I SAID GOOD BYE TO A FRIEND TODAY one with which I had spent 43 years of
It was a difficult thing to do but it was necessary. For many months the media carried stories of the
impending sale and demolition of the bank building at the corner of 4th Street and Main Street. It was not just a bank building.
It was the heart and soul of banking and finance for Royal Oak and the surrounding communities during those growing years.
Sometimes it was referred to as the big bank. Yes, it was the biggest, but our motto was “The Friendly Bank”.
The Ad Agencies can hang any label they wish on an organization but it takes the dedication of all the
employees and the management to live up to the friendly tag. I believe that we did a fair job in that respect.
So, before returning to Florida, after a few months visiting our northern family, I decided to bite the bullet and
slowly walked into the lobby for that final farewell, that last look around before the jackhammers were summoned to do their duty.
The little green notices on the customer writing desk told the story,
ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2000 AT 1:00 PM, THIS OFFICE WILL CLOSE
I stood there by myself. There were few customers.
The offices surrounding the lobby were all dark. Only a few tellers were at the far end of the teller lineup.
It was no surprise that there were no familiar faces left. I had retired in 1981 and this was a new generation of bankers.
I looked around, the memories began to whirl in my mind. I was standing in the section that was the original bank lobby.
To my left was the spot where the Cashiers' desk was located. I remembered walking in between those
towering columns and through the front door in 1938 to apply for the job of bank messenger.
The sign over the door read “Guardian Bank of Royal Oak”. I was a scared 18 year old kid.
My mother had pressed my shirt and pants, made sure my tie was straight,
checked to see that my fingernails were clean, had patted down the persistent cowlick,
gave me a hug and assured me that everything was going to be just fine.
The Cashier (Lee Abrams) did the interviewing as he chewed on an unlit cigar and would periodically
turn and let fly a stream of tobacco juice at a spittoon beside his desk.
The maintenance man had thoughtfully placed a rubber mat under it and I could soon see why.
He was not noted for being a "straight shooter." He had other fine qualities though,
one of them being that he was an excellent judge of character. I was hired. Starting salary was $65.00 per month.
Wow! Great! I was on my way in the business world. At the time I didn't know that the messenger boy was the first one to
arrive in the morning after picking up the bundle of clearing house checks at the train station and was about the
last one to leave at night with the mail for the Post Office. No such thing as a 40 hour week.
The interview didn't take very long. There were no discussions about employee benefits.
Just a one-week vacation after the first year. There was no talk of profit sharing, stock options, 401K,
retirement benefits or hospitalization. There were none of these benefits.
The bank was open 6 days a week and then we were expected to stay late for special events like putting out the
checking account statements each month. Another extra chore was the figuring and posting of interest on the savings accounts.
My hours would average about 50 per week. Let's see now, 50 hours per week equals 200 hours per month, at $65.00,
would end up being about 32 cents per hour. I learned over the years that bankers worked for prestige and respect.
Too bad those are not accepted in payment of groceries and prescription drugs these days. Oh well, it has been a good life.
As I glanced upward at the second floor windows looking down into the lobby, I was reminded of my first promotion.
That was the location of our bookkeeping department and I was one of four bookkeepers.
We worked with those High Keyboard Burroughs machines. In later years we included the NCR Postronics in the operation.
In those years the checking accounts did not have account numbers. We sorted and posted the checks and deposits to the accounts
based on the signature alone. I learned early on that doctors were not the only ones that scribbled their names.
We were so happy when a new account opened with a legible account holder. Some signatures were truly works of art.
One of those was the signature of Ellis Berry. (The Rhubarb King of Michigan.) He put the Palmer method of penmanship to shame.
Some years later all of the checks were printed with funny shaped numbers called MICR. (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition)
No more hand sorting. The best thing since sliced bread. Our bank was one of the first with this innovation
and so our Board decided to place the large Pitney Bowes sorting machine in the middle of the customer lobby
for all our customers to see in operation. Fortunately this was just for a short time.
In the 1940s and 1950s Royal Oak and the surrounding communities were growing by leaps and bounds.
New branches were built which included drive-in windows. Our first drive-in was the Stephenson Office.
I was picked to research the design and operation and this included a trip to Florida to see what those banks were doing.
I was named manager and worked there for ten years. It was some years before we were able to fully accommodate
the mushrooming growth in the community. There were times when a customer entering the 4th and Main Office
would be confronted with a maze of lines of waiting customers. We did what we could to try and keep pace.
School teachers were hired as week end tellers and for vacations. They were great people.
We also had a need for traffic control at most drive in offices. Royal Oaks' Finest (Police) rose to the occasion.
The 4th and Main Office went through many remodeling sessions. The escalator was one of the first in Oakland County.
Through the years we acquired many of the surrounding businesses for our expansion.
The little bar next door, the Masonic Temple, the Savings & Loan at Main and 5th, the roller rink which was on the second floor.
Then there was the Auto Service building on Center and a number of small shops on 4th and Center streets.
Joe the Hatter was swept up along with a Beauty Shop and my favorite Barber Shop. That was where I took my son, Bud,
for his first hair cut in 1949.1 had no way of knowing that my wife would never forgive me for having those golden curls shown.
