A Tale of Two Banks: From Beaux-Arts to Mod Squad
By Maureen Neeley
Within our neighborhood, two commercial buildings vividly portray the architecture of our local history. The first has gone from bank to tavern but still serves its neighbors.
If you can, imagine life in Belmont Heights in the 1920s. Cars were certainly an item, though families had one vehicle and it was both narrow and unreliable. Most averaged around 20 mph; auto accidents were common.
Public transit was popular, however, since the Red Cars ran along Redondo. One could catch either the Broadway or the 7th Street spurs to head to downtown Long Beach. Of course, the Newport line trundled south to Orange County or north to L.A.
The banking industry took notice of the growth and wealth of Belmont Heights after the oil strikes on nearby Signal Hill. It was time to build a nearby branch so residents could safely deposit money.
In 1923, the Pacific Southwest Trust and Savings Bank took the plunge, hiring well-known architect Horace Austin to design a handsome Beaux-Arts structure at the SW corner of Redondo and Broadway, the epicenter of Belmont Heights commerce. Beaux-Arts style is known for its grand classical features and elaborate ornamentation. The developers were Deeble and Chapman and the contractor was C.T. McGrew, heavy hitters on the local construction scene at the time. The bank held two offices as well as ground-floor bays for storefronts, and two apartments filled the second story. InSteelhead 1925, the building also housed the American Meat Market and a Safeway Store, accessed from Broadway. At the 221 Redondo entrance, one could visit Dr. C. W. Borland, D.D.S., upstairs (where he and his wife also lived).
In 1933 the Long Beach Earthquake damaged the building. Wesco Construction led the renovation, this time in the popular Art Deco style, much more sharp-edged and linear. By 1935, the bank was gone and the new tenants reflected both the Great Depression and the end of Prohibition: Mrs. Marjory Hamilton’s beauty shop occupied 221 Redondo. The Broadway storefronts held two liquor stores: one owned by E.F. Slatt and the other by Paul Dale. Bank of America had opened on Second Street in Belmont Shore, as Second Street superseded the Broadway-Redondo corridor in commercial importance.
Today--although not a designated city landmark--the old bank building still stands, continuing to serve the neighborhood with Steelhead Coffee, Baddeley’s Pourhouse (a sports bar), and Flamin Curry take-out.
And, farther up Redondo….
Forty years after the Pacific Southwest Bank was constructed, the First National City Bank was built at 6th and Redondo in 1964. Designed by mid-century architects Power & Daniel, the massing and decorative elements are eerily reminiscent of the old Pacific SW Bank on Broadway. This newer bank is a stripped-down version of its elder cousin down the street, with its tapering cross-shaped piers that also extend over the roof. The deep, covered airy entry, floor-to-ceiling windows, and delicate porte-cochere balance the flat stucco finish and the gunite piers. This bank also had a large parking lot – a necessity to serve the car culture of the 1960s.
The First National City Bank was owned by the McCook family who had roots in the neighborhood. Over the years the building housed the Bank of California, Sumitomo Bank, and California Bank & Trust.
Now adaptively reused as UnLeashed, a pet supply store, this mid-century modern architecture is unique in Belmont Heights, though it echoes the mid-century elements so common in nearby Long Beach residential areas. The structure tells the story of commerce, optimism, and local investment during the turbulent ‘60s.