Unlocking the Krocks, Part Three – Down on Main Street

In this installment, I’d like to talk about some of the Main Street properties the Krocks have owned; in the next installment, we’ll look at the Central Building (332 Main Street) in particular.

240 Main Street

The adorable, Second Empire style building that is 240 Main Street was the first headquarters of the State Mutual Life Assurance Company.

From the Telegram in 1955: “State Mutual and Merchants & Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Co. constructed the four-story building in 1872.  It served as their headquarters until 1897, when State Mutual moved into its present building.  Worcester Gas Light Co. owned the building until” 1951, when it was bought by Anna Krock, the wife of Aaron Krock.

State Mutual is now Hanover Insurance, and it moved into Worcester’s first skyscraper, 340 Main Street, in 1897.

Currently, the Krocks own the first two homes of State Mutual — 240 and 340 Main Street.  And Janet is the official owner (in this case, trustee) of 240 Main Street, just as her mother-in-law was sixty years ago.

Commerce Bank

240Main_via_MACRISFour years after Anna Krock purchased 240 Main Street, it became the home of Commerce Bank.

Aaron Krock began Commerce Bank with $525,000; of the fifteen incorporators of the bank, one was his then-21-year-old son, Barry.

The bank had ten employees when it began, one of whom was William Roberts, the executive vice president and treasurer, as well as one of the directors of the bank.  Roberts, originally from Havana, Cuba, had worked with Aaron Krock for several years before the founding of Commerce Bank.

(Readers of part one may also remember that William Roberts would become one of Barry Krock’s closest business partners.)

So Commerce Bank began business in 1955, and Anna Krock received rent from the bank and the tenant that occupied the upper floors of the building, the Ward School of Airline Training.

Rogers Block

By the mid-1960s, the bank was so successful that it opened its first branch in a building Aaron Krock owned at 426 Main Street, the Rogers Block.

Today, the Rogers Block, on the corner of Main and Pleasant, has Honey Dew Donuts on the ground floor, but for 93 years –from 1871 to 1964 — it was home to Easton’s news and soda shop.

The building was constructed in 1869 by Thomas Rogers, who had made his money in shoe manufacturing and real estate.  (Among other things, he owned buildings on Front Street, 11 Pleasant Street, and most of the land around Canterbury and Southgate Streets — SWIP!)

I haven’t seen pictures of the exterior in 1965, but according to newspaper accounts, the upper exterior of the building had blue tile siding, and there was a “‘marble-ized’ white concrete sidewalk” in front of the bank.

I’m not sure when the Krocks sold the building and when the Commerce Bank branch there closed; I think it was before the 1980s.

Commerce Building

The location of the Commerce Building, 340 Main Street, was previously home to Brinley Hall, the location of the first National Woman’s Rights Convention on October 23-24, 1850.

After Mechanics Hall was constructed in 1857, Brinley Hall was used less and less, and was eventually demolished in 1895 to make way for the new State Mutual Building.

commerce_1By 1894, 240 Main Street had become too small for State Mutual, and plans were made to construct Worcester’s first “skyscraper”, the nine-story Classical Revival building we now know as the Commerce Building.

State Mutual moved to its current location on Lincoln Street in 1957.  Aaron Krock and then-partner Harry Talman purchased the Commerce Building shortly thereafter.

Talman and Krock eventually dissolved their partnership and sold the building, but Aaron’s son Barry and frequent partners Williams Roberts and Herb Ingram bought the building back in 1975.  The building has been owned by the Krocks and their associates ever since.

Planned Parenthood was located on the sixth floor of the Commerce Building from 1982-1992.

A month into its tenancy, Problem Pregnancy moved into office space on the same floor.  Planned Parenthood sued their landlord, and Problem Pregnancy was evicted in 1984.  (Problem Pregnancy moved to 332 Main Street — the Central Building — so at least the Krocks and their partners kept the tenant within their buildings.)

Planned Parenthood drew weekly protests for the duration of its time there, especially during the late 1980s/early 1990s.  A protest on February 17, 1990 drew 280 protesters (supporters and foes) which resulted in 79 arrests.  The clinic was also firebombed in September 1990.  Herb Ingram declined to renew their lease in 1992, and they moved.

In 1994, Commerce Associates (a limited partnership of Barry and Janet Krock, Barry’s sister Beverly Goldman, Herb Ingram, and William Roberts) won bids for DSS and DET to rent office space in the Commerce Building, and DMH to rent office space in the Slater Building (390 Main).

