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1873 gathering led to the creation of Zion's Savings Bank

On July 1, 1873, 13 of the leading citizens of Utah Territory met at Brigham Young's small office located between Beehive House and the Lion House on South Temple to "consider an important subject long on the mind of President Young."

He wanted to create a financial institution that could be used by all of the territory residents, and he thought it should be called Zion's Savings Bank and Trust Co. A resolution to that effect was adopted unanimously the same day.On Aug. 22, the Journal of History reported on its front page: "On the 6th of the present month, Zion's Savings Bank and Trust Company was incorporated under the laws of Utah Territory, with a capital stock of $200,000, twenty-five percent of which is paid up."

The building immediately south of the drug department of ZCMI on Main St. was "tastefully fitted up" and on Oct. 1 the Journal of History announced: "This much needed institution commenced business this morning . . . under highly favorable auspices."

Two years later, the bank moved south to midblock, and the 10 percent interest paid on savings was cut to 8 percent. Interest on loans was capped at 24 percent annually.

A year after that, the bank's directors bought the old Wells corner of Main and South Temple for $7,150, started work on a new six-story building on the site and moved into One Main St. on Nov. 1, 1889. Although that building is gone, Zions Bancorp.'s headquarters in the Gateway Tower East remains the same, One Main St.

A payroll schedule of July 1, 1891, lists the cashier's salary as $250 per month, tellers got between $100 and $115, the janitor and watchman were paid $60 each and the office boy pulled down $35.

The financial panic of 1893, brought on in part by the collapse of silver prices, put extreme pressure on the bank but President Wilford Woodruff, who had headed the bank since 1887, declared: "I believe if we go ahead the bank will stand, will be sustained by the people and the Lord. We believe we should pay our depositors all we owe them."

The bank withstood the panic and emerged solvent and growing.

Through the "Gay Nineties," Zion's helped launch Bingham Copper Co. (now Kennecott), the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railroad Co. (now the Union Pacific mainline to the West Coast), Deseret News, Salt Lake Gas Co. (a predecessor of Questar Corp.), Utah Sugar Co., Inland Salt Co. and many more.

By 1918, deposits had grown to $9 million and in 1920, capital had increased to $1 million.

Zion's survived the Wall Street crash of 1929, but three years later the Great Depression was putting heavy pressure on even sound banks as depositors read of the many involuntary bank closures across the country. On Feb. 15, 1932, Zion's depositors began lining up, passbooks in hand, to withdraw their savings, launching a severe run on the bank. Three days later, $1.5 million had been taken out, but the long lines began to shorten when depositors got the word that the bank would remain open until all demands were met.

A sign placed in the bank window contained a statement signed by Heber J. Grant and Anthony W. Ivins stating that the LDS Church was the largest shareholder and "IT WILL NOT LET THIS BANK FAIL." But no help was needed from the church, said the statement. "Fear of its failure is not only without foundation, but positively foolish. There is no safer bank in the State or the Nation."

The queues began again, this time to redeposit their money. By the end of the month, the $1.5 million was back in the safe and deposits had exceeded withdrawals for the month.

By April 13, 1951, when President David O. Mckay was elected bank president, deposits stood at a record $37 million. In 1957, Zion's Savings Bank and Trust Co., Utah Savings and Trust Co. (founded 1889) and First National Bank of Salt Lake City (founded 1890) merged to form Zions First National Bank, dropping the familiar apostrophe from the name. Deposits now totaled $109 million.

By 1960, church authorities decided the church should divest itself of its banking interests and on April 22, majority control was sold to Keystone Insurance and Investment Co., a Utah corporation headed by Leland B. Flint, Roy W. Simmons and Judson S. Sayre.

In 1965, the holding company's name was changed to Zions Bancorp. and in 1966 it became a publicly owned company. In 1972, the last of minority shareholders holding shares in Zions First National Bank had their shares exchanged for stock in the holding company.