Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on September 13, 2016
Crimes Of Yesteryear: Remembering The Lower Haight Bank Of America

The current Lo-Cost Meat Market. (Photo: Diana Gaffney/Hoodline)

Over the years, the storefront at 498 Haight St., at the northeast corner of Haight and Fillmore, has seen more action than you might think.

Lo-Cost Meat Market #3 has been operating from this location since 1986, but prior to that, the space was occupied by a record store, a grocer, a church and several banks. In 1924, the Mercantile Trust Company was the first bank to occupy this address. After a merger with The American Bank in 1927, it became the American Trust Company, which operated until 1937. From 1938-1973, it was the Haight-Fillmore Branch of Bank of America—a branch that was no stranger to crime.

The Mercantile Trust, 1924. | Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

On October 31st, 1970, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “the three-man police unit that made a big gun raid in the Haight-Ashbury on Thursday scored again yesterday, catching a fleeing bank robbery suspect and recovering some $1,500 in stolen cash.” This patrol was part of a larger burglary prevention sweep to reduce neighborhood crime; they arrested the suspect at a nearby restaurant within 10 minutes of responding to the bank alarm.

Confronted by a robber at 8am on February 8th, 1960, a quick-thinking bank official threw his door keys into the "middle of Haight Street and started yelling." According to the Chronicle, “The would-be robber fled, dropping a toy revolver ...” The bank teller told police he had noticed the same man standing near the entrance days earlier.

On Nov. 1st, 1957, the Chronicle reported that “a would-be check passer tried his luck at the Bank of America’s Haight-Fillmore branch for the second time in a week yesterday ... he was recognized by an alert teller, a quiet phone call to police was misconstrued as a holdup alarm, and within minutes, a dozen policemen and FBI agents were on him.”

According to the Chronicle, the “hapless suspect” crashed into a window in an effort to escape, after he realized the bank doors were locked. The teller recognized the suspect, George Walker, saying, “He took us for $55 last week.”

Bank of America, 546 Haight Street, 1938. | Photo: SAn Francisco History Center, SF Public Library.

The Haight-Fillmore Bank of America branch wasn’t always at 498 Haight St. According to the Chronicle,  Bank of America moved its branch location from 546 Haight St. to the “enlarged quarters at the northeast corner of Fillmore and Haight Streets” on April 29th, 1938.

The older 546 Haight St. location was also not immune to crime. On November 2nd, 1936, Joseph Marenco, a janitor, was shot and killed by a bank robber during a hold-up. It's unknown whether a suspect was ever apprehended for this crime.

A conversation with Pierre Pegeron, co-owner of Lo-Cost Meat Market, helped us confirm what else operated out of the Haight & Fillmore space before it became Lo-Cost.

Zinga Records sold vinyl at 498 Haight St. in the early '80s, before moving briefly to 494 Haight (now home to House of Thai 2). Before that, in the late 1970s, the corner location was home to Community Discount, a corner store and grocer. And in the mid-1970s, it was the First United Church of Jesus Christ.

Pegeron also noted that the bank vault no longer exists at the location: it was removed a long time ago, and replaced with commercial refrigeration equipment.

Pierre Pegeron, Co-owner, Lo-Cost Meat Market #3. I Photo: Hoodline

Lo-Cost Meat Market's Haight & Fillmore location, constructed in 1924, is still up for rent. According to LoopNet, the monthly retail rent is listed at $12,000-$15,000, "depending upon tenant improvements." That's a significant decrease from the March 2015 asking price of $25,000. It's listed as available for a new tenant this November.