Today, for the first time in nearly 20 years, Washington investor and banker Leo M. Bernstein will no longer control a District bank.
Completing an agreement announced in July, Bernstein today is slated to sell his control of Women's National Bank to a small group of investors headed by the bank's current president, Barbara Blum.
Women's National Bank was the fourth area financial institution that Bernstein controlled or shared in controlling since 1966, when he helped found D.C. National Bank.
Yet despite today's sale, the 70-year-old entrepreneur said he has no intention of giving up his banking career.
"It is my intention to remain active as a private banker," Bernstein said in a statement issued late last week. "I will provide a one-on-one confidential service to a select group of clients that I will advise and counsel on acquisitions and sale of real estate and personal property, with special emphasis on art and antiques," he said.
At the same time, Bernstein will give more attention to the Shenandoah Valley, where he owns several properties, by creating an American History and Art Museum in Strasburg, Va.
"Rather than retiring, I'm going to do something more useful and helpful to the community," Bernstein said. "I"m fascinated with these counties in lower Virginia."
His private banking service will keep him in the metropolitan area two to three days a week consulting with a limited number of clients -- 50 to 80 on an appointment-only basis, he said. "There is a need for a certain type of client to have a one-on-one relationship with his banker."
In addition to providing loans, Bernstein also would furnish detailed advice "from the cradle to the end of the line" in every step of a project.
And if there were some aspect he didn't know, he would call in help from some of his fellow retired bankers, he said.
Meanwhile, he has already enlisted the aid of the U.S. Archives for his museum, which is slated to open next spring. The museum will contain historic objects, as well as a "living theater where great moments of history will be enacted," Bernstein said.
Bernstein noted that the museum will be close to other historic and tourist attractions, including the Wayside Inn (being renovated after a recent fire), Hotel Strasburg, Strasburg Emporium, Luray Inn and Conference Center -- all owned by Bernstein.
The proximity to the museum doesn't hurt, said Bernstein, who noted that developing these properties "is my hobby."
Nonetheless, he added, the musuem "is a great opportunity for the area. I don't think enough emphasis has been placed on the country's early history and origins. . . . Do you know that eight presidents of the United States come from the state of Virginia?"