Ed Clark down here, who was a powerful man in the south. Aright, there was a group of citizens, I’m sorry there was a group of financial people in Oakland and San Francisco, and these men saw a great future in Nevada. So they first moved into the north, and bought several banks and established their own bank called the First National Bank of Reno, I believe, which later became the First National Bank of Nevada. Then they came down here and they bought the First State Bank from the grou- a group of private investors down here. That brought branch banking, the idea of branch banking, into Nevada, and broke up this combine, you might say, of people who had a group of banks here, a group of banks there, they would, it opened up the banks to public banking, and branch banking. I would say that the, that started with the movement in the north and then moved down to the south, and what you see, today, there’s a culmination of that first effort of, of a big corporation like the A.P. Jenning- Giannini Group of San Francisco. Now A.P. Geannini was the president of the largest bank in the world, The Bank of America, and it still is. I think that probably answers you, I don’t know. Okay. When did the banks start to multiply in number? I would say righ- right after the First National came down here and took over the First State, it started at that point. Now there was another bank that appears in the picture, called the Bank of Nevada, the one I worked for. And the Bank of Nevada was formed by the same group that owned the First National, and they occupied later after the first National Bank moved out of 1st and Fremont, they left their building there, and this new Bank of Nevada came in. But iron- ironically enough, it was owned by the same holding company that owned the First National. So here you have 2 banks in competition, owned by the same parents. And both these banks were a UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 9 result of that spin off that France America Corporation did when the government told A.P. Giannini he better get rid of some of his banks, because he was in restraint of trade. And that was the beginning, when the Bank of Nevada and the First National Bank of Nevada started in Las Vegas, that’s when each one started out branching – started branching out, I should say. I believe that, I believe that answers that question, doesn’t it? Yeah. That’s when it started, I, I would say the years would be about [194]5, somewhere in there. See, these dates are fuzzy to me now, I haven’t been in a bank for so long. (Laughs) Yeah. I can imagine. Okay. Did you experience any unusual ha- happenings in your banking days? Well, I experienced one. Are you speaking of hold-ups or anything like that? Yes. Aright, when I was in the Bank of Nevada, I came back from lunch one day, and I saw, I saw a man whom I knew, a bank officer, running out the back door. And I said to the secretary, What’s happened to Ray? Where is he going? His name was Ray Collins, he’s, he was a manager of a, the bank in Boulder City, and he’s well known here in Southern Nevada, right, today. And the girl said, Mister Belville, the bank has just been robbed. So I ran behind Ray to see what was going on. But there were, both the bandit was ahead of Ray, and (laughs) Ray was behind the bandit, and I was coming up in the rear. And I cut through one of the casinos on Fremont Street, and as I got to the corner of 2nd and Fremont Street at the Golden Nugget, there was Ray lying in the gutter with blood all over his shirt. Ray did not know that the man was armed, and the man had turned on him, and shot him. Well, it doesn’t have a happy ending. But it has a justified ending. The bandit ran down the street. In the meantime the bank alarm had gone off, and the UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 10 police converged upon the bandit and he took the gun and put it to his head and killed himself. However, Ra- Ray bares scars of it to this day. He still limps, he has a, he has to wear a brace. That was probably the only, that was the only hold-up I ever experienced, and I, I had nothing to do with it, except I just happened to be curious to see what was going on. I brought up the rear, in other words. Okay. Ah ‘kay. Did you have any humorous experiences in banking? Well, I had a lot a (laughs) you don’t stand on that window all day and have the cranks and the little old ladies, and, and all the, in the early days, a ‘course we had the ladies from Block 16, and I presume you know what that was, and they would, they would come in to the window, and get waited on just like any other customer. And then when you would run into ‘em on the street, why, they’d drop their eyes, they never lifted their heads or looked at anybody in the eye, they kept their own little world. But in the bank, where, there, it was business, why, they would josh with you, but I- I think one of the funniest things that ever happened to me, a Mexican fella came up to my window, and wanted to cash a check, and it was not a check drawn on our bank. And he did not have an account at our bank, and I said, well, I can’t cash your check, because I don’t know you, and you don’t have an account. “Oh!” he said, “Everybody know me.” I said, well, like who? I mean sometimes you’ll take an endorsement of a good customer, who will guarantee another man’s endorsement. Why he said “J.C., J.C. knows me” And I said, who in the hell is J.C.? He said “J.C. Penny!” Were there any more excited experiences that you had in banking? There was one pretty grim experience, economically. During the depression, Franklin Roosevelt, before Franklin Roosevelt acted and closed the banks. Banks were going broke all over. And the Bank of America in California had closed, the previous day to this incident. And the night UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 11 before, the banks in Reno had called our president, Mister Clark, and said they were closing. And he became stubborn. He said, “We’re aright down here, I’m not worried.” And he stayed open another day, before Roosevelt made the edict. And I happened to, I relieved the savings teller on his window while he went to lunch. And all of a sudden I looked up and there was a line of people, clear out to the door. So Mister Clark, Ed Clark, our president, came over, and he said, “Johnny, when you, when you pay them, their er- balance, or when, whatever they do”—He said, “Go look up the accrued interest, and pay ‘em every cent they have coming. This is not only a good policy, but it’s a good stall, because we’ll be closing here in another hour.” So I did, and meantime Mister Clark stayed right about my shoulder, and as each person came up, he’d say, “You don’t have to do this.” He said, “We, we have plenty of money.” And one, one woman that he talked to, who had already closed her account out, and gone through our own safe deposit box, course that’s separate, that’s not going to be confiscated by anybody. But she put her money in the safe deposit box. And after Ed talked to her, Mister Clark, she went back and got her money and put it back in the bank. And then that evening, the announcement came that all the banks in the United States would have a bank holiday, until things got cleared up. I think that holiday lasted about, maybe a week, maybe five days. Yes, that was, that’s the only experience I had that was more frightening to me, even than witnessing a bank robbery. Okay. With your experience in banking, would you recommend banking as a career? With my experience, I think, I don’t think I would want to knock it, I wouldn’t want to knock banking as a career, because as, as I told you earlier, I was in business for 15 years before I went back in again. I think banking is one of the best educatio- business educations there is. Now those whole like it, that’s fine, but there’s so many better opportunities if your thi- I’m talking UNLV University Libraries John M. Beville 12 now if you’re thinking of money. I, I never made any money in the bank. Any bank, any money I ever made was outside the bank. But as a training for business and industry, I think it’s the best. In an article in the Nevadan, in 1979, you called this town, the crummiest little town, when you first came here, how do you feel about this n- about this now? Well, as you know I’m retired. And I’m alone. And I am in a position to live wherever I want to live. I’m completely free, and I cannot think of any place I’d rather live than Las Vegas. Thank you very much for having this interview, Mister Belville. Thank you, I enjoyed doing it.