Ghosts of Home Savings: Bay Area Finance and First Federal

S. David Underwood and Millard Sheets Studio, Fred L. Roberts Enterprises and Bay Area Finance, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, built 1957, photo 2012.
S. David Underwood & Millard Sheets Studio, Fred L. Roberts Enterprises-Bay Area Finance, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, built 1957, photo 2012.

To continue looking at the work of S. David Underwood as principal architect for the Sheets Studio, I present these buildings, built (and unbuilt?) for financial institutions other than Home Savings.

First, the built: a delicately curving building at 16191621 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. The color logo tiles and the terrazzo floors being the best hints at this building’s Mid-Century Modern past — given that the inside spaces were long since gutted. Note also the alley-side view in the picture above: for a building not on a prominent corner, the marble siding stopped when the facade did.

Sheets Studio, logos for Fred L. Roberts Enterprises and Bay Area Finance and "JI," Santa Monica, built 1957, photo 2012.
Sheets Studio, logos for Fred L. Roberts Enterprises and Bay Area Finance and “JI,” Santa Monica, built 1957, photo 2012.

The tile logo letters show an attempt, contemporaneous to the Home Savings work, to find a quick, recognizable way to mark the business with a colorful, artistic icon — closer to the style of abstracted corporate icons for franchise recognizability that has become a permanent part of U.S. roadside architecture, from the Golden Arches to the Swoosh to JP Morgan Chase’s interlocked pipes-become-octagon.

Could such a logo have worked for a bank in the 1950s? This sketch, for an apparently unbuilt First Federal Savings and Loan (perhaps intended as a branch for the bank in the larger Dallas project where Sheets and Turner met) shows a bank design much like the Home Savings banks, but with such a logo instead of mosaics or the gold tiles. (It reminds me of I.Magnin store designs, and others on view here.)

S. David Underwood, sketch for First Federal Savings and Loan, n.d., S. David Underwood Archive.
S. David Underwood, sketch for First Federal Savings and Loan, n.d., S. David Underwood Archive.

These works show that, while the art and architecture being created for Home Savings was the most prominent and memorable of the Sheets Studio work, those other projects, designed by Sheets and Underwood and completed by others in the Studio, demonstrate the wider role of their architecture in shaping the Mid-Century Modern look of commercial spaces, in Los Angeles and beyond. We can hope these contributions will be included in the exhibits, lectures, and discussions around the Getty’s Los Angeles Architecture initiative next spring.

One thought on “Ghosts of Home Savings: Bay Area Finance and First Federal

  1. Sian Winship, president of the Society of Architectural Historians/So. Cal Chapter, has let me know that the “JI” was the “Job Insurance Agency,” according to the city directory.

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