Liberty Bank opened in May of 1968 at 24th and Union as the first Black-owned bank in the Pacific Northwest, founded in 1968 as a community response to redlining and disinvestment in Central Seattle.
For 20 years, Liberty Bank provided essential financial services to people and businesses who were otherwise unable to obtain them. Liberty Bank represented resilience and empowerment and stood as an example of a community’s solution to systemic, institutional racism.
The bank was closed in 1988 and reopened as Emerald City Bank, which was eventually bought by KeyBank. In 2015, KeyBank approached Capitol Hill Housing with an offer to sell the property below market value with the intention it become affordable homes, as a way to honor the history of community involvement at the site.
Capitol Hill Housing convened an advisory board including daughters of the original founders, a former executive director of the bank, long-time community members, leaders in the Central District, and religious leadership to advise on how to tell the story of Liberty Bank through art, historic documents, and architecture. The advisory board recommendations, along with the community’s input, was finalized in 2015 and was used to inform the final design of the building.
The Central District has long been the home to Seattle’s African-American community, but over the last decade has seen increasingly rapid changes and displacement of residents who have called the area home for generations.
Today, the development of the Liberty Bank Building honors the legacy of the bank in more than just name. The project partners leveraged the redevelopment of the site for maximum empowerment of the African American community that is being displaced from the Central District and Seattle.