How did Home Savings/Savings of America express its affection for communities after they stopped paying for expensive artwork? Teresa Fernandez helped me again with a tip that some of the old Home Savings commercials can be viewed on YouTube.
Here, over a saxophone’s slow wail, images of multicultural New York flash by: the Brooklyn Bridge; a checker cab; Vesuvio Bakery; older (Italian?) men playing bocce ball; a baptism in a Catholic cathedral; a (Chinese?) girl whirling fans; a mother and son lighting Chanukah candles in the window; an African American band; an (Irish?) family dressed to parade with bagpipes; and then a return to those old men.
The commercial’s text, with pauses that make it feel like a poem, reads:
It’s a city
not just of people,
but of traditions,
that preserve the past
and enrich the present.
At Home Savings of America,
the nation’s largest savings bank,
we have a tradition
of conservative investing
that has made people like you feel secure.
for more than a hundred years.
In my mind, this is an exact continuation of the themes in Richard Haas’s Forest Hills mosaic and the general use of art and architecture to ground Home Savings, using quintessential (almost bordering on stereotypical) images of New York City and its traditional ethnic residents to express a sense of home, evoking personal routes and stories of migration through the city for those customers elsewhere, and a sense of pride for New Yorkers.
Home Savings put the tagline “Peace of mind since 1889” on its shield for many years — despite the fact that Howard Ahmanson only became the majority shareholder in the savings and loan in 1947. I see the same here, with a new bank determined to prove itself as an old, reliable friend. I find it very well done, the sentimentality full but not overdoing it, the “conservative investment” reassuring. And now, just like the mosaics, this 30-second commercial is now its own fascinating window on the past.
Over the past week I was far from Southern California, the part of the country most associated with Home Savings & Loan, in New York City.
Yet Home Savings (under the name Savings of America) expanded into New York, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas in the 1980s and 1990s. The company worked to keep its brand assets in play there, with distinguished customer service but also distinctive buildings, with artwork that reflected the community. From the Denis O’Connor Papers, I have found some interesting conflicts between the local historical societies in these states and Home Savings, perceived as an outsider corporation. But the artwork did get done and installed in many of these locations.
There is one mosaic on a former New York Home Savings, in Forest Hills, at 108-36 Queens Blvd. It is by Richard Haas, an artist still active in New York City, who I had the pleasure of interviewing on my trip. Haas completed commissions for the 7th and Figueroa and Pasadena towers in Los Angeles, the Irwindale headquarters (all paintings) and designed mosaics for many of the Florida locations, with the mosaic fabrication done in Spilimbergo, in northeastern Italy. (He told me quite a story about the mural designed for Naples, Florida, that never got installed — the project was delayed, and the mosaic, all pasted to sheets, was put in storage. When they opened up the storage room to get the mosaics, they just found mounds of tiles — the industrious Florida insects had eaten the sugar paste off the paper, and destroyed the mosaic.)
Haas’s New York mosaic shows the Manhattan skyline in the distance, with the World Trade Center towers prominent; in between, the tracts of housing, tree-line streets, and larger developments create a patchwork. In a sign we are no longer in car-loving California, the bottom of the image is anchored by the historic Tudor-influenced train station nearby, for the Long Island Rail Road. Haas, a visual artist productively obsessed with the wonders of architecture, added house portraits of other local architectural gems to the upper corners, in the multi-view manner of 19th-century cityscapes.
Haas’s mosaic was installed on the curving facade of the Forest Hills Savings of America branch (shown here as a Commerce Bancorp branch, in 2007, before that bank’s merger). While, like so many Home Savings locations, this is a prominent corner, I am unaware of any other branches that have curving facades, instead of other approaches to the corner lot. The curve makes it hard to take in the full image as installed, so it is nice to have my rough photograph of the color drawing, above.
Haas’s work demonstrates how the Home Savings motif could translate to new locales such as New York. But this was the only mosaic completed for New York. Come back next week to learn about how some of the same themes were expressed in a different medium.
I am thankful to continue to find such enthusiastic fans of this art and architecture, and my research on its place of Home Savings within the urban context of its communities!
This is Richard’s recent image of Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, where enamel mosaics that Millard Sheets designed both echo some of the Home Savings work in their subject but differ dramatically in their style. (More on these panels, with photographs of all three, on the Alhambra Preservation Group site.)
I recently found one of Millard’s résumés from 1963, when many of these early projects were still listed. Public, non-church buildings to be added to the “definitive” master list (and, in many cases, to be researched further) are:
Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, CA, 1939, murals
Scripps College Art Building, Claremont, CA (date and specifics unknown)
Beverly Hills Tennis Club, Beverly Hills, CA (date and specifics unknown)
YMCA, Pasadena, CA, (date and specifics unknown)
Robinson’s Company, Los Angeles, CA, (date and specifics unknown)
South Pasadena Junior High School, South Pasadena, CA (date and specifics unknown)
Bullock’s Men’s Store, Los Angeles, CA (date and specifics unknown)
Air schools including Thunderbird #1 and #2 in Phoenix; Cal Aero, Ontario, CA; Air Cadet, St. Louis; Tex Rankin (flying) Schools, Visalia, CA; Dos Palos, CA; King City, CA; Uvalde, TX; Fort Stockton, TX (date and specifics unknown)
U.S. Department of Interior building, Washington, DC, 1946-1948, four panels on “The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America”
Lyman’s Restaurant, Los Angeles, CA, 1947-1948, glass mosaic
Melody Lane, Beverly Hills, CA, 1947-1948, puppet room
Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA, 1947-1948, main lobby
Carnation Company offices, Hollywood, CA, 1948-1949
American Trust Company, Sacramento, CA, 1949, panels
Sequoia Room, Hody’s Lankershim, North Hollywood, CA, 1950
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, 1953, mural on canvas
Pacific Clay Products (later Children’s Aid Society of California), 4th and Bixel, Los Angeles, 1953, interior design
Van Nuys Savings & Loan, Van Nuys, CA, 1954, mural on canvas
Bob’s Restaurant, Phoenix, CA, 1955, ceramic tiles on exterior
“The Springs” restaurant, Palm Springs, CA, 1956, three ceramic tile panels
Guaranty Savings and Loan, 2400 Broadway, Redwood City, CA, 1957 mural – painted over Guaranty Savings and Loan, 200 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA, 1957, mosaic
St. Francis High School, La Cañada, CA, 1957, mural
First Federal Savings and Loan, Dallas, TX, 1958, mural
Bankers Life Insurance Company, Lincoln, NE, 1959, mural and mosaic
Tyler Bank and Trust, Tyler, TX, 1959, mosaic
Robert C. Wian Enterprises, Glendale, CA, 1960, executive offices – mosaic
Valhalla Mausoleum, North Hollywood, CA, 1960, mosaic
United Savings and Loan, Inglewood, CA, 1960, mural
Bankers National Life Insurance Company, Cincinnati, OH, 1960 interior mosaic
Victory Savings and Loan, North Hollywood, CA, 1960, mural
United Savings and Loan, Westchester, CA, 1960, mural
Willow Brook Country Club, Tyler, TX, 1962, mural
And of course information about these sites is much appreciated!
Your faithful historian/researcher/blogger will away for Passover, so the blog will not get a new post until around April 20.