BANKING : Missouri Company Makes Bid on Its 3rd O.C. Financial Firm

Compiled by James S. Granelli, Times staff writer

A large Missouri banking company is trying to gobble up its third Orange County financial institution in its fast-paced effort to create a strong base of operations in Southern California.

First Banks Inc., which has deals pending to buy Commercial Center Bank in Santa Ana and Huntington National Bank in Huntington Beach, is offering nearly $4.2 million to acquire Irvine City Bank, a small savings and loan.

In a letter to shareholders last week, the S & L's chairman, L. M. (Pete) Rabbitt, said that directors have approved the deal and that a sale would be in the best interests of shareholders.

Rabbitt said small institutions like Irvine City, with only $81 million in loans and other assets, "now face increasing competition, increasing regulatory pressures, increasing interest rate risk and the prospects of decreasing earnings."

The proposed sale price amounts to $12 a share, Rabbitt said in his letter. Neither he nor executives at First Banks in St. Louis could be reached for comment.

First Banks has agreements pending to buy Commercial Center for $32.5 million in cash and Huntington National for $11.8 million in cash.

James Dierberg, chairman of the bank holding company, has told Orange County bankers that he wants to create a countywide financial institution with $500 million to $1 billion in assets--a size that would make it the biggest in the county. The three target acquisitions would give him control of $485 million in assets.

First Banks has about $2.7 billion in assets in banks and S & Ls it owns in Missouri, Texas and Illinois.

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