A Tree Grows in Claremont

Sheets Studio, mixed-media tree with birds, Claremont

Sheets Studio, mixed-media tree with birds, Claremont

February turned out to be a busy time–so much to do, so few days to do it?–and the start of March offers no let-up. Most of the time I am happy with so busy–research, writing, conferences, commuting, teaching, grading, and that is just for work–and it beats having nothing to do, though that seems an impossibility nowadays.

But it has meant that I have not been out on the streets, tracking down Home Savings and Sheets Studio archives and statuses that much recently. At least spring break is coming soon.

So, looking through my own Home Savings photo archives, I was struck today by the calm of this simple mixed-media tree with birds, completed by the Sheets Studio and affixed to the end of an office building in Claremont. (I think it it is on 4th, between Harvard and Yale avenues.) It seems a perfect image for spring.

Trees and birds seem to have been almost as important totems for Millard Sheets as horses; from his home in Gualala to numerous compositions in many media, the tree filled with the sights and presumably sounds of birds reflected a sense of contentment and joy that the Sheets Studio work exudes.

Claremont, detail

Claremont, detail

I assume this is an early piece, as the mosaic tiles are used merely as background, and the birds and tree is represented in three dimensional ceramics, some with colorful accents. What comes to mind are other earlier works — the sculptural birds and trees, as well as other animals, by Betty Davenport Ford, and the marvelous bull at the LA County Fair’s Millard Sheets Center for the Arts building, completed in 1952 by Albert Stewart and John Edward Svenson. Like the tapestries, they represent the efforts to use color and modernist lines to rethink traditional art forms, as Picasso, Miró, and others were doing in these same years.

This is at least as labor-intensive as the glass-tile mosaics, harder to install, and likely far more brittle, so harder to maintain. Nevertheless, this example has held up wonderfully–and likely adds a quick, upbeat note to all those who notice it, as they walk in the leafy, sunlit streets of Claremont.

Lion of the Valley: Betty Davenport Ford at the Encino Home Savings

Betty Davenport Ford (lion) and Tony Sheets (grille) for the Sheets Studio, Encino, 1976

Betty Davenport Ford (lion) and Tony Sheets (grille) for the Sheets Studio, Encino, 1976

The last Home Savings and Loan completely conceived by the Millard Sheets & Associates, in concert with Frank Homolka & Associates as the architects of record, was the expansion and renovation of the Encino branch at 17107 Ventura Blvd.

Sketch of mountain lion and grille, Encino, 1976

Sketch of mountain lion and grille, Encino, 1976

This branch has practically a whole wall of stained glass, mosaics inside and out (though the interior vault mosaic is now hidden), a large interior mural, and statues in niches — as well as a pair of ceramic mountain lions, enclosed in decorative grilles. Given the volume and variety of Sheets Studio artwork in this branch, it may be the most comprehensive look at the Sheets Studio’s production, given the variety of subject matter as well as media.

The year 1976 was one of the busiest for the Sheets Studio with Home Savings; we have seen artwork conceived or completed from that year in La Mesa, San Francisco, and Tujunga, with other projects in Alhambra, Redlands, Torrance, Buena Park, La Mirada, Lakewood, Simi Valley, Menlo Park, and Barstow still to come. It was also the era of the press-release or brochure at the opening, to give us a sense of what we see:

Designed for Home Savings by noted artist Millard Sheets, the two-story building occupies 12,030 square feet…

Two forty-foot[-]tall cast stone grill[e]s, designed by Tony Sheets, embellish the exterior while shading the large picture windows behind them.

Sculptress Betty Davenport Ford created two 1000[-]pound mountain lions which are ensconced on pedestals in the grill-work. Each larger-than-life animal was directly modelled from clay, slip-glazed and fired. They represent some of the largest works of this kind ever executed.

Like Sam Maloof, Martha Menke Underwood, and some of the other of the very best Pomona Valley artists, Betty Davenport Ford spent a period of her career contributing to the Sheets Studio artwork before dedicating herself completely to a solo career, creating sculptures of the natural world, distinctively stylized. At 88, she is still involved with the world of art ceramics, and her work is present in museum collections around the country.