The Al Lawson Sport Shop became part of our complex and the Chamber of Commerce was housed in that building
until parking became critical. Time for one last look around. To my right was the spot where the row of marble front,
brass grilled teller cages once stood. No robber could ever vault over these. It was in cage #3 that I received my teller training.
My instructor was Senior Teller, William Hayward, who just happened to be the mayor of Royal Oak at that time.
On the bank payday I would take my pay in $1.00 bills and take them home to practice counting.
Time to say good-bye, Old Friend, You have had several nameplates over the years.
The Royal Oak Savings Bank, (before I knew you) Guardian Bank of Royal, (Gov. Groesbeck was the Main Man),
The Wayne Oakland Bank (under control of the C.S.Mott Foundation),
First of America Bank (Kalamazoo), and now it’s National City Bank.
You have stood the test of time. I salute you. It would be nice if a small portion of your structure could remain
as a part of your glorious history but if that is not to be I know that you will go gracefully.
You will be in my thoughts. Progress may wrap its' Samson like arms around you and bring your pillars down but you have served us well.
Reynolds L. Smith
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|During my teen years, in the
1930's, our family lived in Berkley. Shopping was limited because there
were no department’s stores
and few specialty shops. Royal Oak was the choice destination when something was needed.
It was also the place to go for treats. Browns Creamery had wonderful ice cream.
Sanders on 4th street had hot fudge cream puffs that were sure to add a pound or two over time.
Another spot that attracted my buddies and I was Deans Soda Bar at the southwest corner of Catalpa and Main.
I remember it as being a drug store as well. They had 15 cent milk shakes that were to die for.
We would ride our bikes down Catalpa and there we were. The shakes were made in those metal containers
and then slid up on the blender to mix. When they were finished the clerk would pour them into a large glass
and if there was too much for the glass to hold, he would place the metal container on the counter next to the glass
and we could pour it in the glass as we drank and made room for it. How good that cold metal felt on a hot summer afternoon.
I recall on one such occasion when we were ordering our favorite flavor shakes, that when it was my turn to order
I resorted to the prankster character within me and said, "My good man, I believe that today,
I would like a "CHERRY PHOSPHATE." The clerk said, "O.K. coming right up." My buddies gulped.
I had read that the Hollywood and Ritzy People had made phosphate the new fad drink.
I was just clowning around and didn't even know what the drink tasted like. It was served in a small Coca Cola glass
over shaved ice. It tasted pretty good but it was nothing like the bargain of a delicious milk shakes for .15 cents.
Once was enough for me.
Another good feature of Deans was that it was right at the turn-around for the inter-urban trolley cars
and we would go outside and watch them turn up the short spur on Catalpa
and then back up north on Main Street before heading south to Detroit.
It was fun to see the sparks fly when the electrical contact wheel was connected to the overhead power wire.
Reynolds L. Smith
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|The Year was
about 1979 and the Auction was in full swing at the Annual Boy's
Club Fundraiser. Donated items and services were being offered
to the highest bidder. The next item up for bid caught my
attention. "Folks, how would you like to join the Mayor of Royal
Oak for lunch and then a round of golf at The Red Run Golf Club?
“Who will start the bidding?” The bidding was brisk as I nudged my wife, Reta, and
said," I think I would like this one." After a few moments of rising offers, the auctioneer pointed in my direction, banged his gavel and shouted "Sold." Lucky me. Reta nudged me back and whispered, "Just think how many pair of shoes I could buy with that bid." I said, "But Dear, This is just to help a worthy cause." Then on a mutually agreed upon day and time, I collected my prize. The day was delightful. A tasty lunch and then a round of golf on beautiful Red Run golf course, with Hizzoner, Pecky D. Lewis Jr., the Mayor of Royal Oak, A great day with a great guy.
By Reynolds L. Smith
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Harbor our country was afraid that other attacks on the mainland
would develop and
local communities organized civilians to provide a level of protection.
In 1942 while waiting for my draft number to come up, I joined the R. O. Home Guard.
Equipment was limited. We learned to march and take orders.
We would be the first line of defense if the enemy would strike.
I didn't see how the dummy wooden guns that we carried would be a deterrent but we could be the
first responders when the air raid sirens sounded.
I lived at Third and Laurel which was close to the bank where I worked at Fourth & Main.
I was given a key to the alley door of the bank which was to be unlocked when the sirens sounded
as it lead to a Bomb Shelter in the bank basement.
It was a converted storage room and the U. S. Gov't had equipped it with non-perishable food and water.
Years later we received a directive to destroy the contents.
Some of us on staff wanted to open the packages and see how they had survived but our head man said NO.
He said the directive said destroy not play with it.
Another guard duty was to inspect the supply of sand that the businesses had in buckets on their flat roofs.
This sand was to be used to put out fires if fire bombs arrived. Fortunately none did.
As I look back on this Home Guard experience it was beneficial when I went into the Navy,
volunteer for Submarine Service and served in the Pacific Theatre. As Sub Sailors say, KEEP A ZERO BUBBLE.
By Reynolds L. Smith
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