Michael Towbes in his Santa Barbara office (Feb. 5, 2015).

One of the giants in Santa Barbara real estate — Michael Towbes — died this morning, the Pacific Coast Business Times reported. Whether you were a bank customer, home buyer, renter, or a member of the arts, education, and medical community he supported through his philanthropy, Michael Towbes affected many lives in Santa Barbara.

Michael and Anne Towbes
Paul Wellman

Towbes has been the sole stockholder of Montecito Bank & Trust since 1983, a bank he and others founded in 1975 as the Bank of Montecito, anchored by a graceful stone-and-concrete building at the corner of State and Carrillo streets. A Princeton- and MIT-educated structural engineer, Towbes came to the West Coast to work at Point Mugu, and remained after marrying his late wife, Gail Aronson Towbes. His construction company — The Towbes Group — has built more than 6,000 residential units and 1.8 million square feet of commercial over the past 55 years. Hundreds of residences remain in the Towbes Group pipeline.

He and his second wife, Anne Smith Towbes, have been honored by numerous performing arts groups for their generosity. Towbes’s bank was noted for awarding more than $1 million annually to nonprofit groups and encouraging its staff to participate in civic life. His Towbes Foundation was almost equally generous.

On April 3, the bank announced he was stepping back from operations, the Business Times reported, with Janet Garufis — the bank’s president and CEO — to be proposed as CEO and board chair, and George Leis as president. Towbes died at age 87 today. The bank’s South County branches have placed canvases in their lobbies for customers’ remembrances, bank spokesperson Megan Orloff said.

In an obituary announcement sent out late Thursday afternoon, the family related that Towbes was born in 1929 in Washington, D.C., and died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. After college and marriage to Gail — who died in 1996 of multiple sclerosis — he began a real estate construction and development company with Eli Luria, known as the Luria-Towbes Company, in Los Angeles in 1955. Their building operations began in Santa Barbara’s North County soon thereafter, which brought the young Towbes family first to Santa Maria, and then to Santa Barbara in 1960. Towbes’s partnership with Luria ended in the early 1960s, and after several years as a sole proprietor, Towbes formed his construction company in 1970.

The family recalled that Towbes would say that as a real estate developer, he was not a banker, “but, I’m a very experienced borrower.”

Michael Towbes is survived by his wife, Anne Smith Towbes; his daughters, Lianne and Carrie Towbes, and son-in-law John Lewis; Anne’s children, Jennifer Hale and Michael Smith; and many grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. A public memorial service at the Granada Theatre takes place May 23 at 2 p.m.


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