FROM THEIR headquarters on the shore of Lake Erie, top executives at Buffalo's Marine Midland Banks Inc. spent a good part of the 1980s dreaming of how they could soon join the ranks of money-center banks clustered downstate.

But huge losses in 1990 and 1991 totaling almost $500 million, along with nearly $2 billion in loan chargeoffs between 1988 and 1991, instead forced Marine to trim its sails, shedding assets and employees to concentrate on a handful of businesses.

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