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Pieces of the Past: Warren National Bank

September 13, 2023

When I was a kid, I overheard two guys at B. and B. Smoke shop. They were talking about how downtown Warren never seemed to change. Being about 10 at the time, I naturally thought that was a bad thing.

The discussion detailed several of the anchor buildings. My parents banked at Warren National Bank. I was in there dozens of times. Since my dentist and eye doctor were both on the upper floors of the building. It was a common thing for me to go there.

What I didn’t know about the Warren National Bank at the time was when the building was built. Or…and this was important: “How much was enough for the elevator operator?” Yes! At that building, there was a well-dressed man wearing white gloves and a flat cap like a bellboy who guided the elevator to the proper floor. As a rule, you tipped him for the ride up and ride down.

The Warren National Bank’s downtown offices were in a 5-story multi-purpose structure that remains a solid fixture at the corner of Liberty and 2nd. It was originally built in 1900. I remember a barbershop under the sidewalk below the main entrance. The Warren underground community is another Piece of the Past itself!

Warren National Bank had satellite offices on the East side, a state-of-the-art (for the time) drive-through branch at the foot of Conewango, and branches serving Youngsville and Sheffield. From a corporate standpoint, W.N.B. was vulnerable by the 70s. Their cross-street rival, Pennsylvania Bank and Trust faced the same bigger bank challenges. By the early 80s national banks were gobbling up smaller ones to increase their market share.

Marine Bank from Erie actually seemed like a perfect big brother to help secure Warren National’s future! Marine redeveloped several aspects of the main office while relocating the East Side and upgrading it. Marine had jumped into the cutting edge of modern banking by introducing customers to “HandyBank” the original automated teller system. I was the guy you heard on radio and TV, especially after 5 p.m. saying, “Need cash tonight? HandyBank is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week! HandyBank from Marine”

Alas, as strong as Marine Bank was, it wasn’t strong enough to resist Pittsburgh National Credit. In what amounted to a midnight raid P.N.C. took control of Marine Bank. By Wednesday morning of that week there no longer was a Marine Bank. The result was a leaner company concerned with corporate banking. P.N.C. has seen the market share of commercial banks being eroded by a number of influences. Credit Unions have stepped in and taken away everything from checking accounts, to car loans. Internet banks are as big a threat too.

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