Pan American Bank
Constructed in 1965, the Pan American Bank building houses the oldest Latinx-owned bank in California. For decades, it has served as a pillar of the East Los Angeles/Boyle Heights community and has provided much-needed bilingual services to local residents and businesses. The bank's founders believed that access to culturally sensitive financial services was the basis for increasing the community’s political power, economic independence, and overall standard of living.
The building's New Formalist style, punctuated by a dramatic entryway of five narrow arches framing panels of a mosaic mural, perfectly complemented the forward-looking philosophy of its co-founder Romana Acosta Bañuelos. When the bank opened its doors, the Mexican American Sun remarked: "While not the largest building in the Belvedere area, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful."
A successful entrepreneur who built a major tortilla business from the ground up, Bañuelos saw the need for a community bank in East Los Angeles and partnered with a group of local businessmen to establish Pan American National Bank. She went on to become the first Latina Treasurer of the United States, serving under President Richard Nixon from 1971 to 1974, and remained an active part of her community afterward.
The bank's five-panel mosaic mural, entitled "Our Past, Our Present, and Our Future," was created by renowned Mexican artist Jose Reyes Meza in 1966 and helped spur the Chicanx mural movement in East Los Angeles. The work, for example, inspired local artists Johnny D. González, David Botello, and Robert Arenivar to design a companion ceramic tile mural on the adjacent First Street Store in 1970, entitled "The Story of Our Struggle."
In 2016, the Conservancy nominated Pan American Bank for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was successfully designated in April 2017, making it the second property in East Los Angeles to be listed in the National Register. The first, the former Golden Gate Theatre, was designated in 1983.