What began in the 1950s as rumblings of a new bank in Houston’s Montrose district grew into an institution with true staying power. This year, that institution has reason to celebrate. Central Bank, Houston’s longest-serving independent bank, is marking its milestone 65th anniversary.
L.E. Cowling, owner of Southern States Life Insurance, set the wheels in motion for Central Bank. Following his development of an organization committee—and more than a year of planning and preparation—the company was chartered on May 31, 1956, under the moniker Montrose National Bank. It remained as such until 1961, when bank headquarters moved from Montrose Blvd. to Travis St. and leadership transitioned to Central National Bank of Houston. The Travis St. location, dubbed Central National Bank Square, proved a hotspot for local business. Not only did the site play home to big-name oil and insurance companies, but to popular dinner clubs, as well.
With the 1979 change from national to state-chartered status, the company transitioned to Central Bank of Houston. Ten years later, following purchases and sales of rural establishments Lexington Bank and Caldwell National Bank, Central Bank settled into the name it maintains to this day. Additional aspects of the business and company changed with time. The mid-90s brought the addition of three new branches over a four-year period, along with the purchase of factoring company Advantage Business Capital. During that time, the bank moved into its current headquarters on Clay Rd. Today, Central Bank provides business and personal banking services from four full-service branches across Houston.
Adaptability has always been key to the bank’s ability to thrive and grow through the years, according to Robert Mrlik, president and CEO. Not only did the company work to meet changing technologies and customer needs, but found itself up against incredible odds. Throughout Central Bank’s history, the company has weathered oil booms and busts that had substantial impacts on Houston, as well as 2008’s economic downturn and even a global pandemic. “We’ve been through a lot and we’ve seen a lot, but we’ve made it through,” Mrlik says. “Central Bank has persevered.”
Looking ahead, Central Bank plans to expand its reach to new niche markets and continue updating both technologies and services to meet current customer needs. At the same time, the goal is to maintain the focus on service and the trustworthy, small-town feel for which Central Bank is known. “It’s worked well for us for the past 65 years. Why stop now?” Mrlik says. “We are incredibly excited to see what’s to come, but we will never lose sight of our roots.”