Historic black bank honored in new branch on North Union
Kelly Montgomery remembers in the 1960s when her father George Montgomery gathered together some friends in his living room to talk about starting Gateway Bank on Union Boulevard, near Natural Bridge.
“My father was a pioneer,” she said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new St. Louis Community Credit Union Gateway Branch at 3412 N. Union Blvd. on Monday, February 29. “In the 1960s, African Americans weren’t given the opportunity to obtain loans or employment at banks.”
The bank’s opening was a response to the 1963 civil-rights protests of Jefferson Bank & Trust Co.’s refusal to hire blacks. In the Montgomery living room, the bank’s board of directors set a goal to raise $500,000 to get the bank underway, she said. And for 40 years, Gateway provided banking services and loans to the community of North St. Louis.
In 2009, Gateway Bank failed under the recession, was taken over by the FDIC and sold to Central Bank of Kansas City. For three years, Central Bank managed the bank’s $12 million in deposits and about $13 million in assets. Yet in 2012, Central Bank received permission from the FDIC to permanently close the location, arguing that they couldn’t find a buyer to keep the bank open.
About 1,300 primarily African-American and low-income residents in North St. Louis called Gateway their bank. In a climate where 28.6 percent of African-American households in St. Louis are unbanked, community leaders were not willing to see the bank close in one of the nation’s most under-banked areas.
In 2012, St. Louis Community Credit Union came forward and agreed to build a new branch in Gateway’s original location. The credit union’s board chairman, Gerald Brooks, director of marketing and public relations for the St. Louis Public Library, is African-American.
About 100 people came out to celebrate the new $1.4 million building, designed by local African-American architect Karl Grice, at the February 29 ceremony. One of the original board directors, Melvyn Harrington, was among the attendants.
“My father would be very proud that Gateway’s traditions will continue through this financial institution,” Montgomery said.
1st Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, who represents the neighborhoods around Gateway, said that the community’s ability to walk or drive around the block to their credit union is “priceless.”
“A credit union is member-owned,” Tyus said. “Everyone who belongs to it is helping the community. My heart just beats with pride.”
Tyus and the mayor’s office worked to get $500,000 in block grants for the bank’s construction. The city’s Affordable Housing Commission also provided a grant of $200,000.
“We believe in the future of North St. Louis,” said Dorothy Bell, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of St. Louis Community Credit Union.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, said he remembers in August 2012 seeing the sign on the bank’s front door – “Gateway Bank will be closing in 90 days.”
“Over the years, Gateway took local deposits and made loans in a neighborhood where few other banks focused,” he said.
Read more at The St Louis American