Davenport and T. Sheets, mountain lion and grille, Encino, 1976

Davenport and T. Sheets, mountain lion and grille, Encino, 1976

These lions provide an interesting twist on the idea of connecting to the community. The winged lion of St. Mark, as seen in Venice, Italy, was the symbol of Home Savings, but this large cat is a local–to this day, the San Fernando Valley is sometimes visited by the region’s mountain lions, this big in the minds of the suburbanites who encounter them (though not this large in reality.)

I have to think more about if the art of the Encino branch has a unified narrative–from mountain lions to working men and women, to farm animals and birds to a cowboy on horseback–but the lion could mark the earliest, primeval sense of the valley, especially given the local La Brea tar pits, and the remains of the megafauna–saber-toothed cats, wooly mammoths, dire wolves, etc.–that were found there in number. It takes the winged lion and says hey — take a look at this local lion instead!

Though partially hidden by trees now, these lions in Encino announce proudly how Home Savings would guard that money.

Remember the Alamo—or not: Sheets and Associates in San Antonio

Millard Sheets, "The Death of Travis," detail of lithograph, San Antonio, 1966 via http://www.parkitecture.org/wordpress/?p=332

Millard Sheets, "The Death of Travis," detail of lithograph, San Antonio, 1966 via http://www.parkitecture.org/wordpress/?p=332

We often think of Millard Sheets as a California artist, and the Home Savings banks as a California phenomenon. Sheets was born in California, and did the vast majority of the bank projects in California—but there are other public-art projects, in Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. (A full list, with dates, addresses, and current status is coming – I will finish it one of these months!) There are Home Savings banks with Sheets and Associates art in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas, where Sheets, in fact, did one of his first banks, the Dallas Mercantile Bank, in 1958. This past week I had the pleasure of helping Scott Stoddard with stories for the San Antonio Express-News about a massive painting of the battle of the Alamo in the former Travis Savings and Loan in San Antonio. As he describes here, here (where I am quoted a few times), here, and here, the bank building was bought by the San Antonio Independent School District in 1994, and is currently in closing for sale to a new developer. The building has been empty, and Stoddard initially could not even get in to see the painting—but the latest story is accompanied by breathtaking pictures of the mural, 20 feet tall and 32 feet across. According to the latest report, the new owners plan to remove the painting and donate it to a museum. The mural is rich with action—from the perspective, we stand with the Texans with guns pointed over the ramparts, firing cannons as uniformed Mexican soldiers climb up the walls with ladders. The painting’s perspective runs deep, showing mesas and thunderheads, and what appear to be cattle trains in the distance. At the center—highlighted by a white shirt and a simple, unmistakable gesture of being hit—is Col. William B. Travis, one of the leaders of the Texan Revolution to be killed in the fighting. Even teaching in El Paso, far from San Antonio, the basic mythology of the Alamo and its importance to Anglo Texans has become second nature to me. Stoddard wonders whether this may be the largest painting of the Alamo anywhere in the world, and has worked to get estimates for such a large, intricate work, with suggestions running into the hundreds of thousands. I am glad the painting is getting attention and will be preserved, and I plan to learn more about it in the archives soon.

Sue Hertel and Denis O'Connor, Castle Hills mosaic. Image courtesy of Scott Stoddard.

Sue Hertel and Denis O'Connor, Castle Hills mosaic. Image courtesy of Scott Stoddard.

But something I did see this week in the archives of the Texas projects provided another perspective. The Texas Home Savings banks came later, in the late 1980s, and so their artwork was commissioned from Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel, Sheets’ former assistants on these projects who had begun working for themselves. One such mural was done for the Castle Hills branch, at 2201 NW Military Hwy in the San Antonio region. The final design, of horses, cowboys, and their animals, reflected direction from Richard Massey, the local bank manager, “to use scenes of early Texas Pioneer cultures (German, English, Irish) over a background of wild flowers.” UPDATE: Scott Stoddard emailed a sharp photo of the Castle Hills image, to add to his great images of the Travis S&L mural.

In processing another recommendation that “the Spanish influence was good, but overdone,” Denis made a quick note in his planning: “No Alamo – Mexicans, etc.,” hinting at how the Texan Revolution—and especially the all-out war between the U.S. and Mexico that followed in 1846—was a bitter memory for many long-established Hispanic families or newer Mexican American residents, and something to avoid when courting new bank customers.

When it comes to remembering the Alamo, then, Millard Sheets and Associates were ready to be on both sides. We can be too—in seeing that both are preserved.

