Cathay Bank is one of the longest-lived businesses in Los Angeles' New Chinatown, having acted as an anchor of the community since its founding in 1962.
It came to be when one of the neighborhood's business leaders, Phoenix Bakery owner F. Chow Chan, was unable to obtain a home loan because he was an immigrant. Deciding the local Chinese American community needed its own financial services if it were to grow and thrive, he spent the next ten years organizing backers to apply for a bank charter.
He hired Eugene Kinn Choy, a successful and prolific architect, to design his Cathay Bank. Choy was the first Chinese American to join the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in California, and he had gained early recognition for the lovely Modern home he built for his own family in Silver Lake. His design for Cathay Bank merges the clean lines and monumental feel of New Formalism with traditional Chinese decorative elements like geometric eaves (produced in enlarged, exaggerated form on the bank's roof) and colorful tile cladding.
Cathay Bank is an imposing building that embodies the dynamics of the Chinese American community in Southern California at mid-century: embracing modern American life while retaining a strong sense of its cultural heritage.