Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Early Evening Bank Burn

Stephen MacLeod was an Isla Vistan who was in the loop area at the early stages of the break-in to the Bank. Here are his recollections (with some slight edits from me -- Thanks, Steve!):


I was in the Bank of America the night it burned down. Yes,
it's true. Some friends (fellow UCSB students) and I had just seen
Fellini's Satyricon at the Magic Lantern Theater. We walked out to a
scene at the Bank that might have come straight from Fellini. Very

I had gone to the Kunstler talk earlier in the day, and I was
meeting some friends for an early film. I wasn't aware of any
post-Kunstler gathering until we came out of the Magic Lantern. The
doors to the Bank were wide open and people were mingling inside and
out. Later, I assumed that this was probably at the very beginning of
the Bank's demise because there were less than 50 people there...

At that point the security guard was gone,
there were no employees or cops there at all... we went
down the street to see what was happening in the Bank. The only
"violence" I witnessed was people tearing down drapes from the tall
windows that were in the Bank. Others were tossing paper files
throughout the large main room of the bank, and still others were making
long distance phone calls to friends on the Bank phones.

My recollection
is that there were no political overtones to anything that was
happening. In fact, I distinctly remember the drape-destroyers (the most
violent group there at that time) as being mainly drunk fraternity boys,
laughing and ripping. We were only in the Bank for about 15 minutes
because a friend of mine noticed that someone had a film camera and was
taking footage. There was enough paranoia then that we all decided to
leave rather than risk being filmed. We got something to eat and then
walked up to the future location of Perfect Park...

It was dark by this time. There was a record store there... and outside was an abandoned cop car that had been overturned and
was burning. I didn't see one cop, so this whole scene was (again) very
bizarre. Lots of people were roaming the streets, chants from the
crowds, but (at least at that point) no direct confrontations with cops
because they weren't there! So, we went home to our apartment.

I was
asleep when someone woke us all up about 2 or 3 in the morning. We went
to the roof to witness a huge fire, the flame must have been 200-300
feet tall and it lit up almost all of Isla Vista. I went back to bed,
but went over to the Bank in the morning to witness the remains. Clearly
the fire was huge and extremely hot. The structure of the building was
based on very large steel i-beams (maybe 2-3 feet thick) and the heat
had been such that all of these were significantly bent from the heat,
just laying in ashes bent at 10-20 degrees from normal...


Hmmm, well, to be honest, I have very little faith in my memories of that period generally, bits of rememberances from one riot may be folded in with others. The long term effects of tear gas and various other chemicals have taken their toll... I think I might want to talk to the one friend from that night that I still keep in contact with to check his memories with mine. We haven't talked about this in a very long time. The things I am fairly certain of are -- it was light outside, it was easy to get into the Bank, there was a dumpster outside the Bank, the description of the interior of the Bank with drunk fraternity boys etc, and the guy filming (who looked like a cop to us -- thus our paranoia).

-- Steve


  1. The Bank of America in Irvine burned on October 26, 1970... 8 months to the day after the Isla Vista bank burned. Odd that the Irvine burning is rarely mentioned... and that the date is so obviously correlated with IV's.

    I recall reading that UCSB authorities were warned prior to the IV bank burning by the FBI. Of course, that in itself is odd... why were not good preventative measured taken.. in fact, the Fire Department and the Sheriffs cleared out IV and left it to the rioters. But the subsequent Irvine event strengthens the case that external forces pushed for both bank burnings, and that federal authorities may have been tipped off to the IV one and let it happen.

  2. Didn't know about the Irvine BofA burn down the next year. Do you have any more info about that?

  3. Front Page of LA Times, Tuesday, October 27, 1970

    Photo of burned bank, caption:
    `BANK RUINS AT UC IRVINE - A revolutionary slogan adorns wall at Bank of America branch where arsonists poured flammable liquid under a door and set it afire just after midnight Monday.

    Arsonists Leave Radical Signs After Burning UC Irvine Bank
    by Bob Gettemy and Dial Torgerson
    Times Staff writers

    Arsonists painted revolutionary slogans on the Bank of America branch at UC Irvine early Monday, then set it afire and fled. The bank burned to a shell at an estimated loss of $125,000.

    It was the third Bank of America branch attacked in California this year. The Isla Vista branch near UC Santa Barbara was burned by rioters last February. Fire bombers damaged the Placentia branch last August.

    UC Irvine's student and offical community condemned the latest arson.

    The Irvine branch on Campus Drive, facing the entrance to the main part of the UCI Campus, was set afire shortly after midnight.

    Handwriting on the Wall

    Firemen at the University Fire Station, a quarter mile east, got the call at 12:13 a.m. They could see the flames when they rolled from the station. When they got to the bank two minutes later it was burning wildly.

    The arsonists were gone. But they had left their handwriting on the wall: "All Power to the People." it said in spray paint on the tile facade of the burning building.

    Firemen could not save the bank, but halted the flames before they could reach a bookstore adjacent to it.

    Investigators found that in inflammable liquid-probably gasoline-had been poured under the west door of the bank and set afire.

    Bank officials reacted quickly when informed of the bank's destruction. The head of a firm which provides temporary structures was awakened at 2:30am and told to get a replacement rolling.

