Monthly Archives: March 2012

Monument to Democracy, Statue of Liberty in the Pacific: Unbuilt Millard Sheets

Millard Sheets, sketch of Monument to Democracy for San Pedro, 1954. Image courtesy of Alan Wofsy Fine Arts
Millard Sheets, sketch of Monument to Democracy for San Pedro, 1954. Courtesy of Alan Wofsy Fine Arts; my crooked image.

The L.A. Conservancy tour, like many of my efforts, focused on preserving the art and architecture of the Millard Sheets Studio, and to understanding what it has meant for its communities.

But, like all artists and architects, there are the projects that didn’t get built. And unbuilt projects can often be fascinating in their counterfactual, floor-moving-under-you way, a vision of a city unvisited yet so familiar.

This statue seems the biggest unbuilt project in the Sheets oeuvre: the Monument to Democracy, a 1954 effort spearheaded by LA County Supervisor John Anson Ford to build the Pacific Ocean’s “Statue of Liberty” companion in San Pedro.

Statue of Liberty replica in Guam. Photograph c. 2004 by Douglas Sprott under Creative Commons license Flickr
Statue of Liberty replica in Guam. Photograph c. 2004 by Douglas Sprott under Creative Commons license Flickr

“The erection, on the West Coast, of an heroic statue to Democracy…is a project combining considerations of statesmanship, education and art, of profound international significance,” Ford wrote. Echoing age-old themes with a new Cold War twist, Ford declared,

The course of Democracy is moving westward. The great nations about the Pacific basin are looking across to America trying to discern whether our Democracy is really something for all, or is in effect a concept reserved for the Anglo-Saxon. Communism tries with cunning and skill to alienate all of darker skin from the ideals that motivate our Western society….When this project becomes a reality, as it certainly must, countless millions will find their way to it, there to be inspired by its majestic symbolism, and there to learn something of the unending story of how Democracy has inspired and blessed mankind.

Intended to be 480 feet tall, on a drum base 46 feet hight, topped with a bronze globe 125 feet in diameter, the Monument to Democracy was to have three figures, each 250 feet tall, on top of historical and art museums revealing the progress of each of the world’s races toward democracy. (I guess we are talking Asian, African, and European here — not a period of much considered of indigenous American peoples.) Millard Sheets was listed as the project’s designer, with the statue to be designed by his colleague, sculptor Albert Stewart.

This funding prospectus was circulating just as Sheets was completing his first project for Howard Ahmanson, the remodel of the National American Fire Insurance building, then at 3731 Wilshire (now the site of the Ahmanson Center).

If Sheets and Stewart were to have become wrapped up with this statue/museum project, how different southern California would look! One iconic statue, for good or ill, would have replaced the effort, history, and messaging that Home Savings received, to different ends.

John Wallis and Associates: Home Savings Stained Glass from Installation to Repairs

Sue Hertel and John Wallis stained glass, carousel, Montebello, 1974. This site has been recently leased by a future good steward.
Sue Hertel and John Wallis stained glass, carousel (detail), Montebello, 1974. This site has been recently leased by a future good steward.

Last week I stopped into the Sunset and Vine branch of Home Savings. The mosaics look good, and the painted mural is mostly visible behind some cubicles. (As Tony Sheets mentioned this weekend, bank tasks change, and hence these spaces have had to evolve.) But it was the condition of the stained glass that stayed with me.

Sue Hertel and John Wallis and Associates, Hollywood branch stained glass at installation, 1968
Sue Hertel and John Wallis and Associates, Hollywood branch stained glass at installation, 1968

The Hollywood branch stained glass had some cracks, holes, or other damage–covered up with blue electrical tape! I introduced myself and told both the bank manager and Chase’s regional facilities manager who to contact for repairs: John Wallis and Associates stained glass.

In the current Huntington Frontiers magazine, I write about the marvels of the mosaic studio archives, from the time under both Millard Sheets and Denis O’Connor. But a visit with Susan Wallis, the current head of the stained glass firm and John’s daughter, and Helen Wallis, his widow, opened another window (pun intended) important for my research.

The Wallises generously explained the workings of the stained glass studio, and provided a chance to see their extensive files about the research, cost, process, and repairs of the stained glass.
Millard Sheets, Sue Hertel, Helen and John Wallis and (bank official?) at a Home Savings opening
Millard Sheets, Sue Hertel, Helen and John Wallis and (bank official?) at an opening. Courtesy of John Wallis and Associates.

Building designs, mosaics, and painted murals were all done in-house at the Studio, and the archives are filled with Millard’s correspondence about furnishings, carpet, tile, and paint color, and other details. But like sculpture, stained glass was a skill outside of Millard’s direct purview. In the case of glass, it was Sue Hertel, armed with the designs approved by Millard, who came over to the Wallis-Wiley or then John Wallis studios to select the glass colors, approve the “waxed-up” temporary design, and to paint the final details onto the windows.

The discussion of repairs in the files is really fascinating, too. From the very first years, there was vandalism, settling, earthquakes, and accidents that led to cracks and holes, and (mostly in the case of the 1994 earthquake) whole panels falling out and needing to be replaced. Using the original instructions, the same materials, and the same methods, Susan Wallis has kept the windows in pristine condition, with no indication of what had been replaced.

