Filed Under Immigration

Pioneer Savings Bank

A Legacy of Romanian Immigration

A Romanian settlement grew and flourished along Detroit Avenue between West 45th Street and West 65th Street from the 1900s to the middle of the century. The self-contained neighborhood housed a variety of businesses both owned by and catering to the needs of the surrounding ethnic neighborhood. Within walking distance, one could find Romanian social clubs, churches, grocery stores, butcher shops, bakers, doctors, restaurants, taverns, a barber, a bookstore, a confectioners, and the Roumanian Savings and Loan. Originally located at 5501 Detroit Avenue, this bank was located at the heart of the West Side Romanian community.

Opened in 1922, the bank was a symbol of an era of stabilization for the Romanian community. With immigration into the United States severely limited due to post war quotas, the transient working community that commonly lived in boarding houses thinned out. Many Romanians left once they had achieved their goal of accumulating enough money to return home and buy land. Others that emigrated to avoid persecution at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were drawn back by the promise of freedom offered by the newly reunited Greater Romania. The Romanian population of Cleveland was cut in half. Those that chose to stay increasingly began to invest in their future in the city. Higher wages earned during World War I enabled many Romanian immigrants to accumulate money, which was often spent on building homes or investing in businesses. The Roumanian Savings and Loan, created by and for the Romanian community, helped offer immigrants this opportunity.


Pioneer Savings Bank, c. 1951
Pioneer Savings Bank, c. 1951 In 1951, Romanian Savings and Loan changed its name to Pioneer Savings and Loan. These changes coincided with the general movement away from the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood by Romanian and Romanian American residents. A new community emerged along Warren Road in Cleveland's Kamm's Corner neighborhood, drawing families and businesses away from the West Side. The relocation of St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church to this suburb in 1960 accelerated the exodus of the Romanian community. Pioneer Savings Bank also moved to its new location at 6701 Detroit Avenue in 1951. The structure was larger and designed to include a drive-up window. Relatively uncommon until the late 1940s, by 1957 over half of American banks offered drive-up service to accommodate the post-war car culture. Image courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank
Financial Statement of The Roumanian Savings & Loan Company, 1930
Financial Statement of The Roumanian Savings & Loan Company, 1930 Authorized by the state of Ohio in 1868, savings and loan banks were instrumental in the development of Cleveland's ethnic neighborhoods. Typically small associations operated by the members of the community that they served, these banks invested money of depositors into home mortgages and business loans. The Roumanian Savings and Loan Company served the Italian, Romanian, and Irish residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Gordon Square. Image courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank
Customer Ledger Card
Customer Ledger Card Few immigrants used traditional banks at the beginning of the 20th century. Money was either stored away by the individual or the services of an immigrant banker were used. These unsanctioned bankers were generally entrepreneurs that operated out of institutions within the ethnic neighborhood such as grocery stores and boardinghouses. Speaking the language of the immigrant, they often acted as an intermediary and performed services such as sending money oversees or purchasing tickets for their clients. Immigrant bankers eased the transition and performed valuable services for new arrivals to the country but were often unreliable. During an economic downturn in 1907, it was estimated that immigrant bankers in Cleveland lost over 2 million dollars of the their clients' money. As ethnic communities began to create permanent settlements and quotas limited new immigration, the services provided by these entrepreneurs were no longer in demand. Traditional banking institutions were better suited to meet the needs of customers that wished to save and borrow larger amounts of money better in order to purchase land or start a business. Image courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank
Detroit Avenue and Pioneer Savings Bank, 1966
Detroit Avenue and Pioneer Savings Bank, 1966 The site of the present structure on Detroit Avenue was purchased by Pioneer Savings Bank in 1950. Two homes along Detroit Avenue were moved in their entirety to nearby locations prior to construction. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Pioneer Savings Bank, Exterior
Pioneer Savings Bank, Exterior In 1962, Pioneer Saving Bank was remodeled by Cleveland architect Nick Popil. The structure maintains all of its original furnishings. Image courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank
Pioneer Savings & Loan Business Card, c. 1951
Pioneer Savings & Loan Business Card, c. 1951 Elie Barsan helped found Roumanian Savings and Loan. Arriving in Cleveland in 1914 at the age of 21, he would become president of both the Pioneer Savings Bank and the Carpatina Society. The Carpatina Society was formed in 1902 and is the oldest Romanian organization in the United States. The fraternal benefit society was created to offer newly arrived immigrants financial assistance in case of sickness, injury, or death. Image courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank
Wives of Pioneer Savings Bank's Board of Directors, c. 1950
Wives of Pioneer Savings Bank's Board of Directors, c. 1950 Virginia Barson is pictured above, sitting three seats in. Following the death of her husband in 1952, Virgina Barsan received controlling stock in Pioneer Savings Bank. The transfer was initially disputed by the bank's Board of Directors, leading to a three year legal battle. In 1955, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Since then, a woman has retained the position of bank president. Photograph courtesy of Pioneer Savings Bank


6701 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102


Richard Raponi, “Pioneer Savings Bank,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2024,