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Hitting the heights: neighborhood's banks a mixture of the old and the new.

Pulaski Heights is Little Rock's oldest suburb. It was created in 1891 when a group of land developers purchased 800 acres for $80,000 in an attempt to escape downtown congestion.

The area that has come to be known simply as the Heights grew quickly.

The Heights had a population of 400 when it was incorporated as a municipality in 1905. It wasn't until 11 years later that the city of Little Rock annexed the area.

More than a century after its birth, the Heights remains an attractive, exclusive neighborhood, one whose residents are not willing to accept anything less than exactly what they want.

The bankers in this cozy arena are aware of that attitude. They say they must serve customers above and beyond the call of fiduciary duty.

Most of the area's major banks are represented in the Heights. Metropolitan National Bank, One National Bank, Union National Bank of Arkansas, First Commercial Bank, Twin City Bank and Worthen National Bank of Arkansas have branches there.

Pulaski Bank & Trust Co. is the veteran of the group, chartered in 1955 as a "neighborhood bank." Then known as Pulaski Heights Bank, the institution had five employees, including its first president, John Truemper.

Robert Taylor, who served as the bank's first cashier, was promoted to president in 1958 and held that position until 1974. He watched the bank's assets grow from $3 million to more than $18 million.

The bank was renamed Pulaski Bank & Trust in 1973 when James East, now chairman, acquired majority control.

Pulaski Bank & Trust has $133 million in assets with four branches within five miles of its Heights headquarters on R Street.

New Kids On The Block

The latest additions to the crowded Heights banking territory are Twin City Bank and Bank of Little Rock, two North Little Rock-based institutions.

Twin City joined the fray in September 1990 when it opened its fourth branch on the south side of the Arkansas River.

Keeping with the spirit of the season, Twin City delivered 800 pumpkins to prospective customers. A note was enclosed inviting them to move their business to the new location on Kavanaugh Boulevard.

The pumpkins were well-received.

"We heard about |them~ for a year," says Bryn Wood, TCB's branch manager.

The branch has $25 million in deposits, ranking eighth among Twin City's 19 branches.

The beige bricks and green awnings at the TCB branch location fit in perfectly with the surrounding neighborhood. The building almost resembles the homes on nearby Country Club Boulevard.

The Heights location functions more like a separate entity than a branch, says Margaret Eldridge, an executive vice president at TCB.

"Bryn has full authority |to conduct business~ and her own marketing plan," Eldridge says. "She's treated as the president of her own bank. We don't have a lot of dictates coming from downtown."

The fact that Wood and her seven-member staff can handle all commercial requests, investments and trust matters allows them to better serve the neighborhood, Eldridge says.

Extending business hours on Fridays and opening on Saturdays also have proven effective in the Heights.

"We just wish we had a bigger lot so we could add another drive-through," Wood says.

Meanwhile, Bank of Little Rock soon will move into its third and newest location a few blocks down R Street from Pulaski Bank & Trust. Pete Maris, chairman and chief executive officer, will move there when the branch opens June 19, the third anniversary of the bank's birth.

Maris, the bank's CEO since its inception, was joined last August by President George Worthen. Worthen left One National Bank after it sold its North Little Rock locations to Worthen Banking Corp. of Little Rock.

Maris and Worthen have a relationship that dates back two decades. They worked at Worthen for a combined 33 years. Maris left to work at First National Bank of Hot Springs (now Worthen National Bank of Hot Springs), and George Worthen joined One National Bank.

Maris was president of Pulaski Bank & Trust for six years before leaving to join Bank of Little Rock.

"We have 50 years of taking care of customers between us," Maris says.

"We just can't hold a job," he adds with a laugh.

Battling Big Guys

As one of the area's smallest banks, Bank of Little Rock cannot compete with the larger institutions without doing something different.

"We're going to have safe-deposit boxes, we're going to expand the hours here and in west Little Rock and we're going to have an after-hours depository here," Worthen says. "It's just what they expect.

"This is a big step ... for a bank our size."

Maris and Worthen are expecting a $2.5 million growth in deposits the first year.

"We think we can offer things the bigger banks can't," Maris says. "People who want to deal with the same banker tomorrow, next week, five years from now will like the personalized service they can get from us."

Pulaski Bank & Trust officials don't view the recent additions as a threat.

"It's a good opportunity to keep everybody on their toes," says Judy Beaumont, a senior vice president at the bank. "We're proud of our level of customer service.

"Banking is changing daily, and the new |Bank of Little Rock~ branch is just evidence of that. We wish them well."
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Inside Banking in Arkansas
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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