Norman Barker Jr. dies at 88; former executive with First Interstate Bank of California

Norman Barker Jr., a top executive with First Interstate Bank of California and, before that, United California Bank, from the 1960s until the mid-1980s, died of natural causes Saturday at his Los Angeles home, said family spokeswoman Elizabeth Douglass. He was 88.

Barker was involved in two landmark Los Angeles projects.

He spearheaded construction of United California Bank's 62-story downtown Los Angeles headquarters, which was the tallest building west of Chicago when it opened in the mid-1970s. The tower, on Wilshire Boulevard, became the First Interstate Tower in the early 1980s and is now called the Aon Center.

He also served on a commission of business leaders leading up to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The bank was a major corporate sponsor for the Olympics.

"He was really instrumental in getting a lot of things to happen for the good of the community and business in general," said John King, a former First Interstate executive who worked closely with Barker for more than a decade.

Barker joined United California Bank in 1957 and rose through the executive ranks. He became an executive vice president in 1967, president in 1968, chief executive officer in 1971 and added the title of chairman in 1973.

United California Bank became First Interstate in 1981. The bank's parent company, Western Bancorporation, which owned banks in several Western states, changed its name to First Interstate Bancorp, and its subsidiary banks became known as First Interstate.

Barker retired from First Interstate in 1985.

He was born July 30, 1922, in San Diego and reared in Long Beach, where his father taught at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He graduated from Long Beach Poly, then earned a bachelor's degree in 1947 and an MBA in economics in 1953, both at the University of Chicago.

He served in the Navy during World War II and as a reserve during the Korean War.

Barker also was a trustee or director for a variety of organizations, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the W.M. Keck Foundation and Occidental College. "Norm was the type of person who knew everybody and wanted to help people," King said.

Barker is survived by his wife of 23 years, Susan Woods Barker; three sons, Michael and Timothy, both of Los Angeles, and Peter, of Santa Barbara; a daughter, Beth, of San Francisco; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His marriage to Sue Keefe ended in divorce.

Services are pending.