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Bank Goes From Cold Cash to Hot Chicken

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a daring, one-of-a-kind place in 1910 when it opened as a pie-shaped bank in Los Angeles’ most chic suburb.

And the historic Federal Bank Building in Lincoln Heights was just as unique Thursday when it reopened --selling chicken.

Boasting a dome on top and stately white columns out front, the elegant structure at Broadway and Avenue 22 won acclaim 83 years ago by being the first triangular building constructed in Los Angeles.

On Thursday, it was drawing applause for becoming the city’s first fast-food restaurant to open in a genuine historic landmark.

Instead of a marble-topped counter that formed four teller cages, there was a stainless steel cashier’s counter topped with a soft drink dispenser. Rather than a vault full of cold cash, there was 10-foot grill covered with sizzling El Pollo Loco chicken.

But little else had changed at Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark No. 397.

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“We could have torn it down and built a new place from scratch,” said Rene Corona, who is joint owner of the restaurant, along with his father, Juan.

“But we wanted to save the building,” he said.

It would have been cheaper to call in the bulldozers.

Removing the two-foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete vault and remodeling and restoring the V-shaped structure cost $400,000.

The typical El Pollo Loco outlet costs $250,000 to build, said Corona, a Montebello resident.

It was money well spent, said local officials and Lincoln Heights residents who filed into the graceful former bank lobby--now seating space for 86 diners.

“The ‘For Sale’ sign was up on this place for years,” said City Councilman Mike Hernandez. “People kept thinking we had to put another bank in. Nobody was thinking about the food chain. Nobody thought about pollo .”

Deputy Mayor Al Villalobos said: “What’s nice about Los Angeles is its diversity. Not just in its people, but in the old and the new.”


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