The Breadth of Communication in the Loyola Tapestry

Millard Sheets (design), Pinton Freres of Aubusson, France (fabrication), Loyola Tapestry, 1964-1966

Millard Sheets (design), Pinton Freres of Aubusson, France (fabrication), Loyola Tapestry, 1964-1966

In late December I had a chance to go see the Loyola Tapestry — one of the most detailed and clearly the most labor-intensive of the Sheets Studio projects, surpassing the “Touchdown Jesus.” It is obviously not bank art, but it is art intended for public display, reflecting on world history, and an amazing example of Sheets’s work in another medium.

Conceived as part of a gift from Edward Foley for a communications art center designed by Edward Durrell Stone, only the cartoon stood ready at the building’s dedication, in January 1964. According to documents I found in the LMU archives, it took seven weavers (working an inch a day) two years and three months  to create the tapestry, which is reputed to be the largest modern tapestry in the Americas and the third-largest in the world. Eighteen feet by thirty-four feet, it was hung in March 1966.

According to the press release, the design emerged from “long and serious analyses of the them concept” by Rev. Charles Cassassa, S. J., the university’s president at the time, and Mr. Foley, working with drawings that Sheets evidently provided.
What is even more remarkable is the extensive description Sheets himself provided for a pamphlet at its dedication. A few words of description exist for many of the bank openings, but nothing like this:

The Loyola Tapestry, especially designed for the foyer of the Edward T. Foley Communications Arts Center on the Loyola University of Los Angeles campus, symbolizes the meaning and means of communication created by man.

The total theme has been divided into three basic areas: communications from man to man, from man to nature, and between God and man.

The central figure of Christ with the Wings of God symbolizes man’s search to understand the Infinite and his own spiritual faith.

On the extreme left side of the Tapestry is the theme of communication between man and man. The symbols of scholarly and creative expression are noted in the small vignettes that surround the two figures indicating brotherly love. The smaller symbols of the Renaissance scholars, the Magna Carta signing, the United Nations, missionaries, the various arts are all facets of man’s desire for cultural, social, and political understanding. The small band of symbols at the bottom of the Loyola Tapestry on both sides are expressive of the techniques man has developed as means and methods of communicating. Various alphabets, printing, telephone, motion pictures, and communication techniques are included.

One the right side of the Tapestry, communication between man and nature is pictured by the central figure of the young man’s love of plant and animal life. The smaller symbols represent man and his use of fire for warmth and cooking, the domestication of animals, conquering of air, water for food, and related ideas.

The total theme is designed to indicate many of the great accomplishments of man in insight and inventiveness to express the variety of urges and feelings he needs to express to others.

I would also hope that in the spirit of the Loyola Tapestry the beholder will sense the possibilities of the infinite future of new and greater means of communication that lie ahead if discipline and imagination are matched with a deeper desire to face the great problems of our times. Man desperately needs to improve all present techniques for communication. He must determine greater objectives for each separate language and skill if mankind is to enjoy a future with assurance and depth.

Sheets, Loyola Tapestry, upper left

Sheets, Loyola Tapestry, upper left

On its edges are quotes from the Gospel of John, the 12th-century Chinese poet and painter Fu T’ung-Po, and the 20th-century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber; add that to the Pony Express, the United Nations, the large figure of Jesus, and you get quite a capacious image of communication. It also makes an interesting contrast with Cold War-era brochure about the need for such a communications center: “In olden days the enemy poisoned wells,” it declared. “Today the enemy poisons men’s minds,” and hence it was time to fight back with communications arts–marketed quite differently today, amidst the cell phones, Facebook revolutions, and satellite TV.

Sheets, Loyola Tapestry, upper right

Sheets, Loyola Tapestry, upper right

How exactly this all came together — that Foley decided he wanted artwork in the foyer, and to pay for a tapestry rather than a mosaic or painted mural; that such a wide-ranging set of quotes and images were best for the new communications building at a Jesuit college; and that Sheets, as a Protestant, became the artist of choice for Catholic institutions from Loyola to Notre Dame to the “Triumph of the Lamb” in the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. — remains unknown to me. I do know that Martha Menke Underwood, who had worked in Sheets’s studio, was dedicated to the art of tapestries in these years, and that the Sheets Studio had produced some tapestry designs for banks as well.

Thanks to the LMU Archives for their help in finding and copying items from their collections.

