Maryland National leaves legacy of giving NationsBank takes over lender Friday

September 26, 1993|By David Conn and Ross Hetrick | David Conn and Ross Hetrick,Staff Writers

In an article Sunday about Maryland National Bank, a forme employer of Ackneil M. Muldrow II was incorrectly reported. Mr. Muldrow, president of the Development Credit Fund, formerly worked for the Commercial Credit Co.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Robert and Denise Morgan, who moved into their East Baltimore rowhouse this summer, are savoring a new feeling: owning a home.

"You are accomplishing something," the 34-year-old Mr. Morgan, maintenance worker for the La Fontaine Bleu Catering, says from his burgundy-colored living room. Further into the future, Mrs. Morgan, 30, sees the ultimate payoff: "Thirty years from now when you retire, you don't have to work to pay your rent."


The Morgans are one of the 664 families that have benefited from a low-income mortgage program that Maryland National Bank started in 1986. Since then, community activists say, the bank has become Baltimore's leader in community lending.

The Morgans also are among the millions of Marylanders whose lives have been touched by the long reach of Maryland National and its parent, MNC Financial Inc.

Maryland National -- which will be taken over by NationsBank Corp. this Friday -- has been a pillar of the corporate world. It was the first bank to develop a Maryland-wide system, and a lender that helped build such companies as Black & Decker Corp.

Maryland National was hardly a social revolutionary -- the Morgans, for example, benefited from a program developed only after pressure was applied by community activists. The bank usually was content to change with its customers rather than to lead them. Racial integration happened almost by accident, when several black students appeared at the bank as part of a work-study program.

But as the bank grew, its giving broadened to reflect the needs of its new customers, beyond the traditional causes of the "old boy network." In recent years, community efforts have ranged from backing minority businesses to reforming the state's higher education system, providing books for inner-city children and bringing a Monet exhibition to Baltimore.

"Whenever there was a fund-raiser of any kind, you started out on your list of staples with Maryland National Bank," says Mark L. Wasserman, the state's economic development chief.

It will be almost a year before the green Maryland National signs are replaced by the red and blue of Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank. But Friday, when the sale is finalized, MNC's bank charter will be extinguished, 60 years after it was issued.

And though NationsBank has promised to be just as generous, Maryland National leaves a legacy of corporate and philanthropic involvement that would be tough for any successor to match.

It's a final irony that MNC's original 1933 charter was issued to a bank created from the Depression-era wreckage of a predecessor. Baltimore Trust Co. went bust from the same problems that led to MNC's near-demise and now its sale.

"[L]oans were extended, especially to out-of-town enterprises, with a profligacy that now seems incomprehensible; capital investments were made in businesses entirely foreign to the ordinary functions of a bank; See BANK, investment commitments were made with a reckless abandon that is perfectly shocking," declared an independent report on Baltimore Trust's failure.

Like MNC, whose subsidiary banks gorged on real estate lending just before that market collapsed, Baltimore Trust also suffered from bad timing. The company sank more than half its capital into a new 34-story headquarters, now known as the Maryland National Building. It opened in October 1929 -- the month of the stock market crash.

Shy, bespectacled Hooper S. Miles, a Salisbury banker and political fund-raiser, was one of the first leaders of Baltimore National Bank, organized from the ashes of Baltimore Trust. The General Assembly named him state treasurer in 1935, and he held the office for 28 years, roughly the same period he led the bank.

He imbued the bank with a notion of community involvement -- and much of it was good business. As state treasurer, Mr. Miles pushed for the building of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge; Baltimore National Bank became the bond trustee.

And when business leaders created the Greater Baltimore Medical Center by merging two city hospitals in the early 1960s, he tapped Tilton H. Dobbin to raise the money to build it. At the same time, commercial lender Christopher A. Rupp had been assigned to raise money for the new St. Joseph's Hospital.

"Chris was going down one side of the street trying to raise money [for nearby St. Joseph], and I was going down the other for GBMC," says Mr. Dobbin, a former bank president, with a laugh.

Quiet integration

Still, the bank rarely sparked social change.

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