The First National Bank of South Miami:
70 Years of Financial and Community Service
Priding itself as the city’s “hometown bank,” the First National Bank of South Miami has partnered with the community from its inception and continues to contribute time and talent, event sponsorships, and funding to non-profit organizations within our community. For 70 years, one of the many investments of Chicago’s Wirtz family is the First National Bank of South Miami and the six parcels to the south and west of the bank in our town. And the bank, located at 5750 Sunset Drive, has been a great community partner in building up our town center and the South Miami community.
IN THE BEGINNING
Until the end of World War II, South Miami was a mix of town and country. It was a place where you could purchase hay for your horse and a tux for a social event. The economy began to boom in the 1950s with more businesses opening and area residents enjoying new financial prosperity. As the city’s avocado orchards were being developed for housing the city’s downtown was experiencing a commercial expansion and revitalization. By 1954, the city reported that over $2 million in building permits were realized for commercial and residential properties.
On April 3, 1952, the First National Bank of South Miami opened for business, and for 70 years, it has been a stalwart contributor to the business and cultural life of South Miami. The city’s first financial institution was located in a modest building on Sunset, originally named the Bank of South Miami. According to author Edward M. Longo (South Miami Where Everyone Knew Your Name, published 2002) the bank was very small, with two tellers, an officer, and two bookkeepers.
A COMMUNITY AND ITS BANK
From the beginning, residents of the city were closely involved with the establishment and continued success of the bank. Paul U. Tevis (History of the City of South Miami), past mayor and council member for the city, writes that locals Mr. E. L. Cotton, Omar Stang, and Harley W. Vanderboegh were the “main instigators” for the bank. Additionally, he credits the Chamber of Commerce for assisting in obtaining the charter to establish the bank. Other sources substantiate Mr. Tevis and report that as early as 1939, city leaders were interested to establish a local financial institution. Until the bank’s opening most South Miamians conducted their banking business in Miami, Coconut Grove, or Coral Gables.
Harley W. Vanderboegh was the bank’s first president. The longtime resident was the president of the South Miami Canning Company and served as Mayor of South Miami from 1942 to 1947. Other successful local professionals and businessmen were involved in the bank’s early success, developing and promoting it within the South Miami community, including Omar Stang.
Omar Stang was an accomplished businessman who owned and leased many commercial enterprises in and around Miami. Mr. Stang worked for the bank for 26 years, becoming the bank’s president in 1961. Deeply involved in the South Miami community, he was a member of the Elks, Rotary, and a volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America. He was also the Founder and Chairman of the South Miami Federal Savings and Loan Association, as well as serving as the first Chairman of the Board of the South Miami Hospital (opened 1960).
The First National Bank of South Miami grew along with the city. By the end of their first year, they held deposits totaling $4.77 million. Seven years later in 1960, their assets had grown to more than $21 million. In 1955, the bank built a new addition to its “storefront” location that tripled the bank’s size. In need of space again, the bank purchased a number of businesses in the adjacent neighborhood. In 1960 the newly expanded bank building opened with four new drive-through teller windows and banking offices on the second floor. The parking lot was also expanded, remaining free of charge.
Jim Norris, a successful sports promoter became the chairman of the board after the passing of Mr. Vanderboegh in 1960. His business partner Arthur M. Wirtz was named as the chairman of the bank’s executive committee. Mr. Norris remained the chairman until his death in 1966. Mr. Wirtz retained control of the bank and the Wirtz family remains with the bank to this day.
Chicagoan Arthur M. Wirtz (1901 – 1983) was an entrepreneur and founder of the Wirtz Corporation (established 1922). The corporation houses various business interests of the Wirtz family, that include among many other ventures ownership of the Chicago Black Hawks Hockey Team, the United Stadium, property around the stadium, other real estate ventures, and wholesale alcoholic beverages. Wirtz’s business acumen served the bank and the community extremely well and he was responsible for developing a long-term and effective vision for the bank’s prosperity.
The year 1960 saw the beginning of substantial changes for the bank. In addition to new leadership, the bank obtained trust powers allowing it to provide trust services to its customers. This prompted a name change in 1961 to The First Bank and Trust Company of South Miami. By 1963 the assets of the bank exceeded $25 million, qualifying it for a National Charter and the backing of the Federal Reserve System. This occasioned another and final name change to the First National Bank of South Miami. Other modifications were made along the way, including additional construction to the main bank building in 1977. As well as increasing the size of the bank building, the expansion created an impressive hallway that linked the existing structure to the new construction.
THE WIRTZ GALLERY
The expanded bank facility’s new hallway proved to be the ideal place for an art gallery. In keeping with the bank’s community-mindedness, the Wirtz Gallery was opened in 1986 to the public and for the public’s use. Named in honor of Arthur M. Wirtz, the mission of the non-profit gallery is to provide a professional setting for all levels of artists to display and sell their artwork, with no fee due to the gallery. It provides the public the opportunity to enjoy art rendered in a variety of media.
Wirtz Gallery is noteworthy as the country’s first art gallery to be located in a community bank and as South Miami’s only downtown venue dedicated to art exhibitions.
Artists are invited to host an Opening Night Reception generally held on the second Friday of the month from 6-8 p.m. The general public and clients of the bank are always invited to meet the artists during opening night receptions. Exhibits are installed for a period of 30 days.
SERVICE AND INNOVATION
In keeping with the bank’s concerns to expand services to its customers, investment opportunities such as treasury bills, treasury notes, and certificates of deposit became available in the 1980s. At this time the bank increased the size of the vault to become one of the largest bank vaults in South Florida. With that expansion came the tripling of the number of safe deposit boxes to 6,000 and a variety of sizes capable of accommodating large personal collections for customers. Other innovations were offered to the bank’s clientele, including express banking in 1982 (ATM) and a drive-through ATM in 1983—the first in the state of Florida. In 1987, the Twiglet Bank was established with David Fairchild Elementary on the school grounds in the little caboose. The purpose was to help children develop an understanding of how to manage their own money, open a savings account, and open certificates of deposit. Twiglet Bank garnered national media attention and served as a model for other institutions around the country. Twiglet even has its own charter. Through time the First National Bank of South Miami remained on the cutting edge of banking innovations such as 24-hour banking, online banking, and bank-issued credit cards for the convenience of its customers.
First National Bank of South Miami never lost sight of its commitment to the community since its humble beginnings in a storefront building on Sunset Drive. Sorting through the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the bank reached out to its employees and the community. Thanks to the foresight of Arthur M. Wirtz, the bank had installed a large generator in 1971. Although the bank sustained more than $2 million in damages, they were able to house and feed 14 of their employees who were temporarily homeless. They also served the larger community by cashing checks for everyone, even those who were not their account holders.
The bank has been a major sponsor and partner in three of South Miami’s long-running events, The Parade of the Elves, the Rotary Arts and Crafts Festival, and the traditional Fourth of July Fireworks. Bank employees formed sports leagues and were involved in assisting University of Miami students and charitable institutions such as the Fellowship House and Habitat for Humanity.
The current leadership at the bank includes Bruce Wirtz MacArthur chairman of the board, Veronica Birch Flores, president and chief operating officer, Ed Callison, director & vice-chairman, and directors Edwin R. Reed, Robert G. Berrin, Drew A. Dammeier, Eneida M. Roldan, M.D., Jorge Eduardo Perez, and D. Wayne Brackin.
In business for 70 years, the First National Bank of South Miami has provided award-winning, solid banking services. Through it all, the bank has remained dedicated to the people and to the success of the City of South Miami.