Building and Maintaining a Tallahassee Institution

New book shares the 125-year-old story of Capital City Bank
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During its early days at its current Monroe Street location, Capital City Bank featured a modern design by 1957 standards. The name on the building reflects one of a few adjustments to the company name over the years. Photo Courtesy of Capital City Bank.

This was before water coolers and air conditioning and long before television. This was 1895, when Tallahassee bustled with about 3,000 residents and George W. Saxon opened Capital City Bank with three associates.

About five years ago, Brooke Hallock found herself reflecting on the significance of that year. “I just woke up in the middle of the night and realized, ‘Oh gosh, we’re going to have our 125th anniversary,’” said Hallock, Capital City Bank’s chief brand officer.

She also realized: What a perfect time for a book. Hallock hired Tallahassee-based author Julie Strauss Bettinger, who spent about five years researching and writing Unwavering: Stories from 125 years of Capital City Bank.

Bettinger produced a fast-paced work of storytelling that emphasizes the ups, downs, family, culture and community at the heart of a Tallahassee institution as stable as a live oak. In its 125th year, the bank stands as a publicly traded company that boasts $3 billion in assets and more than 50 locations in three states.

The book isn’t available for purchase, but Hallock said she plans to give copies to libraries and bank associates and to customers who request them, because she wants people to understand the “camaraderie and culture” of the bank’s history. “I just hope that when the bank celebrates its 300th anniversary, that book is on the CEO’s desk,” she said.

The following is an excerpt that Bettinger and Capital City Bank provided, with a focus on long-time president Godfrey Smith and son Bill Smith, current chairman, president and CEO of Capital City Bank Group.

 


 

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Bank associates strike poses circa 1925 inside that same building, which adjoined the original location. Photo courtesy of Capital City Bank.

Bill Smith was on a mission. The twelve-year-old steered his Schwinn out of the family’s driveway and started pedaling south on Magnolia Drive. It was late afternoon on a Saturday, and by his calculations, Mr. Gavalas would be home from Nic’s Toggery, a men’s clothing store, by now.

Bill had his mother’s high forehead, almond-shaped chin, and heavy-lidded eyes, which brimmed with affection when he smiled. At this moment, however, his boyish brows were knitted in concentration, as Bill had some important business ahead of him. He’d made sure to wear one of his cleaner button-down collared shirts tucked into belted shorts, but he had decided to forgo the tie.

Janet Gavalas answered the door and welcomed Bill into the house. Nic Gavalas, a man of small frame and strong teeth, met the boy with a hearty laugh and, hearing that he had some business to discuss, invited him into the living room.

Bill said he had a problem. You see, at Elizabeth Cobb junior high/middle school, all the boys were wearing Gant shirts, “and Nic’s Toggery is the only store in town that carries them.” Bill had asked his father about visiting the store to buy one, but Godfrey had told him, “They don’t bank with us. If you can get Nic to bank at our bank, you can get one of those shirts.” Bill knew that Gavalas was on the board of another bank, but he was there to ask for Nic’s business on behalf of Capital City.

Gavalas listened intently, not betraying his amusement. After Bill finished, he looked at the boy with the spray of freckles on his nose and told him he appreciated his dilemma and he would definitely think about opening an account. Bill stood up, met Nic Gavalas’s eyes like his father had taught him, shook his hand, and thanked him. He waved to Mr. and Mrs. Gavalas as he sped off on his bike.

Days later, Godfrey told his son he had some news. Nic Gavalas had been to the bank that day and opened a small savings account; he had his father’s permission to get that shirt.

At the January 1958 shareowners’ meeting, Bill Smith was represented by proxy for his shares of stock. He was four years old. At age eleven, he attended his first shareowners’ meeting, which—luckily for him—was held after school hours. Of the fifty-six people present, Bill was among the largest shareowners. He even held more stock than his mother.

“My dad [went] back to work almost every night, and he was my best friend, so I came with him,” Bill said. “There was a table in [the boardroom] where I learned to spell and do math problems because he came back to read the paper or get away from Mom or do whatever it was, and I came with him. So I literally and figuratively grew up in [Capital City Bank].”

Bill’s monthly allowance was earned through chores at the bank. “My first job was emptying the trash cans on the first floor,” he said. “My second job was wrapping coins in the basement.”

Patsy Kelley recalled Bill coming to the walk-up teller windows after regular banking hours. His head just crested the counter as his little hand slid the passbook to her, along with a few small bills. “Godfrey made his boys save a little bit of their allowance,” she said. Patsy posted the deposit, noted it in his passbook, and returned the small booklet to the boy.

When Bill’s younger brother, Robert Hill (Bob) Smith, came along, he was given an equal number of shares in the bank. He accompanied his father to the shareowners’ meeting when he turned eleven as well.

Both boys received subtle training in thriftiness from their father. “We used to have iced milk [for dessert],” Bill said. “That’s because ice cream was more expensive. So I had iced milk, and I didn’t know the difference. We saved [S&H] green stamps. And when the fair came to town, my dad would bring home a two-dollar roll of nickels.” Bill and Bob pitched nickels for china at the fair, “and we ate off of [those plates] at home.”

Their father was the model of frugality. “He wore a clip-on tie,” Bill said. “He and [jewelry store owner] Lester Moon were the only two guys I knew who wore a clip-on tie.” Godfrey owned one formal suit, which was reserved for weddings and funerals, and he refused to get a new one until it was threadbare.

