Renton bank marks 85th anniversary

Victor Karpiak, CEO of First Savings Bank Northwest, stands in front of the bank’s downtown Renton branch on Wells Avenue. The sign will change to reflect the bank’s new name. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Victor Karpiak, CEO of First Savings Bank Northwest, stands in front of the bank’s downtown Renton branch on Wells Avenue. The sign will change to reflect the bank’s new name.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

For 85 years, First Savings Bank of Renton has stayed close to its roots – the people of Renton who need a loan to buy a home.

That is the traditional role of the “thrifts,” the savings and loans where people pool their money in their savings accounts and then it’s loaned out to others.

Of course, the bank offers a full-range of financial services.

First Savings Bank of Renton is marking its anniversary next week. It has operated in downtown Renton since 1923, both as a state- and federally chartered bank and for many years under the longtime name, First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Renton.

As a mutual bank for years, the assets of the bank were owned by the depositors, the customers. That changed last year when the corporate owner of First Savings Bank of Renton went public.

In an initial stock offering last October, First Financial Northwest raised $200 million. Now, it has to figure out how to spend the money. The bank’s relatively new name gives a hint of its intentions – First Savings Bank Northwest.

The signs on the Renton bank will change soon to reflect the name change.

This homegrown bank that today has about $1.2 billion in assets is going to move beyond the one branch in Renton that generates all that business.

Typically, that much business is done with a bank that has 60 to 70 branches, according to Victor Karpiak, who is just the fifth CEO the bank has had in those 85 years.

The bank is studying its options, he said, which include opening another branch in Renton or perhaps farther afield.

“We want to have more of a Northwest presence,” he said.

But as one of the city’s pioneer banks, First Savings has made its presence felt in Renton for more than eight decades.

Its first office was near the present-day Post Office. The bank remained near the Post Office until the 1960s, when the Post Office planned an expansion.

In 1967, the then First Federal Savings and Loan moved to its current location on Wells Avenue at the corner of South Second Street. In 2005, it moved into its new 50,000-square-foot-building, which Karpiak said the company is already starting to outgrow.

The early years were marked by scandal – the embezzlement in 1941 of bank funds by bank owner Ernest Parker Wilson and one-time Renton mayor. He spent 10 years in prison, at McNeil Island and then at Alcatraz.

The bank weathered the storm and subsequent storms as the region’s economy boomed and went bust, mostly with the fortunes of The Boeing Co.

Today’s housing downturn has not affected First Savings’ business, Karpiak said.

“We didn’t finance the housing speculators,” he said.

He’s more concerned about the high cost of oil and the effect it could have on the region’s economy.

Open house

First Savings Bank Northwest will mark its 85th anniversary in Renton all next week, including a Hot Dog Picnic 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday. The bank is at 201 Wells Ave. S.

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