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November 12, 2008 > History: Berkeley Came to Centerville

History: Berkeley Came to Centerville

Washington Township was feeling "the pangs of progress" in 1954, having grown in three years from 16,895 people to an estimated 30,000. Farmlands were being cut up into subdivisions and shopping centers. A county master plan designated "Centerville as the focus of an extensive residential belt."

It was in this environment that Berkeley Savings and Loan Association chose to place a branch office. The company was incorporated as Berkeley Guarantee Building and Loan Association in 1922 with assets of $137,000. A second office was opened in Walnut Creek in 1950, and in 1953 the Bay Area was surveyed for another expansion site. They concluded that Washington Township was "a fast developing center of both industry and homes" and "Centerville had a key role."

The association purchased the Max Stevenson property at 168 South Main Street in Centerville for the new office. The property had a 110 foot frontage in the business district and was nearly 300 feet deep. The purchase included a two-story building erected by Dr. Harry Emerson in 1914 for his home and office that had recently been converted into an apartment house. Berkeley Savings advertised the house for sale on May 17, 1954 with the condition that it be moved within three weeks of purchase. A sign was erected in front of the house which read, "Future Home of Berkeley Savings." The trees were cleared from the lot in July and the house was relocated to Beloveria Court where it stands today. The foundation for the bank was laid in August.

The $100,000 building with 9,650 square feet of space was designed by Berkeley architect Paul Hemmarberg to house the bank and provide space to be leased for a new Sprouse-Reitz variety store. The structure was to be masonry construction with a ceramic veneer and a wide modern marquee. The contractor was Marvin Collins of El Cerrito.

Fred Richardson was brought from the Berkeley office to be manager. He and Mrs. W. E. McElvain operated from a tiny temporary office during construction of the new building. The company hosted a luncheon at the International Kitchen for Washington Township leaders on December 1, 1954 to explain how they could assist local development. Leroy Broun welcomed Berkeley Savings - the first savings and loan in the township - and said its "appearance here fills a need."

The grand opening for Berkeley Savings was held in the new building at 168 South Main Street on Saturday, December 11, 1954 with refreshments and souvenirs. Manager Fred Richardson invited residents to visit the new office and "learn how your savings can earn more with safety." At that time they offered a 3% interest rate with savings insured up to $10,000. "The News Register" saluted the opening of Berkeley Savings and Sprouse-Reitz with a special edition covering recent developments in Washington Township. Bernice Osborn handled the escrow and teller work and Richardson did the appraising for loans until he was replaced in 1955 by Melvin Johnson as manager.

During Johnson's tenure, Fremont incorporated and the bank's new address became 37463 Fremont Blvd. Ben Morello was made manager in 1957. He soon transferred to another location, and in 1958, Manuel Silveira was named manager. Berkeley Savings now had six locations and advertised a 4% interest rate.

Silveira immediately immersed himself in community activity and bringing the community to the bank. He soon became the perennial United Crusade Chairman and a leader in Salvation Army and Lion's Club charitable programs. He and his staff regularly hosted themed open houses offering refreshments and gifts. Activities and programs were available for all ages and interests from Boy Scouts' visits and children learning about their savings accounts to displays of art and local history. A bank customer of the 60's said recently, "Manuel made it a pleasure to go to the bank. He knew all his customers by their first names and greeted them with a sincere smile." He was named Assistant Vice President in 1962.

Two years later, the parent company, First Charter Financial Corporation, decided to merge three savings institutions - Berkeley Savings, Pioneer Investors Savings and Mutual Home Savings - into one organization to be called American Savings and Loan. The merger created the largest savings and loan branch system in the world and the nation's third largest savings association. Silveira was named Branch Manager and Vice-President of American Savings. Commenting on the growth of the Centerville Branch and expected increase, Silveira said that with the merger, "We'll have the world's largest branch system and be backed by almost a billion dollars in resources. I've been looking forward to this and the day we can move to new quarters."

That day came a few years later when ground was broken on Fremont Blvd across from the Hub. A sign at the construction site read, "Growing with Fremont-New Home of American Savings and Loan - Fremont Branch."

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