Monthly Archives: May 2012

Two branches at the same intersection in Buena Park

Millard Sheets (1950s and 1978) and Frank Homolka (1978), Buena Park branches at Las Palmas and Beach Blvd
Millard Sheets (1950s and 1978) and Frank Homolka (1978), Buena Park branches at Las Palmas and Beach Blvd

This week I had the pleasure of discussing the Grand Central Art Center Millard Sheets Studio exhibit on the Creative Orange County radio show, alongside co-curator Wendy Sherman. Check it out — a 30-minute audio capsule of the history, artistry, and preservation work on the Home Savings banks, or head by the exhibit in Santa Ana in its last few weeks on display — Tony Sheets will be there Saturday night.

As I mentioned there, on my way back from the exhibit in early May I stopped at a number of Home Savings branches. I also drove right alongside Knotts Berry Farm to take this picture, of the two former Home Savings branches on two corners of Beach Boulevard and La Palma.

I have very little information about the first branch. From Eric Abrahamson, I know that Home Savings purchased the Savings and Loan Association of Anaheim in 1956, and that it came with Garden Grove and Buena Park branches (two of these buildings which fit an architectural model like the Compton branch). It seems sites for new branches were purchased in late 1958, with construction soon after — but, given the lack of detail in the Sheets Papers, it is possible the artwork for these branches was done elsewhere.

Denis O'Connor and Sue Hertel, the imagined West at Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park, 1978
Denis O'Connor and Sue Hertel, the imagined West at Knotts Berry Farm, Buena Park, 1978

The larger second branch, across the street, shows a later style — the gold tiles are replaced with brown, and the branch sits diagonally across the corner, rather than snug and square like the first branch. Finished in 1978, it is a Frank Homolka design, with notes from Denis O’Connor, Sue Hertel, and others in the file describing the research of the Knotts Berry Farm themes and historical replicas, considered for inclusion.

I assume Home Savings built the larger branch because they outgrew the first one, but why build across the street? Why not build nearby, and have two branches? The branch at Pico and Doheny was built to handle overflow business from the 9245 Wilshire location in that manner, Bill Ahmanson Jr. told me. From a preservation standpoint, it is great they did not tear the first branch down, but it seems a peculiar business decision — as 7th and Figueroa and Lake & Colorado are branches that were torn down to make way for larger Home Savings towers, albeit at a later date.

Anyone who can help solve the mystery of two branches in Buena Park, please be in touch!

 

The Need for Preservation: Compton

Millard Sheets Designs, Home Savings for Compton, 1958; seen 2012
Millard Sheets Designs, Home Savings for Compton, 1958; seen 2012

This week I am teaching an intensive course, so not a lot of time to post. But here I think the image says it all.

Home Savings & Loan, Compton, sculpture detail, 1958; seen 2012
Home Savings & Loan, Compton, sculpture detail, 1958; seen 2012

This is an 1958 original Millard Sheets Designs building, 1801 N. Long Beach Blvd., with the exterior architecture, mosaic, gold tiles, and even sculpture in place. (I assume the inside was gutted; I was there when it was closed.) Its theme–working me–fits with what I know of Compton as an up-and-coming middle-class African American community in the 1950s, making it unique among the neighborhoods where Home Savings located. And the style of these black-granite-background sites such as Whittier and the original Buena Park location are a bit of a mystery to me (though Lillian Sizemore is helping me figure it out).

But yet the alterations are somewhat extreme — and the building is again for lease (contact is Sam Kangavari).

Just a reminder of the research, education, and preservation work still to be done to protect these wonderful banks.

Millard Sheets Designs, Home Savings for Compton, mosaic detail, 1958; seen 2012
Millard Sheets Designs, Home Savings for Compton, mosaic detail, 1958; seen 2012

 

Mary Baskerville Sheets: A Post for Mother’s Day

Millard Sheets, river scene, 1929-1930. Courtesy of Smith Brothers Restaurants.
Millard Sheets, river scene, 1929-1930. Courtesy of Smith Brothers Restaurants.

Millard Sheets cared deeply about his artwork, particularly his painting; he cared about his networks, and his ability to connect to people across career, political, or national divides; but he also cared deeply about his family, even when he was far from them. And these strands come together in the story of a painting, seen above, now hanging at the Parkway Grill in Pasadena.

Millard had known Mary’s older sister Elizabeth as a fellow student artist at the Chouinard Art Institute, and at a family dinner Millard met Mary. They hit it off immediately, I am told, but their lives seemed headed in opposite directions: Millard was gaining attention in New York and elsewhere for his paintings, and Mary was committed to her studies at UCLA (then called the Southern Campus of the University of California).

Kappa Alpha Theta Class of 1930, UCLA Archives. Mary Baskerville, the president of the sorority, is at top; Dorothy Grannis listed among the senior-class members.
Kappa Alpha Theta Class of 1930, UCLA Archives. Mary Baskerville, the president of the sorority, is at top; Dorothy Grannis listed among the senior-class members.

Mary, an art major in UCLA’s teacher’s college, rose to be president of her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta–and among its members in her class was Dorothy Grannis, later wife to Howard Ahmanson (suggesting occasions for an earlier connection between the two men than business breakfasts and a famous letter in 1953). Her presidency of the sorority Class of 1930 coincided with UCLA’s move to the newly constructed Westwood campus, and hence the building, funding, and decorating of the large new Greek houses in the neighborhood.

Millard wanted to get married, but Mary was also committed to finishing her degree — but in her last semester, in the spring of 1930, these two goals seemed impossibly opposed. Mary decided to leave school and marry Millard before his next trip East, to follow the whims of the art world. But there were also her duties to the sorority – how to placate them?

I am told this painting was the answer: a large oil

Mary Baskerville, crying self-portrait, 1929; Millard Sheets Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian.
Mary Baskerville, crying self-portrait, 1929; Millard Sheets Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian.

painting, showing a river landscape, given to the sorority in that spring of 1930, as the sorority president left to marry its artist. It hung for decades on the sorority walls, as a testament to the relationships between Millard and Mary, Mary and her sorority. The theme seems appropriate to such a moment of transition as it college — the crossing over of the river, the forking water path, and the question of what lies beyond, up upon those mountains.

It can now be seen amidst a wonderful collection of Millard’s paintings at the Smith Brothers restaurants in Pasadena. (UPDATE: I am told by Michael J. Johnson that a Giclée-on-canvas replica hangs in the sorority to this day. UPDATE 2: Whether the original painting was sold or is on loan seems to be unclear.) Perhaps that is the perfect place to celebrate Mother’s Day this year, and think about the interplay of family, art, and community for Millard Sheets.

Thanks to Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle, Perry Jamieson, Christina Vader, and Bob Smith for providing/confirming elements of this story.

Panel Discussion and Home Savings Art exhibit

Exhibition May 5 - June 17; panel discussion May 6

This week, I encourage one and all to come to the gallery show at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, showcasing the art of the Millard Sheets Studio at six Home Savings and Loan locations.

I will be presenting my research on a panel this Sunday, May 6, at 2:00 p.m., alongside noted architectural historian Alan Hess. I have been working with the exhibit organizers Concepcíon Rodríguez and Wendy Sherman for months, and I can guarantee this will be a great, ground-breaking show.

Join us!