One Bank Founding Traced to 1956 Organization of American National Bank

by George Waldon  on Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 12:00 am  

(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of business history feature stories. Suggestions for future “Fifth Monday” articles are welcome. Please contact Gwen Moritz at (501) 372-1443 or by email at GMoritz@ABPG.com.)

Five businessmen are recognized for planting the corporate seed for what developed into today’s One Bank & Trust of Little Rock. The venture was launched as American National Bank and morphed into its better-known incarnation as First American.

The roots can be traced back to North Little Rock and 1956 when the five men began to organize the bank: G. Ted Cameron, president of Cameron Feed Mills; L.L. Holsted, owner of Holsted Drug Co.; Maurice Mitchell, an attorney; Dave Phelps, of Adkins-Phelps Seed Co.; and insurance executive Frank L. Whitbeck.

First American National Bank grew to rival Twin City Bank for claim as North Little Rock’s largest lender. In later years, its investors positioned First American at the tip of the spear to overcome legal obstacles and expand beyond its state-mandated market. (See Timeline.)

Along the way, there was talk of developing a high-rise office building at the northeast corner of U.S. 67-167 and Interstate 40 on property owned by the family of one its leading shareholders, Jim Matthews.

Ultimately, First American investors paved the way for the development of the bank’s namesake office building at the western end of Interstate 630: today’s Kirkpatrick Plaza.

J.C. Barnett, executive vice president of Farmers & Merchants Bank of Stuttgart, was recruited to be the bank’s first president. Barnett led First American into the 1970s.

He was succeeded by William Rice, who lost his job after resisting efforts by Jim Matthews, grandson of real estate mogul Justin Matthews, to buy control of the bank. After one unsuccessful tender offer, Matthews was able to amass a controlling interest and replace Rice.

“That was not a very happy transition,” Mike McBryde, vice president and trust officer at First American, said last week. “It was very acrimonious.”

The Frank Lyon family, which controlled Twin City Bank, later made a run at buying First American in 1986 before another suitor could formalize a bid.

The deal-breaker for Twin City proved to be First American’s employee stock ownership plan, according to Bill May, a senior vice president at First American from 1983-89.

“As it worked out, the ESOP stock was not in the deal, and Twin City didn’t want to pay the multiple on that stock,” May said. “It blew the deal. There was about $3 million to $4 million in ESOP stock.”

 

 

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