A Los Angeles-area thrift company is moving its headquarters south in search of mortgage business in the San Diego area, which banks and thrifts have been leaving for most of the 1990s.

ITLA Capital Corp., a new holding company formed by Glendale-based Imperial Thrift and Loan Association, is moving to La Jolla, Calif., a part of San Diego.

With $800 million of assets, ITLA will be bigger than any other thrift or bank holding company based in San Diego, topping $700 million-asset Mission Federal Credit Union and $600 million-asset GB Bancorp., parent of Grossmont Bank.

San Diego, the nation's sixth-largest city, has been neglected by banks and thrifts, ITLA officials said. In recent years it lost all its hometown financial institutions. Home Federal Savings, Great American Bank, and Imperial Savings all failed; First Interstate Bancorp bought up San Diego Trust and Savings only to be bought by Wells Fargo & Co. last year; and several community banks have also disappeared.

"We look forward to locating our holding company in San Diego," said chairman and chief executive George W. Haligowski, a native San Diegan who has led Imperial since 1992. "We believe that it will ultimately make a substantial impact on the San Diego marketplace."

"Everybody has to welcome that kind of event," said Howard B. Levenson, chairman and chief executive of the San Diego investment bank Western Financial Corp. "Whether it's the beginning of a trend or an isolated event, we shall have to see. But certainly the community would welcome more companies of its size choosing the San Diego area for their headquarters."

Mr. Haligowski said ITLA can play a big role in the San Diego community - not just by providing needed funding but also by being active in community affairs and supporting local institutions.

"We can bring resources that are unavailable to the San Diego market," he said. " We'd like to play a larger role in the community in San Diego than we are doing in Los Angeles presently."

Imperial, which focuses on class B commercial real estate loans, will continue to be based in Glendale, outside Los Angeles. The thrift offers high-yield certificates of deposit to obtain funding and has branches throughout the state, as far north as San Francisco.

But the new parent company and its new mortgage banking subsidiary, ITLA Funding Corp., will be run out of La Jolla.

ITLA Funding, which can make commercial real estate and construction loans of up to $100 million each, operates in five regions nationwide through offices in New York, Tampa, Houston, Chicago, and Encino, Calif. ITLA says it expects the unit to originate more than $500 million in 1997.

Imperial Thrift and Loan Association was formed in the early 1980s by Imperial Bancorp of Inglewood, Calif., near Los Angeles. Imperial Bancorp later sold it to a Japanese company, Lake America Corp. In October 1995 the thrift's management bought it from Lake America through an initial public offering.

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