The blockbuster deal of 1996 - Wells Fargo & Co.'s takeover of First Interstate Bancorp. - helped set off an extraordinary surge of acquisitions across California and the West.

The result: One-third of the value of all bank merger and acquisitions unveiled during 1996 were sales of banks and thrift institutions in the Golden State. Put another way, three of the six billion-dollar-plus deals put on the books last year were in California.

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