The black-tie party at Washington's swank Mayflower Hotel seemed a fitting celebration of the biggest American housing boom since the 1950s: filet mignon and lobster, a champagne room and hundreds of mortgage brokers, real estate agents and their customers gyrating to a Latin band.
On that winter night in 2005, the company hosting the gala honored itself with an ice sculpture of its logo. Pinnacle Financial had grown from a single office to a national behemoth generating $6.5 billion in mortgages that year. The $100,000-plus party celebrated the booming division that made loans largely to Hispanic immigrants with little savings. The company even booked rooms for those who imbibed too much.
Kevin Connelly, a loan officer who attended the affair, now marvels at those gilded times. At his Pinnacle office in Virginia, colleagues were filling the parking lot with BMWs and at least one Lotus sports car. In its hiring frenzy, the mortgage company turned a busboy into a loan officer whose income zoomed to six figures in a matter of months.
"It was the peak. It was the embodiment of business success," Connelly said. "We underestimated the bubble, even though deep down, we knew it couldn't last forever."
Indeed, Pinnacle's party would soon end, along with the nation's housing euphoria. The company has all but disappeared, along with dozens of other mortgage firms, tens of thousands of jobs on Wall Street and the dreams of about 1 million proud new homeowners who lost their houses.