"We'll do a billion dollars in the Chicago area this year," says Felix Beck. chairman of Margaretten & Co.

If he's right, the Perth Amboy, N.J.-based company has a chance to become the No. 1 mortgage originator in the area, slightly ahead of two giant Chicago-based institutions, First National and LaSalle Talman.

Margaretten was No. 2 a year ago and was in a position to become top dog when No. 1 Citibank Federal Savings, a unit of New York's Citicorp, undertook a major retrenchment.

First National No. 1

But then a funny thing happened: First National Bank, a Limit of First Chicago Corp., began merging subsidiaries into branches, thus increasing the number of mortgages originated under the First National name. It has also been pushing expansion in mortgages. Combined, the two factors made it No. 1.

And LaSalle Talman Federal Bank, the former Talman Federal Savings, became the No. 2 originator. In the first half of 1992, the thrift's originations were split between its old name and its new name.

Margaretten, now No. 3, may overtake First National, but is unlikely to top the combined originations of First Chicago, whose Gary-Wheaton Bank is also in the top 25 in greater Chicago, which includes Cook, DuPage, and McHenry counties. And LaSalle National Corp., parent of La Salle Talman, is acquiring Cragin Federal Bank for Savings, also in the top 25.

Mortgage Banks Moving Up

The figures, complied by TRW Redi Property Data, are for lenders of record on trust deeds filed in each county.

Every mortgage bank in the top 20 except Margaretten moved up on the list, mirroring the national shift in market share toward mortgage banks.

Margaretten's strength in Chicago stems from its prominence in predominantly black and ethnic South Side neighborhoods, according to another Chicago mortgage banker. "They were lending there when the other big banks were- limiting themselves to the North Side," he said.

Acknowledging that Margaretten is especially strong on the South Side, Mr. Beck added: "I wouldn't say we're without competition, though," he added. "Those North Side banks aren't ignoring the South Side anymore."

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