But in 2005, DSS opted to move to a new location (the former St. Vincent Hospital maternity ward on Vernon Hill) even though the Commerce Building submitted a lower bid.

DSS accepted a higher bid because it had had “years of complaints from workers about rat- and cockroach-infested cubicles and lack of free parking.”

A judge denied Commerce Associates’ attempt at an injunction to stop the move (because they were the lowest bidder); their attempt to appeal was also unsuccessful.

Commerce Bank, continued

Aaron Krock founded Commerce Bank in 1955 with $525,000.  Commerce was successful enough to open the branch in the Rogers Block in 1965.

That same year, Krock also acquired a controlling interest in Shrewsbury Bank & Trust Co., and his son Barry was made president of that bank.  Three years later, the bank merged with Commerce.

At Aaron’s death in 1972, the bank’s assets were up to $36 million, and Barry said that the bank would need at least $100 million to survive.

By the end of December 1976, Commerce Bank had assets of $50 million.

But Commerce Bank was not the only bank the Krocks invested in.

In 1968, they tried (and failed) to take over Merchants National Bank of Leominster.  Their rival, Ronald Ansin, acquired enough shares to prevent them from having a majority holding.

It seems as if the rivalry continued for decades, until 1989, when Merchants began losing millions from real estate development loans.  The Telegram reported in October 1991 that:

In November 1990, federal regulators ordered Merchants’ management to raise close to $10 million in equity capital this year or face government takeover.

But for much of 1991, the bank’s two major stockholder groups were locked in a court battle over the kind of stock the bank agreed to sell to meet the regulators’ capital requirement.

The two stockholder groups were, of course, led by Krock (who had a 34.5 percent interest in the bank) and Ansin (who controlled a 64 percent interest).

By Fall 1991, Merchants had a negative net worth of $6.4 million.  In December 1991, WCIS paid the FDIC “$2.7 million to acquire Merchants’ $150 million in deposits.”

But Merchants was not the only bank in trouble in Barry Krock’s world in the early 1990s.

“Commerce Bank lost $1 million in 1990, $1.9 million in 1991 and $743,000 in 1992” — primarily because of losses in commercial real estate loans.

In August 1993, two financial ratings firms questioned the health of Commerce Bank.

In October 1993, David “Duddie” Massad bought Commerce Bank for an undisclosed sum; the Krocks had owned 96 percent of the shares in the company.

After nearly forty years, the Krocks were no longer in the banking business.

Slater Building

Even after Duddie bought Commerce Bank, the Krocks continued to own the building that housed the main branch: the Slater Building, at 390 Main Street.

The Slater Building became the city’s second “skyscraper” in 1907 (ten years after the Commerce Building), and was constructed by the Norcross Brothers.

(Fun fact: Fallon Clinic’s first home was the Slater Building; it occupied space there from 1929 to 1946.)

Commerce Bank spent $1 million renovating the first and second floors of the Slater Building in 1999.  (The project was managed, unsurprisingly, by TASC, Herb Ingram’s architectural/construction management firm.)

In October 2010, Barry and Janet Krock, and their daughter Kathryn, were sued by the other trustees that owned the Slater Building: Barry’s sister, Beverly Goldman; Herb Ingram; and the executor of the estate of Irene Roberts, the widow of William Roberts.  The Telegram reported that:

The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Krock reneged on a 2006 agreement to sell the buildings within six months and that he turned down, interfered with or blocked offers of $21 million and $10 million from out-of-state companies, and, finally, $11 million from Mr. Ingram and David G. Massad, chairman of Commerce Bank.

They also charge that the Krocks drained the trust by, among other things, overpaying Kathryn Krock as manager of the properties; the suit says she is compensated more than $250,000 a year, including a car and expense account. The suit refers to the 31-year-old as a “fashion school graduate with no training whatsoever as a manager of commercial properties.”

Shortly after that article was written, Commerce Bank bought the Slater Building from the Krocks for more than $4 million in October 2011.

WCIS/365 Main Street

The Krocks and Herb Ingram bought 365 Main Street — the former WCIS building — along with an 87-car parking lot off Foster Street for $1.25 million in 1999.

Pearl-Elm Garage

I’d like to end this part on a slight tangent that I know some of you will appreciate.

In 1986, a developer offered the city $1.8 million to buy the Pearl-Elm and Federal Plaza garages, and two other businesses indicated they, too, would be interested in purchasing them.

