Olive Through the Ages

Commerce: First National Bank of Olive

Brick yard & tile co. | Bank of Olive | Olive Garage | Olive Hotel & Motel | Olive Mill | Other

This story of Olive's only bank and the building in which it was housed includes many fascinating and disjointed pieces of history I've woven together in what may seem to be a surreal tale.

The bank's quick rise to prominence during the height of citrus growing years, followed by its sharp decline during the Great Depression years, is the story you might expect to read and will find here.

But who would have known the bank also made newpaper headlines in the 1920s in association with what was called "Orange County's greatest bandit hunt"? And long after the bank operations ceased, the building would be used for fraudulent banking activities? Even more unusual, that the building once housed a toy air rocket factory and store?

My thanks to Dennis Gray, retired Police Lieutenant, Brea Police Department, for providing articles about the Brea police officers involved in the Olive bank robbery; to historian Gordon T. McClelland for supplying information about the Sol-Air Products toy rocket factory, as well as links to information about bank notes printed by the First National Bank of Olive; and to Fred Meyers, grandson of Henry C. Meyers, for providing never-before-seen photos of the bank building, an illustrated postcard, and blank bank statement.

All of these fascinating pieces of the bank and its associated history make the story a tale you may long remember!


The founding of Olive's bank

The First National Bank of Olive started early in 1916 when resident Kadja Vincent (K.V.) Wolff — assistant cashier at the National Bank of Orange — approached a few citizens from Olive, and ranchers adjacent to the town, with the proposition of establishing a local bank.

The organization was formed in spring that year, with an experienced team comprised of conservative, but progressive-thinking, members: President Dr. J.D. Thomas — formerly a dentist before his retirement and relocation to California in 1903, and also president of the Olive Improvement Association and Olive Heights Citrus Association; Vice President Jesse Domanigo (J.D.) Spennetta — a fruit buyer, shipper, and proprietor of the Red Fox Orchards in downtown Orange, and later secretary of Olive Hillside Groves Packing House; A.M. Lorenzen — postmaster of the Olive Post Office from 1913 to 1919; ranchers D.P. Crawford and H.T. Moennich, the latter who was a member of the Olive Protection district group; and Cashier Kadja Wolff, a well-liked and respected local citizen who dedicated significant efforts in working with various groups to build up and maintain the Township of Olive.

After receiving a permit from Washington D.C., the bank began operating on August 24 in its temporary location at the Olive Mercantile store on the Meyers block. Operations relocated to the newly-finished, permanent two-story structure commissioned by Henry C. Meyers on whose land the brick building was constructed. A well-attended ceremony on October 16 found guests impressed by the mahogany furnishings, marble bases, and a modern, spacious vault possessing a manganese steel time-lock safe.

First National Bank of Olive, c1915

Click/tap the image of the Bank from circa 1916 to view it in a separate window.



First National Bank of Olive, c1915
Click/tap the image of the Bank from circa 1916 to view it in a separate window.  

On the afternoon of Saturday October 21, 1916, more than 100 guests from Orange, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Los Angeles attended the formal reception announcing the bank’s opening to the public. A luncheon was hosted at the Olive Hall for stockholders and their wives. Approximately 50 guests enjoyed a chicken dinner served by the ladies of the Olive Sewing Circle. J.D. gave the welcome address and discussed community development, encouraging cooperation for the advancement of Olive. And Kadja spoke, emphasizing business cooperation and how business interests in the community are related.

The Olive bank attained instant success. At the close of 1916, deposits amounted to $33,903. Three years later, these had grown to $175,865. By the close of business on December 31, 1921, deposits showed $221,205, with one fall month of that year showing a record high of $300,633. This remarkable achievement for a small, rural town bank proved to the business community that operations were well-managed and investors possessed much confidence in the leadership of the organization.

Kadja Wolff, bank cashier and Olive community member

The Orange Post attributed much of the bank's success to the management team, in particular Kadja whom the paper reported had "given himself unreservedly to the bank and who has at the same time found time to devote his energies without stint to everything that has gone toward the upbuilding of the town he has chosen as his place of business abode."

The charismatic Kadja Wolff, a native of Morris, Minnesota, was raised and educated in Lead, South Dakota. He arrived in California in 1904, and worked as a cashier for Fairbanks Morse & Co. of Los Angeles, resigning two years later due to problems with his eyesight.

