The History of Mechanics Bank:
A Commitment That Last Generations
It’s quite a story: one man earning the trust of his neighbors and building the commitment he felt for his community into a bank. Then, through this bank, helping businesses, individuals and the surrounding region grow and prosper. Now, four generations later, that bank — Mechanics Bank — remains committed to developing long-term relationships as a trusted financial partner. This founding philosophy defines who we are and who we will always be.
Our commitment began in the early 20th century, a time when banks were few and far between and served only the privileged class. Railroad workers in Contra Costa County had no place to cash their paychecks until E.M. Downer changed all that.
As the railroad station agent in Pinole, E.M. Downer had a safe at the station. The railroad workers trusted Mr. Downer with their paychecks. As a service, he would make the dangerous daylong trek to Martinez to cash their checks and return with gold they could spend. Through this service, Mr. Downer became a trusted financial partner to many. In 1905, he built upon that trust and opened the Bank of Pinole, beginning a family tradition of serving local communities that has lasted more than 100 years.
Taking care of clients means staying right in step with their needs. That’s why, in the 1920s under Mr. Downer’s leadership, what was by now Mechanics Bank pioneered personal loans. It’s also the reason why throughout the Great Depression, when some 9,000 U.S. banks failed, Mr. Downer was able to keep the Bank solvent and to work assisting the people of the community who had fallen on difficult times.
The 1940s were a remarkable time of growth in our history, as Henry Kaiser brought his shipbuilding company to Richmond. In five short years, more than 700 Liberty Ships were built. As a service to the shipbuilders, bankers from Mechanics Bank would go down to the shipyards on Saturday mornings to cash workers’ paychecks as they came off their shifts.
In 1945, the shipyards shut down as fast as they had started up, leaving tens of thousands of shipyard workers out of jobs. Following in his father’s footsteps, E.M. Downer Jr. worked with many of the shipyard’s employees who had lost their jobs, helping them to avoid foreclosure on their homes. The legacy of genuine commitment continues to this day.
Putting the client’s needs first led to many innovations during the following decades. As popularity of the automobile increased in the late 1940s, we introduced drive-through banking, a first for Northern California. In the 1960s, we expanded our capabilities and were ahead of the curve by converting our bookkeeping system to electronic data processing. This technological leap forward paved the way for faster, more accurate financial records.
During the 1960s, we also established a full-service Trust Department, adding the ability to manage clients’ investments and assets. We even introduced around-the-clock banking in 1978 by installing some of the area’s first Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). In 1987, we consolidated all operations into a new, larger, central facility in Hercules, signaling a major commitment to the application of the latest technology. The 1990s launched a series of technological advancements for customers’ convenience through online phone banking, supermarket branch locations, cash management services and, of course, online banking. These and other innovative efforts further deepened client relationships. Recently introduced state-of-the-art online banking enhancements, along with new programs to support our local communities, continue our legacy of commitment to technology and innovation in this new century. During the 1990s, we expanded geographically beyond West Contra Costa County for the first time with the opening of retail, corporate and trust offices in Walnut Creek, Oakland, Marin, the Napa Valley, San Francisco and the Sacramento region. All of this contributed to our reaching $1 billion in assets in 1996 and then $2 billion in assets just six short years later, in 2002. Despite the Great Recession, we reached the brink of $3 billion in 2011.
With all of our growth and expansion, we have maintained our commitment to the values and culture that have defined us. This philosophy has remained the cornerstone of the way we do business: Take care of the employees, and the employees will take care of the clients and the clients will take care of the shareholders. Such genuine commitment enables prosperous communities.
For all the innovative and technological advances, the thing that really matters is a banker you can rely on—to take care of you, and to take care of what matters to you. Our tradition of care now expands to caring for the environment. Working together with our clients and within our communities, we take pride in partnerships that support, sustain and encourage innovative stewardship.
Becoming a green business fits perfectly with our mission as a community-oriented bank. In late 2005, our Downtown Berkeley Office became the first bank in Alameda County to be Green Business Certified by meeting stringent guidelines in pollution prevention, solid waste reduction, energy conservation and water conservation. We have many other locations that are currently green certified, and we are working toward achieving such certification at all locations. From the very beginning, Mechanics Bank has been part of the fabric of the communities in which we live and work. We are honored to be listed among the top 50 corporate philanthropists in our markets every year, and we are proud of our employees’ volunteer and community activities. “Commitment That Last Generations” is our tagline, but it is also our core value.
Now in our fourth generation of family leadership, we remain independent, locally owned, and locally managed. And we remain committed to our founding principle that banking is about people. That’s why our promise is to commit our personal best to you, every day. That’s why we invest in our communities. And that’s why, following in the footsteps of E.M. Downer, we work hard to earn your trust as your financial partner – today and for generations to come.
Mr. David Louis