Ever wonder why the New Leaf Market says “Bank of Italy” over the front door? The downtown New Leaf Market has found its home in an old bank at Soquel and Pacific for twenty years now. As a local history enthusiast, I am delighted that the grocery store left the original name on the building.
Many locals remember that Bank of America was here until the 1980s. I remember the tellers at this bank counting money back to you through a marble-framed window, and I imagined executives on the mezzanine scrutinizing the scruffy college student trying to cash a financial aid check. So when was it the Bank of Italy?
Bank of America’s roots are in San Francisco’s Bank of Italy founded in 1904 by immigrant A. P. Giannini. His bank in North Beach provided banking services to that neighborhood’s working classes, mostly to his Italian neighbors. In the next few decades the Bank of Italy expanded with branches throughout California, buying the bank of Watsonville in 1923 and opening a Santa Cruz branch in an existing building downtown. A few years later, the bank announced that it would build a “modern bank” at Pacific and Soquel.
In October 1929, the Santa Cruz Evening News reporter was given a tour before opening day and wrote:
Fine Marble Used
“The best and the most expensive of the world marbles are being used in the building to give it a beautiful effect. The lobby of the bank will be 80 x 18 feet in size with a low grill facing along the north side and east end. The body of the partitions in this portion of the bank will be built of pink Tennessee marble, with borders of black and gold Belgium marble. Counterfacings and top of the partitions are composed of Skyros Greacian [sic] marble. … On the floor of the lobby will be placed round top marble check tables with carved pedestal which will depict certain events of early California history. In addition to these there will be two built in settees and a drinking fountain.”
Five thousand people attended the grand opening of Santa Cruz’s new Bank of Italy, which included live chamber music and free flowers for the ladies. One of the attendees was J. A Brown, who happened to be the last depositor at the old location, and the first depositor in the new location. It is his bulb ranch which is now Brown Ranch Marketplace in Capitola, and the location of the county’s first Trader Joe’s.
When the bank opened, and as far as I can tell, nobody clutched their pearls about big naked male bodies or god knows what historically correct art was carved into the pedestals of those check tables. Today, on the outside walls of the building, the robust gods of commerce remain, blessing the healthy enterprise of local agriculture, and gazing down on the scruffy, the immigrant, and everyone.
- New Bank of Italy to be Occupied in October, Santa Cruz Evening News, Tuesday, Oct 1, 1929.
- The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture, by John Leighton Chase, edited by Judith Steen. The Museum of Art and History, 2005.
- 5000 Attend Open House by Bank of Italy, Santa Cruz Evening News, Monday, Nov 4, 1929.