by Kirby Lindsay
On Friday, April 30, 2010, state and federal bank regulators closed Frontier Bank, including the small branch in the neighborhood of Fremont. Union Bank bought up the assets and immediately re-opened all branches on Monday, May 3. The few differences visible, particularly at the Fremont Branch, included a Union Bank banner hanging alongside (not over) the Frontier Bank sign, a ‘transition team’ member working alongside the familiar branch staff, and stacks of informational handouts, along with plentiful amounts of candy and baked goods, made available to customers, and the curious, who stopped in.
Who They Are Now
“We (Union Bank) have no plans to close our branch in Fremont,” stated an e-mail quote attributed to Daniel Weidman, of Corporate Communications. Founded in 1864 as Bank of California, Union is a full-service bank with headquarters in San Francisco. Union has had offices in Washington State since 1905, but a press release stated, “We have been looking for the right opportunity to expand in the region for some time,” according to Union Bank President and CEO Masaaki Tanaka.
The company materials describe an institution secure and solid, as well as one with a firm commitment to community service, for which they have gained notice and won awards. Retail branch employees get involved in community organizations, events and charitable causes. The Union Bank 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility report mentions a new program where employees can be paid for time spent on Community Reinvestment Act approved programs.
Who They Were Then
This will be the latest incarnation for our little bank that could. When Union acquired the Fremont branch of Frontier, it took stewardship of a significant portion of Fremont’s history.
The first meeting of the shareholders of Fremont First National Bank took place on May 12, 1994, at the Doric Lodge #92 (619 N. 36th St). The shareholders represented a determined group of Fremonsters determined to see a bank open in the heart of this community. With the leadership of Bank President Bill Parker, the bank opened for business on May 16, in a 1,848 square foot “modular building” (a trailer) on the otherwise empty lot at 600 N. 36th St (now the SPACE building.)
In late summer of 1996, Fremont First leadership – and this community – became bitterly divided over plans to lease a former bank building at 5602 – 15th Avenue N.W., “within two miles” of the original location according to Parker. A vote by shareholders, held on September 11, 1996, approved the relocation of Fremont First headquarters to this building, in the neighborhood of Ballard.
In January 1997, before the move had been completed, a letter to shareholders announced the bank’s name change, to NorthStar. “Our present name and logo work well in the Fremont area but they do not relate to other markets…” wrote President Parker. Soon after these changes, Parker left NorthStar and Ozzie Kvithammer took over.
President Ellen Sas would eventually negotiate a move of the Fremont branch of NorthStar from the modular building to its current location, at 651 N. 34th St. She would also be on hand when stockholders approved, on January 24, 2006, the merger of NorthStar with the larger, better established Frontier Financial Services. The merger immediately gave Frontier – founded in 1978 and headquartered in Everett – a good foothold in Ballard and Fremont.
As Frontier makes way for Union Bank, changes will occur. However, it is to be hoped that the spirit and strength that led the people of Fremont to launch Fremont First will be perceived, respected and proudly carried on by those who now own it.
Note of Disclosure: Kirby Lindsay held stock in Fremont First/NorthStar/Frontier Bank, and did her banking at Fremont First, Frontier and, now, Union Bank.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.