About 1909, he moved to Orange and began working for the Klank Furnishing store when his financial skills subsequently landed him a position at the National Bank of Orange.

In 1910, Kadja married Helen McCarty, and the two settled in a home on a seven-acre orange ranch located south of Olive. The middle of the decade found Kadja employed at the First National Bank of Olive. The 1920 United States Federal Census lists Kadja's address as being Anaheim Blvd. in Orange, CA, and that he and his wife Helen had two daughters: Elizabeth, who was six, and Eileen, who was four years old. By 1922, he had purchased a 12-acre orchard in the Santa Ana Canyon and moved to that site while retaining ownership of the initial site.

Before the mid-1920s, Kadja had become a fixture in the Olive community. As secretary of the Olive and West Olive Protection district group, he and the group members helped ranchers save thousands of dollars by protecting their orchards from the rising waters of the Santa Ana river. Kadja also helped to start up and manage the Olive Improvement Association which, among the many benefits this organization provided, obtained an order from the Railroad Commission to extend gas service to Olive. Additionally, he served as clerk of the school board.

However, it was Kadja's affiliation with the First National Bank of Olive for which he would most be remembered in the community. In particular, one memorable incident at the bank brought him attention throughout Orange County.

The day the bank was robbed

On June 25, 1924, Kadja was working at the bank counter with his assistant, Mrs. Dorothy L. Dresser, when a small, well-dressed, young man with dark hair entered just before the 3:00 p.m. closing time.

By this time, no customers remained in the bank, so the man freely addressed Kadja about his employment as a Pacific Mutual Life insurance agent. For 15 minutes he attempted to persuade Kadja to establish a branch agency in the bank, but Kadja dismissed him.

"Wait a minute, I want to show you our list of policyholders," he said. The man opened his leather briefcase and began frantically searching through his papers. "I must have left them in my machine," he added. Then, withdrawing his hand from the briefcase, he had a revolver leveled at Kadja and Dorothy.

"No, don’t raise your hands; I don’t want you to touch off any buttons," the man admonished, and then ordered the pair to back into the vault. "Say, does anyone know the combination so they can let you out?"

"I'm not saying, but the minute you lock us in there, I'll sound the burglar alarm," Kadja replied.

The man considered this outcome and ordered the two into an adjoining restroom and locked them inside.

He then rifled the cash drawer of $1900 in cash, and headed for the exit.

As the robber cranked the engine of his small, beat-up roadster and leapt into it, Kadja pulled the pins from the door hinges, sounding the burglar alarm.

The car sped off towards Anaheim. Near the Olive bridge, two miles west of Olive, it approached a high-end, blue touring car sitting on the dirt road beside the paved highway. Quickly abandoning his roadster, the robber entered this new machine that had four men sitting inside of it, and the vehicle continued north towards Los Angeles.

Within 10 minutes after the robbery, a few cars began pursuing the big, blue machine. George Harris, a carpenter from Fullerton, pulled up alongside the vehicle but was ordered to "get off the road" by the driver who flashed a revolver in his face.

Motorcycle Officer George Peterkin of Brea joined the pursuit through the Brea Canyon followed by a fellow officer, rookie Charles Don Shanner.

While rounding a curve at more than 50 miles per hour, near a school house just outside of Brea, the young officer collided head-on with a car driven by C.E. Harper of Whittier who was traveling into Brea with his wife and six-year-old son. The impact of the collision catapulted the officer from his motorcycle, causing him to crash through the windshield and land on the front seat of the car.

Officer Shanner was rushed to Union Oil hospital in Brea while Officer Peterkin continued the chase until he lost sight of the robber's car and abandoned his pursuit in that direction. He was unaware of Offer Shanner’s accident until returning to Brea.

Fortunately, the officer and three crash victims survived the accident that resulted from what was called "Orange County's greatest bandit hunt."

The four men in the blue touring car, Pedro Veto, Mike Saniti, Peter Carlucci, and Pat Zona, were subsequently caught and held in the Fullerton jail, charged with transporting liquor, while the robber of the First National Bank of Olive remained on the lam.