He also modeled loyalty, Bill recalled. He bought cars from Proctor’s and Tallahassee Motors because both of those owners banked with Capital City and served on its board of directors. “Mom drove a Cadillac, and Dad drove a Ford.” When the family took trips out of town, Godfrey Smith would delay as long as possible filling up with fuel on the return until they crossed the Leon County line “because chances are good we can probably buy from someone who banks with Capital City.”

There were other lessons too. “The dinner table [we] grew up with [required] a coat and tie … every night. You came home from Little League ball practice and took a shower and put on your coat and tie for dinner. Every night but Sunday.” When the boys turned nine or ten, their father gave them a topic to study and talk about at dinner with no notes. “Now, sometimes, the subject matter was Babe Ruth,” Bill said. Then he added, “I think I was the only ten-year-old that actually had some understanding of what the Cuban missile crisis was in Florida. I’m not sure I really did at the time, but I at least knew why we had water and canned goods in the basement.”

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Patsy Kelley, second from right, joins fellow bank associates, circa 1950s. Photo Courtesy of Capital City Bank.

After Godfrey assumed the title of president of what was then called Capital City National Bank, he began delivering similar lessons to the 248 shareowners and 17 directors through the annual president’s report. He always included a fact or figure related to world—or at least U.S.—events and related it to the bank’s performance. He gave hints on practicing good money management and appealed to their sense of loyalty to bring in business.

In January 1961, Godfrey had some good news and some bad news. The previous year, loans had increased, but deposits had decreased. That meant the bank’s loan-to-deposit ratio was off, and they would have to be more selective in granting credit. “As many of you probably recall, when the June 30, 1960, financial statements of the Tallahassee banks were published, we were first in deposits, first in loans, first in capital structure, and first in total assets,” Godfrey said. “On December 31, our competitor on Calhoun Street moved ahead in both deposits and total assets.” He urged the shareowners to do their part by recommending Capital City National Bank to their friends and to advise bank personnel when they heard of a new business moving to town.

There was a reason that the “competitor on Calhoun Street”— Tallahassee Bank and Trust—had become more aggressive beginning in the fall of 1960. The daughter and son-in-law of former governor Caldwell had moved back to Tallahassee. Fred McCord’s name was soon showing up in classified ads offering great deals on auto loans, and he was featured on other business solicitations as TB&T’s new vice president and cashier.

“Banks didn’t really compete very much against each other until [TB&T] came to town,” McCord said. “We were the new kid on the block, and … the only place we could get [business] was from competitors. So we worked like heck trying to get [clients] away from them. It was a lot of fun. I liked competition, and selling was really my forte.”

Soon, the former ceramic-tile salesman set his sights squarely on Capital City National Bank—and Godfrey in particular. “I used to get my group together, everyone at the bank … and say, ‘Today we’re going to beat Godfrey Smith. Today we’re going to take his pants off.’ And everybody in the bank worked on that, and we had a lot of fun doing it.” He said his employees started making note of the endorsements on checks they had written to see where they were being deposited. “And if it wasn’t [TB&T], they would go after them. That helped tremendously in competing.”

McCord was strategic in his efforts, including arriving early at the F&T Restaurant for breakfast. “That’s where you’d see the electrical, plumbing, and other contractors. I got more credit information having breakfast with and listening to the subcontractors than you could get from the credit bureau.” He volunteered
on chamber-of-commerce committees, joined civic clubs, and helped launch an effort that became Tallahassee’s Downtown Improvement Authority. He 
didn’t have the deep community roots that the Lewis brothers and Godfrey had, but he managed to wrestle business away from them through sheer determination.

“I had great respect for Godfrey as a friend and as a banker,” McCord stated. They often sat together for lunch at the Exchange Club, a men’s civic group that met every Friday. “I loved working against him. He was a formidable foe too.” McCord liked that Godfrey acknowledged his efforts. “We had a good time fighting each other—more so than Lewis State—Godfrey was more formal than anybody else was. He pursued every avenue and worked at it very hard. Every time we made a move, he made a countermove.” For Capital City Bank, that meant jingles on the radio, bigger newspaper ads, and additional services, including a travel agency to coordinate business air travel, cruises and other vacations for clients of the bank.

But mostly Godfrey counted on those vested in the bank—the shareowners—to grow its market share. He frequently gave tips at the annual meetings about small steps they could take that would benefit the bank and assure continued dividends in their future: encouraging their friends to get their next auto financed through Capital City, passing along the names of newcomers to officers and staff members, and recommending the bank’s new trust department for wills or estate planning.

Payday at the end of the month was the busiest time for bank tellers. Customers lined up across the lobby and out the door; some sat on couches waiting for a teller. Patsy Kelley, who started at the bank when she was twenty years old and remained for forty years, said, “There wasn’t even time to sort change when it came in. You had to wait on the next person. I remember just bags of silver all over.”

One college professor, whose check was deposited directly to his account, called Patsy monthly on payday. He would tell her, “Mrs. Kelley, I’ll be in at lunchtime and need to cash a check.” It was pocket money, a few hundred dollars. After the call, she’d go to the vault and collect bills in the denominations she knew he preferred. Like clockwork, around lunchtime, she’d see the professor walk past the long lines and sidle up to her teller window. She’d casually reach over and hand him the cash, “and he’d be out the door.”  

Email Parson.kendra@ccbg.com if you’re a Capital City Bank customer and would like a copy of the book.

Categories: Books, History