The talk of the town is of the new construction and destruction taking place. Yes, Kilgore is growing in spite of a pandemic and a political arena covering national news. In the south, we know how to get it done and we need to forge forward not backward — and it takes knowing the history to get it accomplished.

Stories are coming in regarding the tearing down of the Regions Building for a new Chick-Fil-A, and along with those stories come some sadness that the beautiful building is being destroyed.

Mary Lynn Latham, who is now retired from the banking world of Kilgore said, “I was in that building for 25 years with Kilgore National Bank when Regions bought it. We used every part of that building at that time.”

She continued to work for Regions during a transitional phase before moving to City National — currently Austin Bank — and then back to Kilgore National Bank — which became Vera Bank — before retiring.

She said, “I would love to have that safe (in the old bank building) but have no place to put it!”

According to Randy Brogoitti, the safe door alone weighs 2,000 to 2,500 lbs. He said, “The door is perfectly balanced so one person could open and shut it. Of course, you couldn’t open it very fast, but once the combination and other procedures took place, it would gradually open. It is actually a vault within a vault. The inside vault held all of the coins and currency, and the outside vault was for the safe deposit boxes.”

The building was first occupied by Kilgore National Bank in 1971. It was at that time the word “First” was added to it, making it Kilgore First National Bank. Joe Pearson was the bank president at the time.

Randy said, “I went to work at the bank in 1975 and succeeded Joe as president in 1984. During that time, the bank tripled in size in both deposits and assets. When Joe left, he and several investors bought Kilgore Federal Savings.”

Randy was with Kilgore First National Bank for 12 years. He said, “We were sister companies with the shopping center behind us, and we built a mini-bank in the shopping center. We even had an underground pneumatic to where currency could be transferred across the parking lot without having to walk across it to handle transactions. We also was the first bank to put in an ATM machine and people thought we were crazy, but they didn’t realize how many college students would use the machine.

My greatest accomplishment though was keeping that bank alive during the oil bust in the mid-80’s. That was really a hard time. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but that bank was truly a part of Texas history.”

Yes, the bank held many memories. Darrin Mallett of Kilgore Tire Center said, “I remember as a teenager standing in line a long time to get a check cashed. It was a big deal. Now, everything is automated. It’s amazing how technology has reduced the size of our need for a bank building.

Photographer/magazine editor Bill Hedrick said, “Kilgore National Bank President Joe Pearson loaned me $5,000 in 1978 to open my studio. He loaned me that money by my signature alone; no collateral. That doesn’t happen today. They were located in the current Regions Bank building that is currently being demolished.”

Kilgore National Bank originated in 1906 and was located in the World’s Richest Acre on Commerce Street facing the railroad tracks near the old Blackstone Café. It moved from that location to the corner of East South Street and South Kilgore Street because oil wells were drilled through their floors, and was eventually moved into the building now being demolished.

There were many firsts for the bank, including having the first reconstructed derrick on the bank lot, which also led to the founding of the Kilgore Historical Preservation. The derrick was a Chevron derrick and was erected by Tom Wheeler. On February 18, 1987, they held a “blow-out” dedication that brought into Kilgore Red Adair, an internationally known oil well firefighter; Michael Halbouty geologist, petroleum engineer and wildcatter; Leon Gibson, Foster Beane; and many more well-known personalities connected to the oil industry.

It was an unforgettable day according to Randy. “You should have heard the tales. The dedication was at noon, and they all gathered in the board room afterward and shared stories. We must have stayed half the night telling tales about the oilfield and the oil boom. It was Texas history being told. If only those walls could talk what stories you could hear.”

Chick-Fil-A, you have some big shoes to fill — bring it on.

May His love and laughter fill your hearts and your homes throughout the week. In the meantime, we may be reached at chitchatlinda@aol.com or (903) 984-2593.

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May His love and laughter fill your hearts and your homes throughout the week. In the meantime, we may be reached at chitchatlinda@aol.com or (903) 984-2593.

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