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Lopping Off an Old Branch : B of A Shuts Down 72-Year-Old Office of Security Pacific

April 23, 1993|DAVID W. MYERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the doors are closed and the locks turned on the small Security Pacific branch at Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards for the final time tonight, a chapter will also close on a little piece of Tinseltown's history.

Housed in the seven-story Security Pacific Bank building and opened in 1921, the branch is the oldest continuously run office of the once-mighty banking leviathan and is the successor of Hollywood's first bank.

Lore has it that Charlie Chaplin banked there. So did Cecil B. DeMille. Upstairs was the fictitious headquarters of Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled private eye dreamed up by author Raymond Chandler.

The tiny branch stayed open through the Great Depression, several wars, two bloody civil riots and half a dozen massive earthquakes.

But it could not withstand the economic pressures of modern banking, and will be closed by Bank of America today, as BofA continues to shutter many of the branches it acquired after merging with Security Pacific a year ago.

"This was once one of the most important bank branches in the entire city, and now it's closing down," sighed Christy McAvoy of Hollywood Heritage, a nonprofit group that successfully lobbied to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "One more light in our city's history is being extinguished."

The roots of the building actually go back to 1905, when two prominent local businessmen founded Hollywood National Bank--the neighborhood's first. They began construction of the Italian Renaissance-style building--with its granite base, concrete walls and terra-cotta ornamentation--around 1920.

Security Pacific, in its first attempt to expand outside of downtown Los Angeles, eventually bought Hollywood National and the new building in 1921.

The bank's timing couldn't have been better. As the movie industry blossomed, so did the branch: It catered to employees of the surrounding studios, as well as to businesses that were popping up like dandelions along Hollywood, Cahuenga, Sunset Boulevard and surrounding thoroughfares.

But the bank's fortunes began to fade in the 1960s as other, more modern banks opened nearby and the tenor of the neighborhood changed. By the 1970s, customers stood a better chance of seeing panhandlers or drug users on the "Walk of Fame" outside the branch's front door than catching a glimpse of an actor or movie mogul.

Hollywood has since launched an ambitious revitalization program, and the inside of the building has been remodeled. Several small entertainment companies have moved into the building's upper floors, but the branch's fate was sealed when Bank of America bought Security Pacific and began consolidating offices.

"We have a couple of (BofA) branches just a few blocks away, and it just doesn't make sense to keep the old office open when those other offices can accommodate its customers," said Charlie Coleman, a BofA spokesman.

Not all of the old branch's customers agree.

Steve Moore, manager of an electronics store adjacent to the branch, said he's been forced to drive to a BofA office about half a mile away to make his business deposits since his old account was recently transferred.

"Before, I just went next-door and was back in five or 10 minutes," Moore said. "Now a trip to the bank can take a whole hour."

Bolour Trust, which owns the Security Pacific building, has been trying to find another bank willing to lease the old branch's space. But most financial institutions are consolidating instead of expanding, and the company's efforts to find a new tenant have so far been unsuccessful.

"This is an historic building in a great location, and we'd like to get another bank in here," said Gary Pasciak, the facility's property manager. "It's also an ideal spot for a nice restaurant.

"But the fact is, we have to get a tenant. I just don't want it to become another tacky souvenir store."

Times researcher Cary Schneider contributed to this story.

B of A PROFIT SOARS: Earnings jump 60% in first quarter. D2

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