From its beginnings, North Omaha has been short on banks. More than one group pulled together to change that, but few survived. The Metropolitan Building and Loan Association rose to the occasion though, helping individuals and businesses around the community establish themselves and grow. Here’s a history of this longtime North Omaha institution.
In August 1887, a group of people in North Omaha’s Saratoga neighborhood banded together to support the up and coming businesses in the surrounding area. Their work resulted in an association that disappeared and was relaunched, and played a role in the community for almost a century afterwards
According to the 1887 articles of incorporation, “The general nature of the business to be transacted by this corporation shall be to buy and sell real estate, buy and build houses, rent or sell the same; to lease its property whether vacant or with buildings; to borrow or loan money, and give or take mortgages or other writings to secure the payment thereof.”
As an association, members would pool their money and share in the profits of savings and loans made for buildings in North Omaha.
Relaunching the MBLA
In 1922, the association relaunched and opened their first facility at 24th and Ames. Their goal then was to, “furnish banking facilities to the fast growing factory section of the city and will afford means for conducting savings accounts.” The article from this year said there were no other banks between Florence and downtown, and sought to fill the hole presented.
Their original offices were at 4508 North 24th Street in the Saratoga neighborhood. By the 1930s, the offices were moved around the corner to 2419 Ames Avenue. In 1932, the Metropolitan Building and Loan Association, also called the Metro B&L or MBLA, reporting its 99th consecutive semi-annual dividend and payed shareholders consistently. The report said that approximately 500 members shared the benefits. Its interesting though, because in 1937, the newspaper reported there were 31 semi-annual payments of consecutive dividend payments, and there were 400 members.
The Metropolitan Building and Loan Association was formed to help North Omahans own their own homes. In the 1920s, banks stopped making home loans, focusing their wealth on businesses where they’d make more money. As a mutual association, each depositor in the MBLA became a part owner. If a member deposited a small amount in an account, they owned one share of stock.
Saratoga Hold Ups
One of the realities of running a banking operation is the constant threat of robberies, and Metro B&L faced this several times. In 1928, there were two holdups within a month of each other, supposedly by different men. The Omaha Police Department caught the wrong man the second time after LeRoy Brown, the manager of the bank, shot the man.
Between 1947 and 1948, the same man held up the bank twice and was apparently never caught. Between his two hits, the haul amounted to almost $3,500.
Then, in 1950, a husband and wife team held up the bank. LeRoy Brown shot the woman before the couple got any cash. Within a week, little Tommy Catron of 2222 Ames Avenue was commended for quick thinking when he wrote down the license plate of a getaway car at a robbery of the MBLA that over to the Omaha Police Department the robbers’ names, and Tommy got a citation from the chief of police and police commissioner.
Mr. and Mrs. Delbert Housman, a couple from Virginia, were wanna-be bank robbing couple. They decided to take a chance to rob the bank when Delbert got sick of being a grocery boy. After his wife was shot, Delbert managed to scoop her up and ran out of the bank, and they made it to their car. However, they were caught in Tucumcari, New Mexico a week later. Mrs. Housman’s legs were both shot, and her wounds were bad enough to warrant a doctor’s visit in Texas. It was there that they were busted for speeding, and soon after got caught across the state lines. They were both sent to jail.
In March 1960, the main office of the MBLA was hit again. This time, robbers held all three staff members at gunpoint along with two customers, nabbing more than $1,600 in the process. The fled up the alley and to the north, and were never seen again.
In 1929, the association opened a branch in Benson. In 1959, they moved into their present building at 2739 North 61st Street. Around the early 1960s, the Metropolitan Building and Loan Association moved out of Saratoga, taking their massive safe with them to the building where it is today. MBLA committed itself to Benson.
“When you’re a part of Benson, you are a part of the City of Benson,” said Ralph Brown Jr., grandson of LeRoy Brown, in 2016. “We are a community in itself. We know everybody by name, and we care about each other.”
Ralph also ran an insurance agency at this branch that was affiliated with the MBLA. It operated starting in at least the 1950s. In 1967, an ad for the company promoted the Metropolitan Building and Loan Association as “Benson’s oldest banking institution.”
In 1975, this branch was held up for more than $2,000. Ralph Brown went after the robber and fired six shots at him in the alleyway, but missed all six times.
It was robbed again in 1983 for an undetermined amount of cash.
Brown Family Legacy
In 1922, the year Metro B&L was opened, a young man named Leroy Brown was a founder of the firm, the director and the manager. Leroy’s obituary said he came to the office every single workday from 1922 until his death at age 80. Born in 1900, LeRoy married Ethel Irene Powers in 1921. He died in 1980.
Before LeRoy died, his son Ralph Brown, Sr. led the MBLA. Starting in the 1960s, he sold insurance there, too, and continued working there through his 88th birthday in 2013, when he passed away. He was born in 1925.
Ralph Sr.’s son, Ralph Brown, Jr. worked with his father and took control of the bank at some point. He ran a law office and sold insurance, too. In 2013, he told the Omaha World-Herald that he’d continue running the bank after his father’s death.
The End of Metro B&L
A later newspaper report suggested that the association has a unique banking structure in Nebraska. In the 1930s, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, was started in response to the national banking crisis started in 1929. The Nebraska Legislature passed a law to make the MBLA immune to federal insurance requirements. Instead it relied on “substantial reserves, in-person home appraisals, reviews by state banking officials, personal knowledge of borrowers’ finances and regular notices to its depositors of its uninsured status.” It was the only banking institution in Nebraska without federal deposit insurance.
Throughout its history, the MBLA never offered checking accounts. They never had ATMs. They only made small home loans, and they probably never had more than $1,000,000 in assets. At the end, there were fewer than 100 customers. It was the last state-chartered savings and loan in Nebraska. With dwindling amounts of money and customers, the bank became unsustainable.
In May 2016, the Metropolitan Building and Loan Association came to an end. Ralph Brown, Jr. sold the institution to Dundee Bank.
- “It was a wonderful life: The George Bailey of Benson, Ralph Brown Sr., led building and loan,” by Steve Jordon for the Omaha World-Herald on June 27, 2013.
- “Benson lender works the old-fashioned way,” by Steve Jordon for the Omaha World-Herald on June 27, 2013.
- “Dundee Bank is taking over a Benson institution that lasted decades without checking accounts or even an ATM,” by Steve Jordon for the Omaha World-Herald on May 24, 2016.