First Banks Inc., St. Louis, has agreed to buy two banks in California for about $46.5 million.

First Banks, a $4.3 billion-asset holding company, said it would buy Republic Bank, Torrance, for about $20.5 million in cash, or $14.73 a share, and Redwood Bancorp, San Francisco, for $26 million.

Both deals, announced in the past month, are expected to close in the fourth quarter and would build upon First Bank's recent acquisitions in California.

First Bank has 29 branches and more than $1.1 billion of assets in California. Last year it bought Pacific Bay Bank, San Pablo, and Surety Bank, Vallejo.

Redwood, parent of Redwood Bank, has $147 million of assets and operates in San Rafael, Napa, and San Mateo.

Republic, with $124.8 million of assets and three branches, was operating under a cease-and-desist order issued in November 1992 for being undercapitalized.

The bank-hard hit by the real estate crisis-finally turned the corner last year, reducing its nonperforming loans from about $20.5 million in 1993 to $4.2 million.

"We hit the street to get additional capital and found buy offers instead," said Boyd Lindquist, president and chief executive officer of Republic. "This is a positive deal for us."

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