SPRING CITY, Pa. -- When jeweler Cathy Calhoun returned to the site of her old job, she found a gem: a building ripe for renovation. She's now taken the quirky former bank, where she worked as a teller in the 1970s, and turned it into a home that blends both history and modern luxury.
The heart of the place is the vaults. Really, how many other people can boast vaults -- ones that still had valuables inside?
The vault on the main floor of the 1872 building houses shiny safe-deposit boxes, some of which Calhoun has opened. "I still have 222 boxes to get drilled open. As I finish a project in the house, I'll allow myself to go through 50," says Calhoun. "That's my incentive to finish projects."
Inside she has found old coins, glass photo negatives of "old Victorian people," arrowheads, love letters, postcards and handwritten savings passbooks. "My favorites are the love letters from a man's mistress -- for 43 years," Calhoun says.
The former National Bank of Spring City, a small town outside of Philadelphia, stopped functioning as a bank in 1989, and Calhoun says she's heard from plenty of people making claims on the safe-deposit items. Yet, she reports, not one of them has been able to come up with the right box number or other proof. She still has the signature cards, and is happy for anyone to try to make a match.
Until then, the paraphernalia hang on the walls of the vault, which she has turned into a gleaming bar, and some items are donated to local historical societies.
Downstairs, there's another vault -- this one was used for most of the cash, and bank and stock ledgers. That's Calhoun's sauna.
The door doesn't function but it sits, more than a foot thick, about halfway ajar.
When the bank was robbed in 1921, hostages were kept in the basement vault.
The smallest vault, which belonged to the head teller and is near the front door, is now an entertainment center.
Calhoun can mark the spot in her dining room where she once stood as a teller. She worked there 10 years before her then-boyfriend, who owned a jewelry store, became ill around the holidays and asked her to come work with him.
In terms of her career as a jeweler, the rest is history: Calhoun Jewelers in nearby Royersford has grown into a successful business, and Calhoun herself was recognized in 2008 as the Pennsylvania Jeweler of the Year. She is president-elect of the American Gem Society.
But she wasn't done with Spring City.
She was contacted by her old bank boss soon after the bank closed because he thought the location might make a good jewelry store. Calhoun saw there wasn't enough traffic, but she was charmed by the details, including a player piano that used to entertain customers, 3-foot granite walls that keep the place cool in summer and warm in winter, and what was likely to be a cheap price since the property was being auctioned.
"I thought it would make a cool house. I envisioned what it should look like at that very moment, although I'm still discovering nooks and crannies," she says.
The exterior still has a storefront-type entrance on a Main Street that has seen better days. But Calhoun is doing what she can to give the neighborhood a facelift: She owns the restaurant across the street and a nearby seniors housing complex, and she has a land-development company.
The renovations at her own house took years and cost more than she can put a price tag on, but she's clearly pleased with the results. (When she submitted a sealed bid for the property, she assumed the building would be empty when she got the keys, but, "it really looked like they closed up one day and just never came back.")
She has decorated with animal print rugs, and bold graphic dishes and home accessories. The modern art that Calhoun favors is a striking juxtaposition with the antique building.
Her personal oasis is the bathroom just off her bedroom. It's two stories, with a fireplace, rain-style shower and a large tub with a view of a flat-screen TV. Up the stairs are her closets and dressing area.
As much as she loves the rest of her home, Calhoun says, if she could figure out regular food deliveries, she'd just live in that bathroom.