Banker, Philanthropist Michael Towbes Dies

An era ended this week with the death of banker and philanthropist Michael Towbes, 87, the founder of Montecito Bank & Trust and the Towbes Group.

The cause of death reportedly was pancreatic cancer. Earlier this month, the 54-year Santa Barbara resident retired from  his banking and real estate business.

In a 2013 interview at his downtown office, Towbes recalled how he started his business in Santa Maria before relocating to the South Coast. He said he was proud that his bank did not make any shaky real estate loans, which many other banks. The bad loans were a key cause of the 2008 recession.

Towbes started Montecito Bank & Trust 37 years ago. It became a more than $900 million financial institution with nine branches and gives out about $1 million to about 100 to nonprofit groups each year.

From Lompoc and Santa Maria to Ventura and Westlake Village, the Towbes Group owned more than 1.3 million square feet of commercial real estate and some 2,000 multi-family residential units. It runs four shopping centers and its operations include a real estate investment fund called Towbes Capital Partners.

Towbes leaves a legacy of philanthropy that is hard to match. He is perhaps best known for helping raise some $60 million to renovate the Granada Theater on State Street, less than a block from his Towbes Group office.

Towbes and his wife Ann’s charity work involves a variety of groups, including downtown public library, Cottage Hospital Foundation, Jewish Federation, Lobero Theater Foundation, Santa Barbara City College, UCSB and classical radio station KDB.

Towbes and his wife also funded a $50,000 Islamic spiritual garden at La Casa Maria retreat center in Montecito.

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