Tube City Almanac

October 27, 2008

WPNB Disappeared 35 Years Ago

Category: History, Local Businesses, News || By

Mostly unnoticed by McKeesporters was the announcement that PNC Bank is about to acquire Cleveland-based National City Bank.

Maybe we've just become inured to bank mergers after the disappearance over the last 20 years of Union National, McKeesport National, Great American Federal, First National of Herminie, First Home Savings, First Federal of Pittsburgh, etc., etc., etc.

After all, who ever thought that Mellon Bank would disappear? But we got used to that, and we'll get used to National City's disappearance.

. . .

One of the last of the locally owned banks in the Mon-Yough area, Irwin Bank & Trust, was sucked up by Indiana's S&T Bank a few months ago.

Irwin Bank's disappearance is a potentially serious blow to jobs in the Norwin area and to the downtown Irwin business district. The bank was a major employer in the small borough and a big contributor to local charities in eastern Westmoreland County.

If you don't like big banks, there are a few local independent banks around --- First Federal of Monessen has offices in Monongahela and Rostraver. Compass Savings Bank in Wilmerding remains very involved in the Mon-Yough area, particularly in lending money to first-time home buyers.

And Dollar Bank is the last Pittsburgh institution still run as a mutual savings bank, meaning that it operates for the benefit of depositors, not stockholders.

. . .

As for the PNC-Nat City deal, there are obvious implications for the city's Downtown business district. PNC Bank has a drive-through office on Lysle Boulevard, while National City Bank is stuck on the corner of Fifth and Walnut streets in the old First National Bank of McKeesport building, which doesn't have adjacent parking and lacks a drive-through window.

Chances are that if the merger goes through, the Fifth and Walnut office will close. That will leave three of the four corners vacant, and the fourth corner occupied by a gas station.

People of a historical bent might recall that National City Bank entered the Pittsburgh market in 1995 by acquiring Integra Bank, which two years earlier had acquired Equibank, which could trace its roots directly to Our Fair City.

'Tis true. Equibank was founded in 1871 as the Commercial Bank of McKeesport. It changed its name to First National Bank of McKeesport in 1875.

. . .

When banking laws were relaxed in the 1950s, First National under the leadership of the late M.A. Cancelliere began opening branches and acquiring other banks in neighboring towns. In 1956, it changed its name to Western Pennsylvania National Bank.

While headquartered in McKeesport, WPNB added a new annex at the corner of Walnut and Sixth streets (currently the Coker Building) that had an real drive-through ... cars drove through the first floor of the building, under the offices, to reach the teller windows.

In 1964, after acquiring two Beaver County banks (Beaver County Trust Co. and Fort McIntosh National Bank), WPNB moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh and gradually downsized its McKeesport operations. It changed the name of its holding company to Equimark in 1971.

Two years later, on Sept. 17, 1973, WPNB became Equibank, and I have the audio proof right here:

Though the bank's home office was gone, Equibank memorably helped save the city's police force in February 1989, when a budget deficit of $90,000 nearly forced McKeesport to let go half of its officers.

Equibank promised to match any donations raised in the community; about $109,000 was turned over to the city's coffers in March.

"Equibank's roots are in McKeesport," said the bank's president, James H. McLaughlin. "this is our birthplace and we felt that it was necessary to make every effort to assist the city in its time of need."

Unfortunately, Equibank was on shaky ground itself. Millions of dollars worth of bad loans to Florida condo developers and Latin American "banana republics" had pushed the bank's credit rating into "junk bond" status by 1991, and it was swallowed up by Integra Bank.

. . .

Don't have enough WPNB/Equibank history? Then we're pleased to direct you to a new article in Tube City Online's "Local History" section.

(And a tip o' the Tube City hard hat to Pat Cloonan of the Daily News, who was the only reporter to remember the history of WPNB and Equibank when he covered the PNC-Nat City deal.)

Your Comments are Welcome!

Thank you for the interesting and timely article about local banks. I started my career at WPNB back in 1968. The bank was staffed with McKeesport people who cared about customers, each other and doing their job. Their work ethic was evident – many of the employees performed above and beyond for the bank’s customers because they were neighbors, friends and class mates. Those were better times for all of us.
Donn Nemchick - October 29, 2008

If I remember right, I thought that Integra also acquired (or was formerly known as) Union National?
mon valley girl - October 29, 2008

You have a good remembery, MVG.

Integra gobbled up a bunch of Pittsburgh area banks (I seem to remember they also grabbed First Seneca and Gallatin Bank), including UNB.
Webmaster - October 29, 2008

My memory is clear on that point primarily because I was a kid when it happened, and I remember being very concerned over whether or not the tellers would still slip me a “penny pretzel” in my mother’s deposit envelope, which Union National always did. For the record, they did. (And it strikes me now as a slightly unsanitary practice, but obviously, I lived).
mon valley girl - October 30, 2008

Recently found a WPNB ‘cash bag’ like the one a local business would take to make the day’s deposit. I didn’t realize that this is something at least 40 years old now. I miss the ‘small town’ banks. I live in Maryland and one of our biggest banks is PNC. I grew up with PNB, and I tell you, PNC is no PNB!
Bruce Baker - March 16, 2013

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