Bank of America Chinatown Branch | Los Angeles Conservancy
Bank of America Chinatown Branch, 2020. Photo by Jenna Snow.

Bank of America Chinatown Branch

UPDATE: The Bank of America Chinatown branch Historic-Cultural Monument nomination will be heard by the Cultural Heritage Commission (Item 10) on October 21 at 10:00 a.m. To learn how to support, go to the "How You Can Help" tab.


The Bank of America Chinatown branch, designed by architects Gilbert Leong and Richard Layne Tom in 1971 with an addition in 1977, is significant as the first national bank to open a branch in Chinatown reflecting the growth of the local Chinese community during the period. Chinese immigration to the United States exploded in the late 1960s after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The new immigration policy reversed the county’s racially motivated quota system from the 1920s that was meant to stem immigration from regions outside Western Europe. The Conservancy has nominated the property as part of our '70s Turn 50 initiative.

In 1960, L.A.’s Chinese American population was approximately 20,000 and by 1969 had grown to approximately 40,000. Many of the new Chinese immigrants ultimately settled in the San Gabriel Valley, but in the 1970s and 80s, L.A.’s Chinatown was the geographic focus of the community, making it a critically important cultural and commercial center.

Banking was an essential component of neighborhood growth, facilitating the development of new Chinese and Chinese American-owned businesses. New banks in Chinatown in the late 1960s and early 1970s aided financial investment in the community that had previously been denied loans and credit.

As the first national bank branch in Chinatown, the opening of the Chinatown branch of Bank of America solidified the increasing strength of the local Chinese American community and provided new financial opportunities. By 1974, the bank was the fastest growing branch of Bank of America in Los Angeles. Over 250 credit cards were approved, which for many of the Chinese clients was the first time they had been approved for credit.

The Chinatown branch of Bank of America is only one of two banks in Chinatown that opened post-World War II and is still in its original location.

The Chinatown branch of Bank of America is also significant for its unique architectural design combining Asian Eclectic and Late Modern styles. Designed by noted Chinese American architects Gilbert Leong and Richard Layne Tom, the bank’s design blends the Modernist horizontal orientation, minimal ornamentation, and flat roofs with “classical Chinese elements,” including a roof built from imported jade green tile over wood beams, modern Asian-beamed ceilings, and contemporary designs of Chinese characters. Leong and Tom’s designs are significant as they departed from the more common Early Modern Slab style use in other Bank of America branches designs.

On August 19, 2021 the Conservancy’s Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for the Bank of America Chinatown Branch went before the City of L.A.’s Cultural Heritage Commission and was officially taken under consideration, starting the process for its landmark designation.

 

We need your help to support the effort to have the Bank of America Chinatown Branch listed as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM).

Here’s what you can do now:

FIRST: Speak in support of the Bank of America Chinatown Branch nomination (Item 10) at the virtual meeting of the Cultural Heritage Commission on October 21, 2021 (10:00 a.m.)* 

Members of the public who wish to participate in the meeting and offer public comment to the Cultural Heritage Commission, can either access the meeting via Zoom (https://planning-lacity-org.zoom.us/j/85932890560) or by calling 1 (213) 338-8477 or 1 (669) 900-9128 and use Meeting ID No. 859 3289 0560 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. You may use password: 963385.

SECOND: Submit written comments in support of the nomination.

*Note: This item will be the last agenda item and will not likely be heard before 11:30 a.m. If you are not on the line when the item is called, you will not have the opportunity to enter live public comment. Please plan accordingly.