Fidelity and the homestead tradition
Founder Allain Andry Sr. with a customer in front of the former location of Fidelity Homestead on Baronne Street.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FIDELITY HOMESTEAD
“Your money’s in Joe’s house, right next to yours, and in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others. Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you …” George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life
Jimmy Stewart, as the hapless George Bailey in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, was struggling to keep Bailey Building and Loan in business after Uncle Billy misplaced important company funds. In calming the crowd, George Bailey reminded them exactly why a “Building and Loan” (or a Homestead Association or a Savings and Loan) exists: so people can save money, pool it and then make loans to buy their own homes.
New Orleans has long had such savings associations, some of which have been in business for a century or more. In many cases, just like the Baileys’, there is a strong family tradition involved.
Allain C. Andry III, Chairman of the Board and General Counsel of Fidelity Homestead Savings Bank, personally admits to “at least a 50 year involvement with Fidelity.”
Andry is just following in family footsteps. “My grandfather, Allain C. Andry Sr., was one of the founders of Fidelity in 1908, and served as president starting in the early 1940s,” he notes, “And, my father, Allain C. Andry Jr., was president and chairman of the board for many years.
As for his own involvement, “I was actually doing the legal work for Fidelity starting in 1958. I became a member of the board 32 years ago, and then became chairman of the board in 1987.”
Andry explains that Homesteads or Savings and Loans, such as Fidelity, “were founded upon the idea of having a savings bank, generally based upon a geographic location or the shared ethnic background of a group of people. There was a connection between those with funds, who could deposit them and earn interest, and for those who needed funds, funds were made available in the form of home mortgages.”
“It was an honest, honorable, well-thought-of business, and I think it has maintained that status all along.” Andry says proudly. In addition, Fidelity “has never merged with anybody,” but it did expand, becoming a Homestead and Savings Bank rather than simply a Homestead, and acquiring a bank in Ponchatoula. After expanding into Jefferson Parish, they moved across the lake and now have added Baton Rouge locations. “The I-10 and I-12 corridor is where we will focus,” Andry notes.
Hurricane Katrina brought some changes to Fidelity. “Our President Boyd R. Boudreaux rallied all the senior managers in Baton Rouge, and we bought duplexes to house them.” The Katrina-forced relocation was a good move. “We became aware of the great potential for growth in the Baton Rouge area.
Fidelity’s old main office on Gravier and Baronne streets was flooded during Katrina, and the company relocated. Executive offices are now located in the Place Saint Charles building with a downtown branch in the old United Fruit Company building on St. Charles Avenue.
Is there another Andry in Fidelity’s future? Andry’s daughter, Katherine Andry Crosby, known as Katie (Mrs. E. Howell Crosby), “has been on the board for a number of years and is currently vice chairman of the board of Fidelity,” Andry proudly notes.
Homesteads have a long New Orleans history. The first lasted only from 1873 to 1883. Eureka Homestead dates to 1884 and Union Savings and Loan to 1886, Hibernia Homestead began in 1903.
Homesteads were originally limited to their home parish but an Algiers Homestead broke that barrier and opened a Jefferson Parish branch. Fifth District Savings Bank (named because Algiers was once New Orleans Fifth Municipal District) began in 1926 and still claims the allegiance of the Nolan family.
As Chairman and President Michael E. Nolan explains, the idea of having a branch across parish lines “was never a legal prohibition” but just wasn’t done.
Nolan’s grandfather, Norris J. Nolan, an insurance agent, was one of the founders of Fifth District. At first a volunteer board ran the institution, with Nolan as president, but Nolan soon began working full-time. It was his son, J. Donner Nolan, who served as president for 24 years, who oversaw the out-of-parish expansion. “My father had to go visit Gov. John McKeithen and the State Banking Commission, and eventually got permission to cross parish lines. That was in 1968.” Nolan says.
Fifth District’s philosophy is simple: “you have to be disciplined, and you have to invest your depositors’ money in a wise way. We found the safest way is a single family owner-occupied home. Everybody wants to pay on a mortgage to keep the home of his or her dreams. And, when you make a loan to a person in a manner they can afford, then they are helped, we are helped, the community is helped. That’s what I call responsible lending.”
Nolan, who has served as president since 1992, says family members continue to be involved with Fifth District: “ My first cousin, David C. Nolan, is our Senior Vice President for Operations, and my nephew Brian North is Senior Vice President of Lending.” Nolan’s son, Greg Nolan, is an attorney who does legal work for the institution.
At Union Savings and Loan, Henry C. Schonberg followed his father as president and his son Stephen Schonberg is a vice president. The first Schonberg came from a Covington banking family and had served as a State Bank Examiner before becoming President of Union.
Union prides itself on being a portfolio lender – it originates loans and holds them for its own portfolio. “We don’t sell our loans. When we make a loan you will always deal with us; we don’t sell the loan in the secondary market,” Schonberg explains.
“We chose years ago to be a small conservative institution, and to continue dealing on a personal basis with our customers,” Schonberg says. Union takes personal relationships seriously. “Individuals answer the phone when we are open and they take messages. We don’t put you to voicemail.”
Schonberg notes that continuity in business has benefits. “It’s very nice when a father says ‘I want to send my son over to get a loan.’” And, Union is a “mutual association” not a stock company. According to Schonberg, “mutual associations were designed to serve their customers first.”
Union has a Jefferson Parish branch at 5620 Veterans Memorial Blvd., in Metairie. The branch was created by board member and architect August Perez Jr., who also designed their downtown office at 353 Carondelet St., which has been reopened since Katrina.
New Orleans Homesteads once numbered over 40. In the mid-20th century, they also had a “thrift differential” which allowed them to pay 25 percent more on savings accounts than banks, and in return they could lend on real estate. And there were regular meetings of Homestead executives in the Louisiana League of Savings Institutions. As deregulation proceeded, the differences between banks and Savings and Loans changed, and in the 1980s and 1990s, consolidations and mergers forced the number of local Homesteads to dwindle.
For those that remain, serving local homeowners with a true personal touch is a skill that seems to run through generations of families!