Story Behind Ramona Saving & Loans
Above is the new building at 527 Sespe Avenue, Fillmore, back in 1957, which is now Bank of the Sierra. Photos Courtesy Fillmore Historical Museum.
Above is the new building at 527 Sespe Avenue, Fillmore, back in 1957, which is now Bank of the Sierra. Photos Courtesy Fillmore Historical Museum.
Frank Erskine
Frank Erskine

Courtesy Fillmore Historical Museum

In 1927, thirty men met at the Piru Citrus Exchange to discuss nothing that had to do with citrus, but everything to do with their community. They met to form a building and loan association that would serve the needs of the Piru and Fillmore areas. They formed what would become Ramona Savings and Loan.

In 1963, Frank Erskine wrote to a new depositor who asked how the name was chosen. This is his explanation:
“Piru is a village of about 500 persons a few miles east of Fillmore. Back in 1926 a young preacher there had the idea it would be ice to organize a savings and loan, and applied to the state Commissioner for a permit. The Commissioner ruled that Piru was too small a town but if Fillmore would join he would consider the matter.
So those interested in Piru came to Fillmore and enlisted some of hose here, including a man named Erskine who was manager of the citrus association.

We held several meetings and there was much discussion as to whether we could make it pay in so small a town. Finally a permit was issued and we had to have a name. The majority of the organizers were in Fillmore, but the idea was born in Piru, so we hesitated about calling it Fillmore Savings, and did not think Piru was the proper name. The stream thru Fillmore is known as the Little Santa Clara River.

So we adopted the name “Little Santa Clara Valley Savings and Loan.” Plenty long.
The Commissioner objected as there was another association near San Jose, where there is another Santa Clara River, with a very similar name. So we were stymied.

Then I suggested Ramona. Many years ago Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a book which for many years was a best seller. It was the story of Ramona and Allesandro. 13 miles east of Fillmore, and in the Piru area, is an old adobe house that was built on a Spanish grant, and this house was the home of the servant girl Ramona. It has always been known since as the home of Ramona. As we were to be helping people acquire homes, I said one of the most famous homes in California was that of Ramona, and why not call this association Ramona Savings. No one had a better idea, so that is the story.”

The new business was capitalized with $75,000. It had a seven-man board of directors which initially included: Hugh Warring as president, W. H. Price, vice-president, David Felsenthal, Harry P. Brown, Charles W. Padelford, Frank Erskine and J. M. Horton (this J. M. Horton was a major rancher in the Piru area, not the principal of Fillmore Union High School).
They leased space in the Orange Leaf building at 350 Central Avenue and opened for business on April 15, 1927. Ramona made its first loan less than a month later to Mrs. Mary Jones in the amount of $2,300 to build a house on Clay St. In 1927, the directors authorized a 6% interest on passbook accounts and in December offered the public the chance to by certificates at 7% for a five-year term.

As of the Association’s 50 anniversary, in 1977, they had never missed an interest payment. By that time they had grown to over $30,000,000 in assets and were a major lender for home buyers in the area.
The Association eventually settled in the building on the southwest corner of Central and Sespe and in 1956 built a new building at 527 Sespe (now occupied by Bank of the Sierra).

Frank Erskine soon left his position as manager of the Fillmore Citrus Association to manage Ramona. He took a very hands-on approach, often inspecting the property involved in the loan himself. He did not hesitate to tell prospective customers exactly why Ramona would not be offering to lend the money. In at least one case he told the applicant the building should be condemned it was in such poor condition.

At the same time, there were many instances where a debt was carried as long as possible to allow the customer to catch up on payments. Solvency, however, was a prime concern especially during the dark days of the Great Depression.
It was not unusual for banks and other businesses to give our inexpensive items to its customers. Ramona was no exceptions. Match books, pen holders, coin purses, coasters, lighters all with the Ramona Saving and Loan logo were found all over Piru and Fillmore. Undoubtedly the most treasured item was the annual calendar with photographs of local landmarks on it. The Piru Mansion was featured several times over the years.
Ramona Savings and Loan had a presence in the community with floats in all the local parades, window displays and dressing up for Halloween and Fillmore Festivals.

Over the years there had been several offers to purchase the Association. Finally in 1984, Ramona was sold for $4 million to Donald Magano and John Molinaro. The headquarters was moved to Orange with a branch only in Fillmore. Under the new ownership, questionable loans were made and in 1986 Federal and State Regulators seized Ramona and transferred its assets to a newly chartered Ramona Federal Savings and Loan. It was too late to stop the downhill slide and in February 1988, the Association was closed down by regulators with no notice. There is more to the story than there is space here to tell it, but both Magano and Molinaro were convicted of more than 30 counts of bank fraud and conspiracy.

It’s a sad ending for something that was started for such good reasons and served its community so well for so long.