Monthly Archives: July 2012

Back Soon / Dallas Mercantile Bank mosaics

Dallas Mercantile Bank building, c. 1958, archival photograph in the Dallas Morning News, July 2012
Dallas Mercantile Bank building, c. 1958, archival photograph in the Dallas Morning News, July 2012

Hello everyone!

We have a newborn in my household, so the posts will be paused for a few weeks while we get accustomed to that.

In the meantime, I suggest this great article by Christina Geyer from the weekend’s Dallas Morning News, about the Dallas Mercantile Bank mosaics designed by the Sheets Studio. There were also sculptures and, it seems, wall hangings, plus furniture designed by Rufus Turner, who came to work full-time for the Sheets Studio after this project and is quoted in the article.

The article has a nice gallery of images from the original layout, as well as of the mosaics’ restoration and reinstallation work, along with quotes from Tony Sheets, Lillian Sizemore, and me. Check it out, and see you back here soon.

 

 

Home Savings in South Central

Vertis Hayes, sculpture for Home Savings, Vermont and Slauson (South Central), before 1973. Image from 1973 calendar, George Underwood
Vertis Hayes, sculpture for Home Savings, Vermont and Slauson (South Central), before 1973. Image from 1973 calendar, George Underwood

One of the themes I am pursuing in this research comes from my urban-history background: How did Home Savings relate to the multiracial, multiethnic population of southern California? Did it rely on old mental maps from redlining and housing covenants to drive its lending, or socioeconomic data, or did it buck the conventional wisdom of the time?

Twenty years after the L.A. riots and a month after Rodney King’s death. we still have news about racial discrimination by banks–but also stories about how the aftermath of the riots led to real change in South Central (now “officially” just South L.A.).

My hunch is that Home Savings had a record about the same as its competitors. A colleague who grew up in East L.A. remembers none of this ornate art at his family’s Home Savings branch, suggesting that these commissions may have remained in affluent neighborhoods.

But there is the history, still incomplete, of the Compton branch from 1958. And there is this sculpture, by Vertis Hayes, once at the Home Savings branch, at Vermont and Slauson near the heart of South Central.

Hayes was born in Atlanta in 1911 but moved to New York City to study art in the early 1930s. His most famous work was leading the team which created WPA murals for the Harlem Hospital Center. Hayes headed the Federal Art Center in Memphis, Tennessee, from 1938 to 1939, and held a number of teaching jobs, including after moving to Los Angeles in 1951, where he taught at California State College and Immaculate Heart College. He died in Los Angeles in 2000.

While the Compton branch showed (white?) workers, the South Central sculpture shows a family group–a common Home Savings choice–but, in this case, African Americans wearing what seems to be traditional African accessories, including a taqiyah (sometimes called a kufi) for the man, a traditional Islamic cap adopted by various Afrocentric / Black Arts supporters in the United States. But I haven’t seen a picture of the whole sculpture, so I can’t be sure of the whole theme.

This Home Savings branch was destroyed in the L.A. riots–as was the headquarters branch of Broadway Federal, a bank founded in the (informal) Jim Crow era of California history by architect Paul Revere Williams to serve those minority communities not served by other banks. Home Savings committed to rebuilding both  branches and utilizing minority-owned construction firms— though the resulting Home Savings building is a concrete-block rush job, with metal gates to pull down over the glass doors at night.

And the sculpture is gone. I can’t find any traces of where (nor much about Hayes, who lived and worked in Los Angeles for many decades, even in the Pacific Standard Time show at the California African American Museum.) Anyone have a lead?

Thanks for the image to George Underwood, who worked for Galaxy Advertising when it was the in-house firm for H.F. Ahmanson & Co. printing and thought up the idea of using Home Savings art and architecture to decorate the annual calendars.

Fourth of July Week with Millard Sheets, Ben Mayer, and Paul Revere Williams

Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July.

On my jaunt through the Orange County and Los Angeles beach cities last week, I drove by this former Bank of America building designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African American member of the AIA and a distinguished Los Angeles architect of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. (Read more about Williams’s remarkable career here and in two recentbooks by his granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson.)

The Millard Sheets Studio mosaics for the Van Nuys and Long Beach branches are done in a different style than the contemporaneous Home Savings work — and there is a comment in the studio correspondence saying that “if mural is executed in the United States add $10 per square foot,” suggesting that Williams, Sheets, or both had connections in Mexico, Italy, or elsewhere that could do the fabrication. (It is unclear where these were fabricated.)

Ben Mayer and Millard Sheets Studio for Paul Revere Williams, Bank of America, Van Nuys, 1965.
Ben Mayer and Millard Sheets Studio for Paul Revere Williams, Bank of America, Van Nuys, 1965.

 

 

 

 

 

In terms of style, both Van Nuys and Long Beach seem closely aligned with mosaics done by Ben Mayer, including those from the Norwalk Public Library on friend-of-the-blog Vickey Kalambakal’s site — check them out! The timing matches the period when Millard Sheets was becoming more involved with Interpace’s ceramic tile projects, and he seems to have broken any exclusivity deal he had had with Ahmanson and Home Savings. Mayer’s name appears in the Sheets Studio invoices for the Van Nuys location, but the affinity is also evident in the Long Beach work. UPDATE: Another colleague, Lillian Sizemore, has done research to confirm Ben Mayer was the creator, with Maurice Sands listed as design and color consultant, and has found that the Long Beach branch opened June 20, 1967. Interestingly, the (earlier?) Van Nuys branch has a Sheets signature, the Long Beach branch does not.

Ben Mayer and Millard Sheets Studio for Paul Revere Williams, Bank of America, Van Nuys, 1965.
Ben Mayer and Millard Sheets Studio for Paul Revere Williams, Bank of America, Van Nuys, 1965.

While the Van Nuys branch is still a Bank of America branch, the Long Beach building was most recently a music venue, and is again under renovation. One hopes the importance of the architect and the connections present in the mosaic to local and regional history will help preserve this building and its artwork.

M. Danko of socal-bank-art.blogspot.com has images that far outpace my own.