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Western Bank branch to close

Yet another Western Bank branch will close its doors this fall as Washington Mutual Bank continues consolidation.

When the remaining 31 Western Bank offices take on the Washington Mutual name on Nov. 13, the downtown Medford branch at 300 E. Main St. will close.

"Obviously, it's a sad thing," said Dave Bliss, who manages the downtown and Ashland branches.

Western Bank has operated as a division of Seattle-based Washington Mutual since 1996.

Redundancy has led to an average of one Western or Washington Mutual office closed each year since Washington Mutual acquired Western Bank in 1996.

In July of 1996, two Washington Mutual offices in Portland were consolidated into one new bank; in September 1996, Washington Mutual closed a Medford branch at 300 E. Jackson St.; in October of 1998, the Western Bank office at Rogue Valley Mall closed; in April of 1999, a Washington Mutual branch in Hillsboro closed; in July of 2000, a Western Bank's Roseburg office closed; and on July 9, it was announced Western Bank's Rogue Valley Manor branch would close on Sept. 28.

Downtown checking and savings customers will have their accounts transferred to the present Crater Lake Avenue office. Safe deposit boxes will be moved Nov. 2-3.

Although the closure will mean at least a temporary vacancy along Main Street, it's not causing a panic.

"It really has no impact," said Don Burt, Medford Urban Renewal chief. "But there is not one particular use, so we're not particularly concerned. In our exit interview, they said the reason for moving to Crater Lake was that's where the larger facility is. If it would've been downtown, they would've stayed downtown."

Western's departure will leave U.S. Bank (at its present location for 80 years), KeyBank and Bank of America as the only banks between Bear Creek and City Hall. In 1990, Benjamin Franklin S&L, First Interstate Bank, Jackson County Federal S&L, Valley of the Rogue Bank and Security Pacific Bank of Oregon were in operation.

The lack of banking options downtown bothers some merchants.

"Our hope is that with the Winetrout (office complex) development and Rogue Community College expansion they will think about people needing to make deposits or at least put in an ATM machine at a building downtown," said Nancy Fox, owner of the Frame Factory and a member of the Downtown Merchants Association.

Convenience is a concern for others.

"The concerns we have as a local business, is that they were right across the street," Hot Pots co-owner Arlene Kramer said. "We could put our night deposits there and go get change. We like doing business with them. Now they're gone. Having them pull out makes it difficult for us."

While Western Bank rides off into the sunset come November, Klamath First is enhancing its position in markets throughout Oregon and into the Tri-Cities area of Washington.

The Office of Thrift Supervision last Thursday gave conditional approval for the acquisition of 12 Western Bank branches and one Washington Mutual financial center. As of March 31, the transaction totaled $416.2 million in deposits, with an average interest cost of 3.6 percent and loans of $190.2 million with an average yield of 9.6 percent.

Klamath First has branches in Medford, Ashland, Central Point and Jacksonville. A new office is going up near the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Kings Highway. Most of the acquired branches are along the coast. One is in Cave Junction and two in northeastern Oregon.

"Western Bank was dominant in those areas," said Kermit Houser, Klamath First president and chief executive officer, whose firm is following Western Bank's historic approach. "Western Bank capitalized on a lot of large banks reducing their presence. Not only did we get stable deposits out of it, but a very well underwritten, stable loan portfolio.

Houser said the opportunity was right for Klamath First to make a move on those coastal branches.

"What (Washington Mutual) is focusing on is high-growth areas where there is a tremendous amount of competition," Houser said. "It's an ideal time for us to be purchasing branches on the coast. I can't imagine many other things happening there. The lumber and fishing industries have contracted tremendously. What they have now is isolated pockets that are showing a nice rebound, like Bandon."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail