This past summer, Partners Gallery, a long-time contributor to the local art scene, moved into the 150-year-old Beacon Building on Ukiah Street in Mendocino. The new occupants contacted the Kelley House to learn more about this historic structure, since so many people who came in to look at the artwork were also curious about the setting. What was with the big black safe? 

A street lined with several buildings and a parked car

A 1948 view of Ukiah Street in Mendocino looking west toward Kasten Street. The building on the right, built as a bank around 1872, occupied by the Mendocino Beacon newspaper. To the left stands the imposing Odd Fellows Hall, built in 1893 and dismantled in 1955. (from Patricia Harris’s photograph album of 1948, Kelley House Museum)

The not unexpected answer to that question – it was once a bank. The Beacon Building is one of four buildings in Mendocino that have had a “Bank” sign hung on them. Right now, people think of the building on the corner of Lansing and Ukiah Streets with the statues on top – the Masonic Hall – as The Bank Building. But before that, the town’s financial institution was located on the corner of Kasten and Main Streets, where the “Out of This World” store is now. Before that, the structure housing “Twist” farther west on Main was used for a few years by The Bank of Commerce. But Mendocino’s first bank was in the Beacon Building.

According to Auggie Heeser, his father William began its construction shortly after the awful 1870 fire that destroyed not only his general store on Main Street, but the western part of Mendocino’s business district. Ox teams hauled the lumber from the Little River Mill over to Mendocino to build the main, central space.  

A suited man in a brick room with assorted furniture and a large clock standing in front of a door

Auggie Heeser in front of the painted metal door to the brick vault inside the Beacon Building. (Nichols Collection, Kelley House Museum)

Two bank businesses set up shop in the new building. The first was the Bank of Mendocino, a mutual savings bank that primarily received deposits and then loaned money on real estate security. According to a Beacon advertisement, the bank’s safe was installed in 1881. The bricks in which it was enclosed (to make it extra fire-safe) came from Heeser’s own kiln and used local clay deposits.

Another bank, the Mendocino Discount Bank, incorporated in 1876, was associated with, but separate from the Bank of Mendocino. Many of the people behind both institutions were the same folks – familiar names like Heeser, Denslow and Ford. 

Financial difficulties (not mismanagement) in the late 1890s ended these businesses, but the Beacon newspaper, started in 1877 by William Heeser, carried on a lively existence within the building and also operated what was called a job office for printing invoices, handbills, programs, and other paper-based communication. 

For many years, the Beacon Building was also the “courthouse” for the Big River Justice Court. Since there was no courthouse building in Mendocino, the Justices of the Peace held forth wherever they could find accommodations, often in their places of business. Both William Heeser, his brother August, and his employee William Vaughn were elected to this office. 

You can just imagine how, on scheduled court dates, they would take off the green eyeshade visor they wore as newspaper men and replace it with a figurative judge’s cap to mete out the laws of the land. While serious crimes were transferred to the Superior Court at the county courthouse in Ukiah, our JP’s and their constables kept order at the local level, sending drunks to the “Calaboose” on Little Lake Street, performing marriages, arbitrating minor disputes, and acting as the coroner and empaneling an inquisition when someone turned up dead. 

Times change and the newspaper business evolved. The building was purchased in 1976 by Bonney and Biage Quattrocchi, who made many improvements, including the papering of the downstairs reception room walls with selected back issues of the Beacon. Their extensive renovations inaugurated a whole new life for a building so long associated with the banking and then the newspaper industry.

The initial arrangement had the Quattrocchis in the large middle space with their Mendocino Antiques store, Lee and Don Burleson moved into the rear space and opened Gallery Mendocino, and the Beacon kept a toehold in Mendocino, renting the west side of the building for some years. Upstairs, professionals could find offices in the space formerly used as darkrooms.

Over the last forty-five years, art galleries, gift stores, and antique stores under various ownerships have continued to occupy the downstairs of this pleasant building – Panache Gallery, Seya’s Treasures, and Calico Whale Gallery, to name but a few. And now Partners Gallery, continuing this trend, has opened its doors in this venerable old building where you can still admire the beautiful painted door to the bank vault. 

Visit the Kelley House Museum to admire our latest Coastal Collections exhibit, “Jewelry for Doors – Vintage Doorknobs from the Larry Sawyer and Harriet Bye Collection.” Open Thursday through Sundays, 11am to 3pm. 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino. Phone 707/937-5791. Website