WAY BACK WHEN: Bannister Furniture
This past weekend, a new nightclub opened on Main Street, Thunder Struck Valley. The building where it lives is no stranger to the nightlife and has sat waiting for some action for the past several years.
What most people see is one huge room with restrooms and a kitchen in back, and now, another bar upstairs. But 125 years ago, the structure looked quite different. It was two buildings, two storefronts, built when the town was not even a decade old.
William H. Bannister came from Molina in the 1890s and opened a furniture store and funeral parlor. It was a very normal thing for a furniture store to double as a “getting ready place” for the dearly departed. Bannister also established his own cemetery on Orchard Mesa to provide better service to his customers. Those plots were eventually bought by the city and became part of the Municipal Cemetery we know today.
William Bannister’s two brothers, Earl and Olney, and a sister, Pearl Silcox, joined him in the business and the store became Bannister Brothers and Silcox. The family got out of the undertaking business in 1912, and in 1915, Earl Bannister died in the flu epidemic. In 1920, Pearl sold out to her brothers and moved to Denver and got into the theater business. The store became Bannister Furniture.
In 1927, Pearl’s son Jim came to live with Ollie and work in the store. Silcox celebrated the store’s 60th anniversary in 1957, its 75th anniversary in 1972, and its closing in 1999. At 102 years, the furniture store had seen four generations of the Bannister family open and close its doors for business each day.
Olney, or Ollie, Bannister was by far the more well-known and civic-minded of the bunch. He was a Colorado state senator from 1918 to 1934, a member of the local Elks Club and an active Rotarian. As state senator, he helped pass legislation that changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River and in 1925 established Grand Junction State College, the institution that eventually became a university and would soon be renamed Mesa Junior College. In the 1930s, Ollie Bannister championed the need to reform the “deplorable” conditions of the state hospital for the insane in Pueblo.
The two buildings that housed Bannister Furniture were given a shiny new facade that gave it the modern midcentury look. The Mesa Theatre, the Cooper Theater, Gordon’s Store, Montgomery Ward and Woolworth’s all followed suit, and Operation Foresight changed the way downtown Grand Junction saw itself. Those businesses were right in step. That atomic-age look remains today, although the interior of 436 Main St. would be unrecognizable to any of the Bannisters, save the elevator in the alley that once brought caskets and davenports up from the basement.
Chet Allen gave us many nights of dancing and drinking and hanging out with friends at Boomers. Good luck to Thunder Struck Valley. May none of us end up in that elevator.