The Washington Mutual Home Loan Center in downtown Santa Cruz will close at the end of the month, WaMu spokesman Gary Kishner said Thursday.

Battered by the mortgage and credit crises, the nation's largest thrift will shutter 106 stand-alone home loan centers, including 82 in California, and lay off 3,000 workers.

Washington Mutual's decision to exit wholesale lending made it No. 249 on the Mortgage Implode-O-Meter, a Web site that has been tracking the demise of mortgage lenders since late 2006.

WaMu's Santa Cruz location at 530 Front St., managed by Tom Unger, has 13 employees, down from a peak of 25 during the housing boom.

Unger referred questions to Kishner, saying, "We are in the transition now."

Kishner said some employees would be eligible for severance, while others might have an opportunity to apply for positions as mortgage loan consultants. They would work out of WaMu bank branches, such as the one at 730 Ocean St.

"I can't venture a guess as to how many will be eligible," Kishner said.

"Loans in process will continue to be processed," he added. "Our effort is to minimize the impact for customers."

People seeking new loans should go to WaMu bank locations, he said.

The thrift had already downsized in December, laying off 3,150 employees and discontinuing subprime lending. Its office in Watsonville was closed at that time.

The latest layoff announcement coincided with the news of WaMu's $7 billion cash infusion from the private equity group TPG and its move to set aside $3.5 billion to cover loan losses in the first quarter. The quarterly dividend was cut from 15 cents to 1 cent a share. It's the second time it's been reduced since November 2007, when it was 56 cents. The thrift is expected to release its first quarter earnings Tuesday.

The building at 530 Front St. is owned by Barry Swenson Builder.

WaMu's pullback will put another large commercial space on the market in downtown Santa Cruz.

The former Coast Commercial Bank headquarters at 75 River St. became available two weeks ago after Wells Fargo's acquisition was completed and employees moved across the street to the Wells Fargo office.

A total of 14,395 square feet is available for sublease; the asking price is $2.50 gross, the same as at the new mixed-use development at 2027 N. Pacific Ave.

"One party is looking at it," said listing agent Michael Schoeder of NAI BT Commercial, acknowledging that in the current economic climate, banks are "cautious."

Renovations are under way at 720 Front St. for the locally owned Santa Cruz County Bank.

The bank announced a lease in October of 5,500 square feet next to The Galleria, to move its headquarters from 325 Soquel Ave. closer to downtown. Plans are to open by June 30.

Contact Jondi Gumz at 706-3253 or jgumz@santacruzsentinel.com.