James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Archives April 2011

Atlas Savings & Loan

What with Tax Day in April, this month is all about money. So it seems fitting that we just received a donation of two stock certificates issued by Atlas Savings & Loan. Atlas was the first financial institution established by and for gays and lesbians in the United States.

John Schmidt, its chairman, along with ten gay directors, including two women, formed Atlas in 1980 in San Francisco. The savings and loan opened for business in November 1981 and identified the gay and lesbian community as its primary market. In August 1982 Atlas opened a branch on 18th and Castro Streets and by January 1985 had three branches in San Francisco.

By June 1985 Atlas began to suffer as a result of bad construction loans, joint ventures and shared loans with two other savings and loans. In August 1985 Atlas was declared insolvent. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board took control of the savings and loan in July 1986 and its assets were sold to Empire Savings of New York.

In September 1986 the Federal Bureau of Investigation began conducting an inquiry into allegations of wrong-doing by former senior management as part of its investigation into three other failed savings and loan associations in Northern California. A group of former Atlas shareholders sued John Schmidt and its auditing firm, Price Waterhouse, in 1989 claiming that they were misled as to Atlas’ financial condition. In 1990 Empire of America Bank (formerly Empire Savings of New York) was placed in conservatorship.

The majority of the Atlas Savings & Loan Collection was donated by Lester Bruno in 1997 with subsequent additions by Jim Van Buskirk, Roy Johnson, the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California, and Donald Reed. The collection spans the years 1979-1990 and contains a small amount of business correspondence and records including bylaws, publicity, promotional materials, mailings to shareholders and stock certificates. There is good press coverage of Atlas through the years especially its opening in 1981 and its financial difficulties in 1985 and 1986. In addition there is a lot of memorabilia and giveaways with the Atlas logo.

The Atlas Savings & Loan Collection (GLC 48) is available for research through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

The images include: one of the stock certificates, a portion of the People magazine article on Atlas in February 22, 1982, a promotional piece with an item in Herb Caen's column, brochures, and a photo that appeared in the 1985 San Francisco Gay Pride Celebration guide.

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