The bank vaults of one of Broward’s earliest banking institutions live on today — all these decades later, as shiny and sturdy as ever.
They were part of a bank that grew through the years, and whose earliest iteration opened nearly a century ago. The bank was founded in an era when Broward County was digging itself out of a vicious hurricane and scraping by in the Great Depression.
Now, these vaults remain deep inside the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office, situated in the county governmental center in downtown Fort Lauderdale, at 115 S. Andrews Ave.
These strongrooms once stored cash and safe deposit boxes, and intrigued passers-by, with some recalling their “imposing” architecture.
Nowadays, they tend to serve as office space: On a normal day, one vault has a conference table and a desk used by a property evaluation expert. The second vault, which still has its original metal door, is the worksite of Property Appraiser Marty Kiar’s sales-verification team.
Last year, one vault served as a space to interrogate and later arrest two women who were accused of forging and falsifying documents to take property. The women were taken in handcuffs out of the property appraiser’s office and sent to jail. They are serving prison time in an unrelated case.
“It was a good space, a confined space,” Kiar said of the vault.
How an old bank building became part of the governmental center — and how the vaults endured — is a saga unto itself. Here’s the story.
The ‘deepest pockets’
John Lochrie, a businessman, founded Broward Bank and Trust Co. in 1928, on land in Fort Lauderdale that is now the NSU Art Museum.
Lochrie was a large scale coal operator in his Pennsylvania hometown, as well as the founder of “the first modern” hotel in Broward, and the owner of citrus groves in St. Lucie and western Broward, according to a news article by the Fort Lauderdale News, published in 1932.
He became a prominent figure: His good health, his vacation plans and numerous fishing triumphs all were routinely documented by Fort Lauderdale News reporters.
During the Depression, Lochrie was able to keep the bank afloat, said History Fort Lauderdale Executive Director Patricia Zeiler.
Lochrie, who among his partners had the “deepest pockets… he had a fortune in mining,” banded with others to build the bank, the first since the hurricane of 1926 financially wiped out the only few in town, Zeiler said.
The storm had compounded an already difficult financial situation involving a railroad embargo on building materials coming south in favor of transporting people instead.
As a result, “all the builders and developers went bankrupt so the people working for them weren’t getting paid,” she said. “So people just left. It was so overwhelming to them. So the banks had a run. There was no way they could keep their doors open.
“It was a tough time. Fort Lauderdale did not really recover till post-World War II.”
Lochrie found instant success: His bank received deposits of $550,000 by noon on opening day. It would remain Fort Lauderdale’s only bank until 1937, according to news stories. That kept money flowing and lending in operation through the Great Depression, helping bail Broward out of a troubling era.
“It was really important to keep the banking industry alive,” said Robert Lochrie III, today a land use and zoning law attorney, who is the great grandson of John Lochrie.
In the 1980s, Robert Lochrie III worked in the bank as a high school student, when it was called Sun Bank. He recalls one vault was used for safe deposit boxes, and the other for cash.
A ‘pioneer spirit’
Jim Camp III, today a Fort Lauderdale estate and real estate attorney, also has family roots with that bank.
In the 1920s, his grandfather, James Camp Sr., was a banker from Georgia who wanted to be a doctor, but his family couldn’t afford medical school.
With a “pioneer spirit,” he moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s to help grow a bank.
“It was a new town, barely on the map,” Camp III said.
He worked hard, but the Fort Lauderdale bank wouldn’t survive the economic collapse in the local depression that hit Broward even before the Great Depression did.
Camp Sr. and two other “civic-minded people” then went to Lochrie Sr. because everyone knew “he had money. He was a successful man.”
The group of men “jumped in a car” and implored Lochrie one “early evening. Mr. Lochrie came out of the house and met them and he was in his pajamas,” Camp III said, retelling the stories passed on through the generations.
“They said to him, ‘We need to have a bank.’ He said, ‘I’ll put up capital toward opening a new bank.’ He said, ‘I will do it but you need to have community leaders put up an equal amount.’ That was the beginning. There was never looking back,” Camp III said.
“Every community needs a bank,” Camp III said. “This is what my grandfather did for a living but all these people were civic-minded people.
“They knew the community couldn’t survive, how would people get a car loan, how could they get a mortgage.”
Camp III said he remembers visiting his grandfather in the bank as a child, and walking past the vault to get to his grandfather’s office.
“It was an imposing part of the architecture.”
He thinks of his grandfather each year when he annually walks inside the county office.
“I go there to this day to pay my property tax bill,” he said. “I walk it in there. There is nostalgia.”
And he’s proud of his family’s contribution to the county.
“He came from nothing, nothing but a high school education. After the banks closed there was nothing. They had to do something. They recapitalized and quickly reopened.”
The bank was renamed Broward National Bank in 1946, and had the area’s first drive-in teller windows, according to a 1978 news story. (Additional name iterations followed.
At a year unknown, perhaps sometime in the 1960s, the bank moved from its original site (where the NSU Art Museum now is) across the street, sharing a wall with Burdines, Zeiler said. That Burdines department store opened as its first store in Broward in 1947.
Broward County later would buy the Burdines, using its lofty escalators to transport government workers from floor to floor.
The new county center opened in the Burdines space in 1985, consolidating 40 county agencies into one building and sparing taxpayers the financial burden of continuing to rent office space.
Broward County Property Appraiser records show the county bought the neighboring bank property in December 1989 from Sun Bank. The sales price: $2,312,000.
The reason: The county simply needed more space, recalls former County Commissioner Lori Parrish. Eventually the two buildings were connected by knocking down the two interior walls, Zeiler said.
The drive-through teller window, now unused, still remains on the county building facing Broward Boulevard.
For Steve Raabe, it’s all come full circle. Today he’s a manager overseeing investigators in Property Appraiser Kiar’s homestead fraud section.
And not far from his own desk is one of the vaults, which is also right next to where his mom once worked as a supervisor at Broward National Bank for a decade.
As a child, he would trek downtown to the bank to see her in action where she worked with the IBM computers that processed transactions.
He was drawn to the vault, where his mother’s workspace had once been, too, seared into his memory as a young boy.
“Pretty cool, isn’t it?” he asks.
Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash