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Saturday, April 29, 2017

East Los Angeles bank building lands on National Register of Historic Places

Mural by José Reyes Meza on the front of the Pan American Bank building | Aurelio Jose Barrera

EAST LOS ANGELES — When it came to opening its first branch, the Pan American National Bank  established a bold presence with a building that combined a forward-looking Mid-Century style and a mosaic mural with pre-Columbian imagery.  The branch symbolized the ambitions of its founders — which included Romana Acosta Bañuelos, a tortilla maker  who went on to become U.S. Treasurer  — to support the financial needs of the Mexican-American community.  Now, more than 50 years after it opened, the bank at the corner of First Street and Townsend Avenue has become the second building in East L.A. to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Park Service added the building to the list of nationally significant sites and landmarks this month, announced the L.A. Conservancy, which nominated the property.  The Pan American Bank building joins the former Golden Gate Theatre, now a CVS drug store, as the only other East L.A. site on the National Register.

The bank owners hired architect Raymond Stockdale to design a building in the New Formalist style and Mexican artist José Reyes Meza to create the mural,  Our Past, Our Present, and Our Future.  An estimated 12,000 people attended the grand opening in April 1966, according to the conservancy’s nomination.  “While not the largest building in the Belvedere area, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful,” the Mexican-American Sun newspaper said at the time.

Pan American, the state’s oldest Latino-owned financial institution,  fell into financial trouble and was purchased by another bank, Finance & Thrift Co.,  nearly two years ago. That bank was subsequently acquired by another bank, Beneficial State Bank, last year. However, during all those ownership changes, the branch at the corner of First and Townsend has remained opened.

The listing helps recognize and celebrate an important story about East L.A.’s Mexican American and Chicano community, said Laura Dominguez, preservation manager for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

“Pan American Bank’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places is largely honorific and does not prevent demolition or alteration outright,” said Dominguez. “If a project is proposed for the site in the future, the designation does ensure that the building will be treated as an historic resource during the environmental review process.”

Photo by Aurelio Jose Barrera

Photo by Aurelio Jose Barrera

Photo by Aurelio Jose Barrera

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One comment

  1. Gorgeous! Thank you to all the volunteers who put time in to save this beauty!

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