Stained glass in former Home Savings (now New Balance), behind screen, 2012
Stained glass in former Home Savings (now New Balance), behind screen, 2012

As far as I know, none of the Home Savings stained glass windows have been removed, so going to see them is the best way to appreciate them. (Santa Monica, though, is now protected but obscured by a screen, and Beverly Hills are blocked by the new stairs.) Choose a sunny day, and go see these gems, like the Ahmanson Trust windows! (Details on where to find them in the list; contact me with needed updates.)

 

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And – just another word of thanks to all those who came out to the L.A. Conservancy’s Mod Com tour and panel of Millard Sheets’ art and architecture last Sunday. The crowds and enthusiasm were great, and I enjoyed meeting so many of my correspondents, and seeing old friends in the cause.

If you have a memory, story, or question about the work of the Millard Sheets Studio or Home Savings, please do get in touch with me!

Millard Sheets Tour This Sunday!

Visitors at the Millard Sheets Studio, Claremont, c. 1958. Courtesy of the family of Melvin Wood.
Getting a head start on the tour! Visitors at the Millard Sheets Studio, Claremont, c. 1958. Courtesy of the family of Melvin Wood.

I am preparing my introductory slides and remarks for the L.A. Conservancy’s “Millard Sheets: A Legacy of Art and Architecture” tour this Sunday, March 18, so I won’t say too much here — except to encourage you to come!

The Conservancy has docents ready to explain seven sites in Claremont and Pomona with art and architecture from Millard Sheets, including his studio where much of the work was completed.

And then there is the 5:00pm panel, with sculptors Betty Davenport Ford and John Svenson, Sheets Studio architect Rufus Turner, Sheets Studio mosaicist Brian Worley, and two of Millard Sheets’s children, Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle and Tony Sheets. And I am  told many other individuals who worked in the Studio and on related art and architecture will attend as well.

This is a one-time-only set of events, so what are you waiting for? Buy those tickets now! See you Sunday!

Missing Home Savings Artwork: Wall Hangings from Huntington Harbor

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Torrance branch, Home Savings, 1980. Image courtesy of Alba Cisneros.
Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Torrance branch, Home Savings, 1980. Image courtesy of Alba Cisneros.

The vast majority of Home Savings’s distinctive art and architecture cannot be moved easily: mosaics; stained glass; giant painted murals; large sculptures; and the architecture of the buildings themselves. In a few cases, they have been torn down or painted over, but for the most part the artwork is in place, though at times hidden or damaged by changes to the bank’s layout, security, or convenience features.

But this week I want to focus on that which was movable from the Home Savings banks, and see if you my avid Internet audience might have ideas on where items are. There are some wood-panel murals that have been removed from the Pasadena Home Savings and the Pomona Buffum’s, as well as the mural from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; these all seem to be safely maintained. There are the original Millard Sheets sketches for Home Savings projects, some of which are for sale by Alan Wofsy Fine Arts. And there are various commemorative brochures and prints offered at the openings of Home Savings in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and Pomona First Federal in Claremont and Pomona; I have seen a number of each, some in library collections. There are calendars and advertisements too, with fascinating messages, which are harder to find — more on that in another post.

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Huntington Harbor branch, 1979, in 1980 Home Savings calendar. Image courtesy of John Wallis and Associates stained glass.
Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Huntington Harbor branch, 1979, in 1980 Home Savings calendar. Image courtesy of John Wallis and Associates stained glass.

But what about these wall hangings, done for Huntington Harbor and Torrance, or the mosaic tables produced by the Millard Sheets Studio for Lakewood, the Van Ness branch in San Francisco, and the Arden Way branch in Sacramento? Can anyone say if any of those survive? (I also hear there is a version of the Home Savings shield done in stained glass for an Ahmanson Center corporate office; I am keeping track of these movables as I mull whether an exhibit might be possible alongside my book.)

The wall hangings are especially interesting, as they are more quilting or embroidery, rather than the tapestries that the Studio produced earlier for the Foley Communication Arts Center at LMU, as well as the Garrison Theater, produced in Aubusson, France. (It is unclear what kind of fabric art was in the Home Savings branches at Montebello and Mountain View as well.)

Alba Cisneros, who worked in the studio for many years, recalls having these wall hangings stretched out across her living room, sewing them quickly for the bank opening. Their theme and color palette, by Sue Hertel, reflect traditional Home Savings designs, but the new medium provides new textures and depth of color — as well as the portability that leads to the question of where they are.

Do you have leads on any of these items? Are any still in these banks? Have they been preserved? Do let me know.

Also: a REMINDER of the L.A. Conservancy’s Millard Sheets tour in Claremont and Pomona on Sunday, March 18, 10:00am-4:00pm. At 5:00pm there will be a panel discussion with Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle (Millard’s daughter), sculptors Betty Davenport Ford and John Edward Svenson, architect Rufus Turner, and Studio mosaicist Brian Worley — and I will introduce the session with slides relating the tour sites to my overall research. I assume lots of others involved with this artwork will be there too. Hope to see you!