    Sheriff's detectives took into custody two signs carefully posted on the lawn of the bank branch. One, referring to a confrontation between young people and police Sunday at a Fullerton park closed by city offials read "Pigs Get Out of Hillcrest."

    Another, apparently referring to Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, charged with murder in Connecticut, said: "Free Bobby and Police Prisoners."

    The bank was still smoldering as students began to appear for classes in the 6,000 student campus. The smell of wet ashes drifted across the campus. Students watched firemen salvaging amid the ashes and student spray-painted slogans on the concrete shell.

    "Oink of Amerikkka" it said, in the triple-K, radical version of the word America. "Death to the Pigs." The writing was neat, and the handwriting style almost feminine.

    "This is ridiculous," said one student, Karen Cruise of San Clemente, a senior in drama. "The people who work in the bank shoudn't suffer for anything that maybe some dissidents think of the Bank of America may be doing in an imperialistic way."

    As the worlds's largest commercial bank, the Bank of America has long been a target for antiestablishment factions. The Associated Students of UC Santa Barbara referred to it as "a symbol of capitalistic exploitation" and withdrew its funds from the Isla Vista Bank branch prior to the fire there.

    After the Isla Vista Arson, Bank of America Board Chairman Louis B. Lundborg told a news conference a temporary structure would replace it. "We refuse to be intimidated," he said.

    Later, a larger, fireproof Isla Vista branch was opened.

    The reaction by bank officials to the Irvine arson was immediate. By morning, Vic Wahlman, foreman of the Santa Rosa firm which provides temporary bank structures, was bringing four trailerized modular units to the lot next to the gutted bank.

    The four pieces were fitted together to make a 40-by-60-foot bank branch which was the duplicate of the one used earlier at Isla Vista.

    Bank officials said crews would work all night paving the parking lot and getting the bank ready to open at 10 a.m. today. There were two reasons. The stated reason: for the convenience of depositors. Unstated was the bank's determination not bo be intimidated by arson.

    "All our records were in safes. So was all the currency. The records and currency were temporarily moved to the Corona del Mar branch, and will be moved back in time for the opening," a bank spokesman said.

    On the campus, meanwhile, students reaction to the burning was equally prompt and, seemingly, unanimously opposed to the vandalism.

    Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich (later UCSB acting Chancellor after Huttenback) was joined by executive officers of the Associated Students; the executive council of the Academic Senate; the UCI Black Caucus; Mecha, a Mexican-American student group; the Irvine Chicano Employees Organization; the Council of Campus Employees, and the student resident hall Council of Presidents in a statement condemning the arson. It said:

    "It is abhorrent to me, as I am sure it to all responsible members of the campus community, that anyone, whether students or others, would engage in senseless destruction and terrorist activity of this kind.

    "We are mindful that there are those who will simply condemn the university and its students without regard to the fact that the university and its students are also the victims. We feel it is necessary to assure the community at large that acts of violence against persons or property are inimical to the university and ar not condoned."

    The UCI Student Senate passed a resolution concerning the bank fire.

    And several hundred students signed a petition stating thy "abhorred destruction" of the bank and offering their help in cleaning it up.

    Page C1 of LA Times, Tuesday, October 27, 1970

    UC Irvine Students Disgusted, Apprehensive
    Over Bank Arson

    Destruction Widely Condemned as Senseless, Thought to
    Be Work of Outside Forces; Further Incidents are Feared

    By Scott Moore
    Times Staff Reporter

    IRVINE-Reaction Monday at UC Irvine to the Bank of American burning was a mixture of disgust and apprehension.

    Few tears were shed for the bank itself, but the apparent act of arson was widely condemned as senseless. And may feared it may presage further incidents.

    It was commonly thought ont he 6,000-student campus that the bank incident was not the work of Irvine students.

    Some campus activists suggested it was the work of the far left Weatherman organization, a militant group which has been linked to similar incidents throughout the nation.

    Several factors were mentioned as indications UCI students probably were not involved.

    --UCI students never have been known to advocate terrorism. In recent months terrorism has been considered by many radicals as counterproductive to social change because of the repression it produces.

    Wall Slogans

    --Spray-painted scrawlings such as "All Power to the People" on the bank's walls during the burning incident are not characteristic of UCI activists. "We like more witty, sophisticated things," noted one student.

    --Since classes began earlier this month issues fostering studnet activism have been largely absent from the campus. "I thought this was such a placid campus," remarked one professor.

    Radical students appeared particularly upset because they have been arguing against acts of terrorism for some time. "The revolution isn't going to start here at UCI," said one activist.

    Ironically, a group of students had met shortly before the burning took place to plan a campuswide forum in two weeks on the subject of "Terrorism and Social Change." Purpose of the program was to disclaim acts and advance other means of achieving social change.

    As a result of the burning, the program was moved up to Friday from its original date.

    Numerous student and faculty groups, as well as the school administration, issued strong statements condemning the burning.

    Several hundred students signed a petition stating they "abhorred destruction" of the bank and offered their help in cleaning it up. The petition was circulated during morning lecture classes by Jeff Swarz, a 20-year-old senior in biology, who said he accumulated between 500 and 1,000 signatures.

    Throughout the day Monday, students wandered by the gutted bank building to view the destruction for themselves. They watched silently as workmen erected a wooden barricade around the building.

    The bank is located in the Irvine town center, a cluster of private businesses directly adjacent to the campus.