Cordova Chronicles: Time marches on

Much consternation over the loss of the bank’s time-temp sign

The recently installed Wells Fargo sign has Cordovans lamenting the loss of time and temperature displays.

One of Main Street’s iconic signs is gone. A few days after Cordova’s popular Fourth of July kelp box races finished in front of Wells Fargo bank, orange traffic cones funneled traffic around a boom truck parked by its main entrance.  

Down came the time-temp sign that has been there since the National Bank of Alaska occupied that location prior to a buy-out by the nationwide Wells Fargo firm in 2001. 

Cordova’s history of dramatic fires played a role in our shifting bank landscape. One of Cordova’s early banks, the First Bank of Cordova, was located in what was Orca Book and Sound, and now Lure’s Beauty Salon. A major fire in 1951 gutted the nearby Lathrop Building, but its solid cement walls remained standing, so rebuilding proceeded to create a new location for the First Bank of Cordova, plus the popular Elks Lodge on the floor below. When the First Bank of Cordova was bought out by NBA, a new sign was erected which included the time and tempurature display.   

While local denizens may quietly grumble about interest rates that generate less earnings per $1,000 than the price paid per pound to fisherman for king salmon, they become downright vocal in their consternation regarding the loss of the bank’s time and temp display. And of course, Facebook adds another whole dimension to expressing opinions.  

It turns out that, like many Cordova issues, this one is not new. Shannon Mallory, manager of Wells Fargo for the last six years, has heard a number of complaints, and provided an explanation, plus historical perspective. 

“Believe it or not, the time-temperature display below the Wells Fargo sign was not even part of it when that firm installed a new sign after its buy out of NBA,” Mallory said. 

“In fact, when the NBA time-temp sign came down, there was such a community outcry and brouhaha that manger Jon Staving, who had kept the time-temp display, had it re-installed below the new Wells Fargo sign.” 

“I don’t know how old the time-temp display was at that time, (unintended pun), but over the years since 2001 it has been constantly breaking down, to the point where we could no longer find parts necessary for repair,” she said. 

The iconic Alaska Hotel and Bar sign remains a Main Street staple.

One must admit it certainly does feel strange to drive down Main Street and not glance up to read time and temp data. For little tykes strapped in car seats or strollers, it may have been their first encounter with numbers. Plus the info was always good for a conversation starter when going in the bank or other establishments. 

“Wow, it’s cold out there,” at the teller’s window, after a reading in single digits; or “Man, it’s hot today,” while buying an ice cream cone at Northern Delights, with temp sign flashing an unbelievable 75 degrees.   

Or “Holy smokes, it’s 3:30, I need to go pick up the kids at school,” while hauling groceries out of the Front Door Store. And 10 (as in a.m.), the basis for our system of counting, seemed to be a magic number at both the banks and post office, as lines form at that opening time to makes deposits, cash checks or mail parcels. 

My daughter Gretchen worked at Wells Fargo for a while, and always looked forward to stocky Howard Johnson, he of boom-truck fame, waiting in line, sauntering up to the customer service window, jeans rolled up several wraps, grin on his face and asking “Got any loot today?” 

Ah, institutions and characters, so much of Cordova. As was the time and temp display. 

Hopefully, the demise of the Wells Fargo time-temp sign doesn’t foreshadow the loss of another famous Main Street sign, attached outside the Alaskan Bar. The upside-down yellow display was intentionally installed in that orientation so topsy-turvy departing patrons could establish a waypoint from which to head home in the right direction 

Perhaps the now-departed time-temp display motivated them to move with haste less they freeze their fannies off, and also work up a good story en route as they realized their arrival time at home would be well after scheduled port call. 

Nonetheless, there still is a Main Street time-temp display. It appears on the bright neon signboard above Laura’s Liquor, but you better be quick, for it scrolls by, along with several other messages, far too rapidly for late night revelers. 

Plus there is this. Rumors are always a major topic in Cordova, almost constantly changing as fast as time and temperatures. One floating around has a competing institution considering a time-temp sign. Manager Cully Wooden of First National Bank Alaska only response was: “We are currently upgrading our exterior and interior, and who knows?” 

Indeed. Who knows what the time and temperature are these days?  

Laura’s Liquor scrolling neon sign displays time and temperature as one of its many features.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016.