Millard Sheets’s Gateway to the Pacific and the Home Savings Style

Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel, Gateway to the Pacific, West Portal, San Francisco, 1976-1977

Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel, Gateway to the Pacific, West Portal, San Francisco, 1976-1977

Following up last week’s post and staying at San Francisco’s West Portal, if we walk outside, we encounter the most international of the Home Savings artworks, the Sheets & Associates “Gateway to the Pacific” mosaic.

The concept of a Pacific Rim, interconnected by commerce, entertainment, migration, and cultures, is an old one — statues in Easter Island suggest that these connections may predate Christopher Columbus’s voyages. But the 1970s saw a return to thinking about the Pacific Rim, with President Nixon’s visit to China, the rise of the Japanese economy, and the start of the “Asian tigers” economic phenomenon, and the flood of goods made in Japan, Taiwan, or Hong Kong.

The representative figures from each Pacific Rim nation come in pairs, a man and a woman, and each is engaged in what might be seen as a representative task, a labor linked to agriculture. From what I can tell, the Mexican couple carries flowers (calla lilies), the South Pacific pair a fishnet and fruit; the Californians wheat (I think; very hard to tell); the Australians care for sheep; and the Japanese carry also carry grain bushels.

The figures do not interact, and do not appear in geographic order; four of five men wear sunhats. Only the Japanese woman looks out at us; all the rest are engaged with their labor, or the labor of their partner.

This is a very unusual work, not only for the international theme. Besides the large sun overhead, which (given its inclusion in the Beverly Hills, Encino, and other mosaics, is a kind of Home Savings theme), there is no way to look at this and say, immediately, this was a Home Savings artwork.

What it looks more like was the artwork that Millard Sheets created after his trips around the world, and in commissions for United Air Lines and other international-themed places. Though exhibits like the LA County Fair exhibit organized by Tony Sheets highlighted this international side of Sheets’s work, it seems a world away, literally and figuratively, from the standard Home Savings topics and designs.

Given the radically different artwork that Sheets, Hertel, and Denis O’Connor created independently, outside of the context of the Home Savings work, makes me wonder where the “Home Savings style” originated. Sheets did the original designs, and so the answer lies with him, in one sense, but — the early works like Beverly Hills also feel atypical, in their way, and Sheets, in any case, had to have some idea of what Howard Ahmanson wanted for Home Savings.

Sheets chose California community themes, but were those works only possible in one style? Clearly not. Mosaic makes certain demands; so stained glass, and so Sheets and Hertel, painters by preference, made concessions to form. But the differences so evident here — the colorplay in the tiles, the abstracting lines, the sun are the same, but the figures seem cut out of a totally different scene.

Which Home Savings artworks seem not like the others to you? (I have another in mind, which we can see next week.)

Calling All Photos of Lost Sheets & Associates Bank Artwork!

Section of West Portal mural painting, now lost

Section of West Portal mural painting, now lost

(Sorry for missing last week; busy with book tour for The Great Heart of the Republic.)

Soon after the handover of Washington Mutual to Chase, Tony Sheets, Millard’s son, walked into the West Portal branch of the bank in San Francisco. After seeing the mosaic outside, showing the international reach of San Francisco’s trade, Tony proceeded inside and—found the interior mural painted over.

Now, the Home Savings banks saw a lot of remodeling between their construction and the present day—and, as we have seen, changes occurred under the management of Home Savings and Washington Mutual as well as Chase.

But given the greater press for uniformity from Chase, their efforts to paint walls white and put up Plexiglas shields has led to the greater threat to this artwork.

Finally, Tony Sheets and Chase have been working together to save more of this artwork – but that doesn’t tell us what has been lost.

Mural painting, West Portal

Mural painting, West Portal; lost?

The image above is from the corner of the West Portal mural, a casual shot I took back in August 2007. To the right is another painted mural from that branch, at the time; perhaps a local can tell me if it is gone as well.

But more than the specifics of these lost paintings, I want to use this as a general call for images of lost artwork—or, if you are not sure if the Home Savings artwork you pictured is lost, of all interior shots from these banks.

Brian Worley, who worked in the studio in the 1970s, got into the habit of taking installation shots of the mosaics, so we have an excellent record of the exterior artwork, from the first banks until the last mosaics completed. But, as he noted, “the painted murals were, as I remember it, installed later than the mosaic murals…The seams always needed to be touched up and that was done by Sue [Hertel], so I would have needed to go back later specifically to take pictures and was rarely if ever tasked with doing that. Same with the stained glass.” So the exteriors have a record; the interiors, less so.

