Society for Savings was the first mutual savings bank in the state of Connecticut. Incorporated in 1819, it operated in Hartford until it “merged” with Bank of Boston under the weight of a failed commercial real estate loan portfolio. Lots of savings banks in New England followed that same tortured route.
Savings banks were under a lot of pressure in the 1980s. For over 150 years, they were considered slow, simple, albeit successful institutions. One disparaging adage was:
“Running a savings bank is as easy as 3, 4, 5. Pay 3% on deposits, charge 4% on loans and be on the golf course at 5:00.”
In the early 80s, savings banks felt that they had to compete with commercial banks. They began by offering Demand Deposit Accounts (DDA) a.k.a. checking accounts. Those accounts were attractive because savings banks paid a little bit of interest on the average monthly balance. The strategy helped them make inroads on the commercial banks. That small success inspired a lot of these small local savings banks to start commercial lending operations and commercial mortgage operations. To go for the big money. Hey, a mortgage is a mortgage is a mortgage…right? Well, so it seemed.
By the mid-80s, Society for Savings was doing well, so well that they started making big plans. They decided to get into the commercial real estate market in Hartford in a significant way. In the most significant way. They decided to build a skyscraper of their own.
They bought all the small businesses next to their main branch office, including my favorite hardware store – Greenspons Hardware (that had been in Hartford since 1919). They tore all those buildings down in order to build a high rise office tower that was to incorporate the façade of the original branch, including the doors featured today. Just about the time that they finished creating a sprawling vacant dirt lot, they started losing money. They soon realized that commercial lending, commercial mortgages or commercial anything is nothing like guarding the life savings of little old ladies.
Society for Savings moved quickly from losing money to bleeding money. Their construction plans never came to fruition. Bank of Boston bought the assets of the savings band and absorbed it into their network the way you and I might swallow a handful of peanuts.
In the late 90s, Fleet Bank (a bigger Borg) came along and bought Bank of Boston. In 2005, Bank of America bought Fleet. The grand lobby of Society for Savings’ main branch is now the Society Room, a place to hold political fundraisers and fancy functions. The land where the small businesses used to thrive is a parking lot. Hartford lost a great hardware store.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. It’s a great series and you are invited to share your doors with us as well.