Months later, the robber was arrested in Wray, Colorado, near the Nebraska state border. The November 30, 1924 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported that Kadja and Dorothy had identified the robber from several prisoners held in the Santa Ana County Jail where he now awaited trial. In addition to being charged for robbing the First National Bank of Olive, Raymond R. Remington was also charged with jointly robbing the First National Bank of Watts on August 29, stealing $6373 in cash.

Raymond was incarcerated at the Folsom penitentiary. Two years later, he was sent to Santa Ana where he was indicted by the Orange County grand jury on December 27, 1926 on the charge of robbery.

The Olive bank robbery trial which commenced on March 24, 1927 received additional press because of unusual circumstances that brought together three family members: Prosecutor District Attorney Z.B. West, Jr., his brother Franklin G. West who served as counsel for the defense, and their brother "Eddie" West who represented the press. The following day, the jury in Superior Judge Homer G. Ames' court found Raymond guilty of first-degree robbery for robbing the Olive bank. A few days later, he received a sentence of five years or more in a state prison.

Kadja's promotion, misappropriation of funds, and relocation

First National Bank of Olive, c1925

Click/tap the image of the First National Bank of Olive building from c1925 to view it in a separate window.




Business continued to thrive at the Olive bank. In mid-January at the annual stockholders' meeting, Kadja announced a $40,000 monthly increase in 1926 compared to 1925, with a gain of approximately $42,000 in total resources. The bank showed a monthly average of $167,000 in 1926, compared to about $125,000 in 1925. Annual comparisons showed December 31, 1926 resources totalling to $260,279.47 compared to $218,302.24 on the same date in 1925. The total deposits in 1926 amounted to $213,681.91, whereas in 1925, this amount was listed at $169,585.09.

By September 10, 1927, records showed a $50,000 gain since the previous year, with resources totaling $278,047, and $229,358 in deposits.

The following year, the First National Bank of Olive board of directors elected Kadja as the bank's new vice president. His assistant Dorothy of the past six years was promoted to cashier to succeed him in managing the bank. The November 22, 1928 edition of the Santa Ana Register reported that Kadja, who had been in charge of the bank for the past 12 years, would now be spending most of his time as treasurer of a steel furniture manufacturing company in Baldwin Park and just one day a week tending to business at the bank.

In 1930, Kadja was living with his wife and three daughters in a rented home in Covina, Los Angeles County. The May 10 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported he had been accused of misappropriating funds from the First National Bank of Olive, for which restitution had been made. Kadja pleaded guilty to the charges and had returned $58,000 to the bank, though still owed $1800 in interest.

The bank remained prosperous and successful through it all. On December 27, 1930, the First National Bank of Olive and banks in Orange all reported "heavy deposits and increased resources as the result of the $15,000.000 citrus crop harvested in the Orange district during the past season."

But soon the Great Depression arrived in Olive and, as a result, the bank suffered significant losses and closed in 1933. On March 26, 1936, an announcement from the First National Bank of Olive informed depositors and creditors that the final dividend checks would be distributed.

By this time, Kadja had been living with his family in Vacaville for the past few years, having ceased operations on his orange grove in the Santa Ana Canyon around the time the Olive bank closed. For 15 years, he worked as controller of the Basic Vegetable Products Company dehydration plant and was active in his community, serving as secretary of the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce and president of the Vacaville Rotary Club.

About 1947, Kadja moved to Sacramento and worked as auditor with the California state Department of Employment, retiring five years later.

Kadja moved to Felton around 1952 and, after a long illness, passed away on March 28, 1956, survived by his wife and two of his daughters.

A feed store, toy rocket factory, and fraudulent Olive bank

Though banking operations ended years ago in the building that Kadja had helped to start up, the building that housed the First National Bank of Olive was used for several different purposes after the bank's closure. For a while, the family of Henry C. Meyers, owner of the building, lived upstairs, renting out the first floor for business operations.

Les Paulus, a long-time Olive resident who was raised in the community from the 1920s and lived there through the Great Depression years and beyond, recalled on June 19, 2009 that in the early 1930s a feed store was located on the first floor of the bank building. Les, a member of the local 4-H Club, would go there to buy chicken feed from Mr. Leek who ran the store.