The city did not sell them, but financial difficulties in the late 1980s made the city start thinking about selling one or both garages (as well as the Centrum).

In the late 1980s, NYNEX and St. James Properties proposed building a 10-story, $30 million office building at the corner of Chestnut and Elm: Chestnut Place.

The catch?  They wanted the city to sell them the adjacent Pearl-Elm garage.

The off-street parking board had already done a study that showed they needed more space, and they had recommended a $4.5 million, 200-space expansion to the city manager, $1 million of which would have been funded by a state grant.

Then-CM Mulford said that if they sold the garage to the Chestnut Place developers, the sale price along with the $1 million grant could be used to build a new municipal garage in downtown Worcester.

In October 1989, the off-street parking board unanimously agreed with Mulford, approving the sale.

Many property- and business-owners in the area opposed the sale.

Barry Krock, who owned much of the property near the garage (including the Slater Building next to it), said that the garage should be put to public auction, and that he was willing to pay $7 million for it.

But by November 1989, the city had hammered out a compromise with the developers: the garage would continue to be city-owned, but the city would build two new decks on top of the garage (as was originally planned) and would agree to a 99-year lease of 200 parking  spaces with the developers at market rate prices.

So — next time — more on the Central Building, which the Krocks have recently proposed demolishing.

Sources:

“New Bank to Open Here This Summer”, Worcester Telegram, 8 April 1955

“Modern Bank Gives New Look to Old Corner”, Worcester Telegram, 4 March 1965

“Krock Follows Late Father As Head of Commerce Bank”, Worcester Telegram, 13 January 1973

“City “garage sale’ is opposed”, by Russell Eames, T&G, 9 February 1989

“Ingram has stuff to make it work”, by Robert Bliss, T&G, 10 February 1989

“The Fallon Clinic turns 60 tomorrow”, T&G, 19 June 1989

“Board backs garage expansion”, T&G, 21 July 1989

“NYNEX joins developer to build city office tower”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 20 October 1989

“Price of Pearl-Elm garage is a worry”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 20 October 1989

“Plan to sell garage worries merchants”, by Kathleen Pierce, T&G, 24 October 1989

“Board gives the go-ahead to Pearl-Elm garage sale”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 27 October 1989

“Sale of garage seen as catalyst for good or bad”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 29 October 1989

“Garage plan changes; Agreement includes addition, rate hike”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 10 November 1989

“City calls off sale of garage; Developers to lease 200 spaces”, by Nick Kotsopoulos, T&G, 15 November 1989

“Police try to recoup costs from protesters”, by Lynne Tolman, T&G, 24 February 1990

“Two men tussle over bank; Financial remedy is central issue”, by Kathleen Pierce, T&G, 20 October 1991

“WCIS takes over Merchants”, by Kathleen Pierce, T&G, 14 December 1991

“Planned Parenthood to relocate within city”, by Geraldine A. Collier, T&G, 21 February 1992

“Commerce Bank rebuts zero rating; Firm issues gloomy report”, by Chris Pope, T&G, 10 August 1993

“Women’s vote is 73 years old; Observances at suffragette’s grave”, by Richard Duckett, T&G, 26 August 1993

“‘Duddie’ agrees to buy Commerce Bank & Trust”, by Chris Pope, T&G, 5 October 1993

“State agencies move to Main St. ; DSS, DET to go to Commerce Building; DMH office in Slater Building”, by Emilie Astell, T&G, 24 March 1994

“Foes to be neighbors again”, by Winston W. Wiley, T&G, 22 December 1995

“Silver Hammer Awards”, T&G, 6 May 1999

“Landmark Main St. building sold”, by Lisa Eckelbecker, T&G, 22 October 1999

“Before Mechanics Hall there was Brinley Hall”, by Albert Southwick, T&G, 8 May 2005

“DSS gets ready to move city office; Relocation to former St. Vincent Hospital set for end of summer”, by Shaun Sutner and Lisa Eckelbecker, T&G, 7 June 2005

“DSS move is resisted; Main St. landlord fights lease award” by Shaun Sutner, T&G, 3 August 2005

“Property problems: Demolition threat highlights neglect” by Shaun Sutner, T&G, 25 September 2011

“Commerce pours its heart into Worcester: Bank prepares to renovate historic building”, by Priyanka Dayal, T&G, 5 February 2012

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One thought on “Unlocking the Krocks, Part Three – Down on Main Street

  1. epb says:

    wow yet another stunning piece of reporting to bring us up to date on what REALLY happening here

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