Whales at my former home branch in La Mesa

Sue Hertel, Whales, La Mesa/Grossmont, 1976. Photo courtesy of Andrea Flint-Gogek, 2010.
Sue Hertel, Whales, La Mesa/Grossmont, 1976. Photo courtesy of Andrea Flint-Gogek, 2010.

Happy Birthday, blog! Hard to believe, but one year ago, I put up the first list of these Home Savings banks, in my effort to draw attention to their history and to fight for their preservation.

A year later, I am gratified by the thousands of site visitors, and the contact from those who created the artwork, worked for Home Savings, lived with the artists, or simply always admired the Home Savings art and architecture. I have now conceived of a whole book project on this artwork, and 2011 is the year I can comprehensively research this art and argue more for its larger meaning.

In the meantime, I am back to the school year, teaching in Texas and having (at times quixotic) conversations with Chase Bank employees, many of whom know nothing about the artwork around them.

But, as today’s post shows, at least use as marquee banks by Chase can offer some security for the banks. This is my “home” branch, near the Grossmont Mall in La Mesa, just over the line from the neighborhood of San Diego where I grew up. The large horses on the front (come back next week) and this pod of whales is what stuck with me, making me want to do this project someday.

Hertel, La Mesa whale detail. Photo courtesy Andrea Flint-Gogek.
Hertel, La Mesa whale detail. Photo courtesy Andrea Flint-Gogek.

As you can see, the whales are signed by Sue Hertel, and something about those spouts always struck me as funny — these are whales having a good time, even just over a parking-lot door, far inland.

They were completed in 1976, just as burst of Home Savings banks were opening, all over California. And the Buffums department store used to anchor that Grossmont Mall, and my babysitter at the time (an Italian grandmother) used to take me to Buffums for lunch as a special outing.

She has passed away, and so has Buffums, and perhaps the place I went to driving school, up on the other mesa. And so has Home Savings, and so has Washington Mutual, who sold this branch in 1998. And so has the barbeques store that once was here. As reader Andrea Flint-Gogek so kindly shows us in these recent pictures, the former bank is empty.

So if you would love a classy location for your La Mesa business here it is! Save the whales! And if you are the owner and ever think of tearing it down, I can give you a list of museums that would be happy to pay the costs to remove such important mosaics from the buildings.

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