Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rare Bird: Sheets Studio Art on a Wells Fargo location in Redondo Beach

Sheets Studio, bird, mosaic detail, Redondo Beach, before 1961
Sheets Studio, bird, mosaic detail, Redondo Beach, before 1961

The Home Savings branches were expertly sited — placed on prominent corners, so drivers could know, instantly, which financial institution it was. The original branches had gold tiles and brightly colored mosaics, like these birds. (The mosaic seems to involve less sophisticated cuts, and the location has no file in the Millard Sheets Papers, suggesting it was completed before 1961.) Funny to see the gold tiles replaced by the brown-and-red colors of Wells Fargo!

Sheets Studio mosaic and building design, Redondo Beach, before 1961
Sheets Studio mosaic and building design, Redondo Beach, before 1961

Of course, other banks and savings and loans understood the value of a location on a prominent corner as well. The rounded-square signs over rounded-to-the-corner buildings  mark the former Crocker National Bank locations. Even though Crocker was acquired by Wells Fargo, I find that many of their former locations in Los Angeles are now Bank of America, a result of the waves of bank expansion and consolidation that have shaped banking since the 1980s.

This is a similar story: though Wells Fargo also owned the American Trust Company, and hence has a connection to other Sheets Studio artwork, I think this location is the only former Home Savings that is now a Wells Fargo, and the only location with artwork completed before 1980 that is a financial institution other than JP Morgan Chase.

Louis Macouillard (design) Alphonso Pardinas – Byzantine Mosaics (fabrication), Bank of America Mosaic in San Mateo. Photograph by Franco Folini, 2010, via Flickr.

I assume Wells Fargo and Bank of America had internal conversations about the Home Savings commitment to art, history, and community, and whether their banks needed to do similar work to compete — the San Mateo branch of Bank of America honors the bank’s founder, A. P. Giannini, with a front facade covered in mosaic designed by Louis Macouillard. But, despite their more public archives, I have yet to hear about records of these conversations. If you know of any, do let me know!

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Happy Holidays! The blog will return with new posts in January.

Hiding Art to Protect it – Santa Monica

Sheets Studio and Wallis Studio, stained glass, 1970; as covered by a translucent screen, 2012
Sheets Studio and Wallis Studio, stained glass, 1970; as covered by a translucent screen, 2012

As promised, I am back this week with another case of Sheets Studio work covered to protect it. The Burbank zoo mural is supposedly encased for its protection, and the Long Beach Home Savings mosaic is painted over, so still there but hiding. Now the treatment comes to stained glass, at the Santa Monica Wilshire location.

Now, windows are for light, so a walled-in solution would not work well (and would have to be applied on two sides, which would get messy). But what if the new business does not think a joyous Sue Hertel / John Wallis creation, described in the Sheets Papers as “a continuation of the theme…pleasures of swimming, beach games, figrues with animals, all designed to to give a kaleidoscope of beach activity,” will fit the mood of the stores, or seem dated?

The translucent screen seems like an intriguing idea, bringing in that multicolored light while hiding (but not damaging) the stained glass behind it.

But, to me, it just begs for the viewer to peek back there and say what are they hiding, anyway? It just sends more people to the parking lot, to consider it from behind.

Sue Hertel and John Wallis Stained Glass, Santa Monica, 1970. Photograph by Peter Leonard, 2011, used with permission.
Sue Hertel and John Wallis Stained Glass, Santa Monica, 1970. Photograph by Peter Leonard, 2011, used with permission.

Come back next week for the last post of the year — another case of Sheets Studio Home Savings artwork re-imagined for a new owner.

Home Savings on Wilshire in Santa Monica: Love it or Hate it?

Millard Sheets Studio, Home Savings branch at 2600 Wilshire, Santa Monica, 1970. Image thanks to Pete Leonard.
Millard Sheets Studio, Home Savings branch at 2600 Wilshire, Santa Monica, 1970. Image thanks to Pete Leonard.

It’s a busy time of year, but I noticed that I have not posted about the iconic Home Savings branch at 2600 Wilshire in Santa Monica — one of the best known and, depending on who you are, loved/hated branches.

Do you love it? You have lots of company — it is routinely the first branch mentioned to me, especially by LA Westsiders. And so discussions about other Sheets Studio work in Santa Monica and the lost Denis O’Connor-Sue Hertel mosaic that was on the Third Street Promenade tends to start with a glowing conversation about this branch.

John Edward Svenson, Girl Riding Dolphin sculpture, Santa Monica, 1970. Image thanks to Pete Leonard.
John Edward Svenson, Girl Riding Dolphin sculpture, Santa Monica, 1970. Image thanks to Pete Leonard.

John Edward Svenson has a soft spot for the sculpture of the girl riding the dolphin, over the parking lot door; his daughter served as the model. And the Ahmansons seem to as well: in a visit to the Ahmanson Foundation offices, I saw the small maquette of this sculpture prominently displayed.

And I think the building owners (MetLife, I assume, managed by CBRE) and their tenants after Home Savings — a mattress store, a cell-phone store, and now New Balance — have maintained the artwork in great condition. (More next week about how it is hard to see one element, though.)

But what if you hate it? Some love the Richard Ellis family group in front; others don’t understand the connection. Most who dislike the building focus on the mosaic, disliking the fabrication, by Denis, Sue, and others on a team led by Nancy Colbath – especially of the sunbathing youth (probably a girl and a boy, but because it is hard to tell, that adds to the grumbling).

Sheets Studio, "Pleasures Along the Beach" mosaic, Santa Monica, 1970, detail. Image courtesy of Pete Leonard.
Sheets Studio, “Pleasures Along the Beach” mosaic, Santa Monica, 1970, detail. Image courtesy of Pete Leonard.

If you do dislike it, you have company — in this case, Millard Sheets himself. Check out this quote, from a Smithsonian Archives of American Art oral history:

Interviewer Paul Karlstrom: I know the one, for instance, on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. I used to live right nearby. That’s I think at 25th or around there.

Sheets: I think that’s one of the poorer buildings.

Karlstrom: Yeah?

Sheets: Now that’s my feeling. I always felt that I. . . . I didn’t like the way that one’s _____ was done.

Even more critiques from Sheets about this locale appear in a UCLA oral history. Just a reminder that the best artists can use their aesthetic sense to criticize problem art and architecture — even when it is their own.

Thanks to my colleague Pete Leonard for the images. Stay tuned for more about changes to the blog and more work on the book version ahead in 2013.