Third Time Really is the Charm
The building sits at what seems like the corner of College and Hancock Avenues, but upon closer look, the sprawling estate gobbles up almost half (or more) of an Athens city block. Walking up the front steps of this mammoth building and into the stunning and pristine lobby, you would never imagine that it was previously anything other than the ornate interior of the bank that it is today: First American Bank & Trust. But in the early 1900s, this building wasn’t a bank. In fact, it wasn’t even on J.H. Hubert’s radar, although the concept was.
Before July 1, 1928, local businessman J.H. Hubert, Senior, worked as both a secretary and treasurer for Georgia National Bank and American State Bank. The city of Athens might not have been what it is today, but that sense of community and entrepreneurism existed because that summer, Hubert took a risk. He decided to quit working for other banks and start his own: The Hubert Banking Company. “Mr. Hubert was a citizen of Athens for many years and wanted to establish an independent business with his daughter, Miss Virginia Hubert,” explains John McLanahan, Jr, General Counsel.
Hubert placed the company across the street from the famous University of Georgia arch, at the corner of Broad Street and College Avenue (the area now populated by Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, and Ben & Jerry’s). Whether from the fresh competition or a variety of other factors, the opening of Hubert’s bank was followed by the closing of two other banks in town (Georgia National Bank, his previous employer, and Athens Savings Bank).
A year after Hubert’s death in 1948, the bank received a state charter and made its first name change, to Hubert State Bank. That same year, Hubert’s daughters decided to move the institution to a building at the corner of Washington Street and College Avenue.
Daughter Virginia Hubert continued to own and operate the bank until 1962, when it was purchased by a group of investors. Around this time, the bank underwent a final name change (in 1963) to First American Bank & Trust, following authorization from the Georgia State Banking Authority.
As the old adage goes, “Third time’s the charm.” With three official name changes under its belt, the bank needed to round out its total moves as well. The city had slated a federal courthouse and post office—built in 1906—to be destroyed after the offices had relocated. First American Bank & Trust’s Board of Directors stepped in and decided to take on the project of some serious renovation, which took two years to complete. “First American Bank & Trust undertook downtown Athens’ first major commercial adaptive reuse of a historical building,” explains Julie Denton, the bank’s Marketing and PR Coordinator. The first day at the new office was in the summer of 1973, 45 years after the institution’s inception. Despite a few functional renovations over the years, the original architecture remains the same, says Denton. The building is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We truly are a part of the history of Athens.”
To echo the ideals of Hubert when he founded the bank 91 years ago, First American Bank & Trust continues to cultivate and care for the local Athens community and the citizens that call this city home. “We work here and live here and, therefore, have a very strong sense of community,” says Denton. “As a locally owned community bank, we want to be a source of support and to help drive change to make where we live the best it can be.” They’ve aided the United Way of Northeast Georgia by raising money for a few campaigns, including the bank’s annual Cookout for a Cause and bake sales. They take part in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program each holiday season. During this special time of the year, they’re also providing support for the Athens Community Council on Aging, an organization that brings gifts to elders in the community who otherwise wouldn’t get any. The bank also works with Action Ministries’ “Athens Management Classes” throughout the year to spread the knowledge of basic banking skills and assist in the organization’s income tax assistance program.
“This community supports local, and we are part of that on both sides of the fence,” says Denton. “We help our local businesses and neighbors succeed, and they do the same for us.”