Sol-Air Products rocket label, 1960s

Click/tap the image of the Sol- Air Products toy rocket label from the 1960s to view it in a separate window.




Decades later, Gordon McClelland, who lived in the community as a teenager during the early 1960s, recalled the bank building housed operations for the Sol-Air toy rocket factory owned by the father of his friend Eric Deterding. [NOTE: See Eric's 4th grade and 5th grade class photo, and Eric and Gordon's 6th grade class photo.]

The Olive Bank made the headlines again in 1965, in association with another crime. On April 30, a check in the amount of $18,500 from the "Main Branch Bank of Olive" was presented at the Norwalk Branch of the First American Savings and Loan Association by a man who wanted to open an account there.

The First American Savings and Loan Association representative called the "Olive Bank" and was assured by the cashier that the check was official. However, the cashier at the bank in Olive was a fraud with a fictitious name, and the bank itself was fictitious, operating from the rented, first floor of the old First National Bank of Olive building that had a temporary telephone line installed under a fictitious name.

The customer opened an account for $8,500 and received $10,000 from the Savings and Loan, in the amounts of $9,500 by check and $500 in cash. The check was successfully cashed at a nearby bank. Later that day, two unsuccessful attempts were made in the Norwalk area to cash checks in large amounts from the Bank of Olive.

By the following year, all activity in the bank building ceased when structure was razed in 1966, in preparation for the realignment of Lincoln Avenue.

The Olive bank site and bank notes today

First National Bank of Olive bank notes

Click/tap the image of the First National Bank of Olive bank notes to view it in a separate window.




In 1998, the parcel of land on which the bank building once stood became a part of the property on which Greystone Homes constructed their Greystone Crossings detached residential condominium units.

Today the First National Bank of Olive name can still be seen, though infrequently, on bank notes sold to collectors at auction galleries. According to the AntiqueMoney.com website, during a 19-year printing period, the bank printed six different types and denominations of national currency in the sum of $184,000, which by national bank standards is a small amount. These factors make the currency rare, as can be discerned by the fact that these notes in denominations of 10 or 20 dollars have sold for thousands of dollars.

The First National Bank of Olive is a rarity in itself, with all of its unique and often exciting history in the town that once was known as the Gateway City between Riverside and the Pacific Coast.

- Daralee, August 10, 2018;
updated April 10, 2021

Sources: Samuel Armor, History of Orange County, California with Biographical Sketches, Orange County, CA: The First National Bank of Olive, 1921; Phil Brigandi, A Brief History of Orange, California: The Plaza City, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011; "First National Bank of Olive Rendering Vital Aid To Growth of District," The Orange Post, Greater Olive Expansion Edition, April 27, 1922, page 10; "Olive Bank Opens," The Financier, New York, 1918; ProQuest Los Angeles Times newspaper articles from 1923 to 1965; Santa Ana Register and Santa Cruz Sentinel articles from Newspapers.com; Brea newspaper articles from 1920s courtesy Dennis Gray, retired Police Lieutenant, Brea Police Department; United States Federal Census, 1930; Los Angeles City Directories: 1906, 1907, 1908; Santa Ana City Directory: 1923; Anaheim City Directory: 1925; online articles accessed June 2018: "Vacaville's 'Onion Plant' and the Sacramento Northerm" (https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,2529257);
"First National Bank of Olive" (http://www.coinfactswiki.com/wiki/First_National_Bank_of_Olive,_California); "Old Money from the First National Bank of Olive" (http://www.antiquemoney.com/national-bank-notes/california/old-money-from-the-first-national-bank-of-olive-10891/); Les Paulus interview (with Mike Paulus) June 17, 2009; Gordon T. McClelland email from July 9, 2012.


First National Bank of Olive images

Click/tap the thumbnail to view the selected image:

First National Bank of Olive postcard, c1915

Postcard with an illustration of the First National Bank of Olive circa 1915.

First National Bank of Olive statement

Photo of a blank First National Bank of Olive bank statement.
First National Bank of Olive, c1915 and 2009 Composite image showing the First National Bank of Olive circa 1916 and the same view in 2009.   First National Bank of Olive, c1925 and 2017 Composite image showing the First National Bank of Olive circa 1925 and the same view in 2017.

Go to Main menu