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Central Pacific Bank unveils legacy wall

By Dave Segal

LAST UPDATED: 8:10 p.m. HST, Feb 18, 2014

Central Pacific Bank was founded by nisei war veterans 60 years ago.

On Tuesday the bank marked the milestone celebration by unveiling a legacy wall outside its downtown headquarters that memorializes its founders, who included the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

With World War II veterans, state government officials and past and present board members in attendance, Central Pacific CEO John Dean and Chairwoman Crystal Rose pulled the draping off the wall, which tells the story of the bank's humble beginnings. The bank opened on Feb. 15, 1954, to serve the Japanese-American community.

The inspiration for the bank came from nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included Inouye, and Military Intelligence Service units.

"It's the legacy that (the bank founders) bestowed on all of us that I believe we need to pass on to future generations," Dean said before a gathering of about 150 people. "The founding of Central Pacific Bank began with a vision from a small group of young nisei veterans. ... Their vision was to create a bank to provide for the needs of all the people of Hawaii. ... Today the CPB ohana is committed to carrying out that legacy with a proud and humble commitment to all the people in Hawaii."

Central Pacific was one of two Hawaii banks founded by nisei war veterans in the 1950s to serve the Japanese-American community. City Bank, founded on June 19, 1959, was the other. Central Pacific became the sole survivor when it acquired City Bank for $423.1 million in cash and stock in September 2004.

The need for those two banks arose because Japanese-managed banks that operated before World War II had been shut down and seized following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and members of the Japanese-American community said they did not have adequate access to financial resources after the war ended.

The 100th Battalion and the 442nd RCT became among the most decorated units in World War II, while Japanese linguists belonging to the MIS are credited with shortening the war in the Pacific by cracking Japanese codes and documents.

The nisei group formed alliances with local issei (first-generation Japanese immigrant) business leaders and sought the assistance of local Hawaii residents to raise the needed capital to start a new bank.

Central Pacific's bank charter was approved after Japan's Sumitomo Bank, which had a San Francisco office, offered its managerial expertise. Kazuo Ishii, who had opened Sumitomo's bank in San Francisco, came to Hawaii to lead the initiative in 1953 and later served as Central Pacific's president. 

Central Pacific is now the fourth-largest bank in the state with $4.7 billion in assets. The 13-foot, 5-inch tall wall, which is at the corner of Alakea and South King streets, is open for public viewing.

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