Can you show us the lost artwork of Home Savings?

Pairs of Horsemen, La Mesa and San Francisco

Millard Sheets, Californio horsemen, La Mesa, 1976

Millard Sheets, Californio horsemen, La Mesa, 1976

As I mentioned last week, memories of my “home branch” in La Mesa are what motivated me to start this project. And I thought that all of the Home Savings branches held historic images, like this, showing the California past.

Well, last week’s whales, on the same branch, could have been my first clue that the larger study would do in a different direction. But I was still convinced that each branch received its own community-appropriate images, reflecting the specifics of local history and the local community.

Then I found these exact horsemen in the Lombard branch mural in San Francisco, and I could see how, when there were a lot of commissions due, the Sheets Studio could cut a few corners by duplicating the design.

Horsemen in Lombard mural, San Francisco, 1976-1977

Horsemen in Lombard mural, San Francisco, 1976-1977

Now, I still like the design, and I think that a portrayal of Californio horsemen (whatever the exact reference — the history throughout, I have learned, profits from vague referents) can fit for both locales and stories, showing the Spanish settlement of California.

The Lombard branch has a tremendous amount of art — a wraparound mural; stained glass; and a sophisticated look at the waterfront and how different cultures have used the San Francisco Bay — artwork intended for another branch in the area and moved to the Lombard exterior at the last minute.

Style is built of repeated elements (media, colors, topics), of course, and Home Savings sought a narrow enough range to make the banks instantly identifiable. And before the Internet age it was unlikely that viewers would have both of these images together.

Friars and horsemen, Lombard

Friars, tree and horsemen, Lombard

But this is the most blatant repeat I have found; not just themes (as this shares with Laurel Canyon, for example) but the same figures, down to the colors of the saddles. The Franciscan friars (and the trees, front and back! and the background squares!) are there in both, too, marking how the missions opened up the possibility of ranching and other agricultural settlement among (or in place of) the Native Americans of the region.

In San Francisco, they have just been reversed –not a difficult process for the studio, when you consider that the mosaics are built on the image, enlarged and reversed. Their cowls and gestures — and the tree’s branches and colors, on both sides of the horsemen — are subject to the same doubling, almost identical to La Mesa. (If my photographs weren’t a bit blurry, who knows what other details might jump out.)

Are you aware of other exact copies, either of these figures or other Sheets Studio motifs? I will seek them out, as I continue my survey of the locations.

Whales at my former home branch in La Mesa

Sue Hertel, Whales, La Mesa/Grossmont, 1976. Photo courtesy of Andrea Flint-Gogek, 2010.

Sue Hertel, Whales, La Mesa/Grossmont, 1976. Photo courtesy of Andrea Flint-Gogek, 2010.

Happy Birthday, blog! Hard to believe, but one year ago, I put up the first list of these Home Savings banks, in my effort to draw attention to their history and to fight for their preservation.

A year later, I am gratified by the thousands of site visitors, and the contact from those who created the artwork, worked for Home Savings, lived with the artists, or simply always admired the Home Savings art and architecture. I have now conceived of a whole book project on this artwork, and 2011 is the year I can comprehensively research this art and argue more for its larger meaning.

In the meantime, I am back to the school year, teaching in Texas and having (at times quixotic) conversations with Chase Bank employees, many of whom know nothing about the artwork around them.

But, as today’s post shows, at least use as marquee banks by Chase can offer some security for the banks. This is my “home” branch, near the Grossmont Mall in La Mesa, just over the line from the neighborhood of San Diego where I grew up. The large horses on the front (come back next week) and this pod of whales is what stuck with me, making me want to do this project someday.

Hertel, La Mesa whale detail. Photo courtesy Andrea Flint-Gogek.

Hertel, La Mesa whale detail. Photo courtesy Andrea Flint-Gogek.

As you can see, the whales are signed by Sue Hertel, and something about those spouts always struck me as funny — these are whales having a good time, even just over a parking-lot door, far inland.

They were completed in 1976, just as burst of Home Savings banks were opening, all over California. And the Buffums department store used to anchor that Grossmont Mall, and my babysitter at the time (an Italian grandmother) used to take me to Buffums for lunch as a special outing.

She has passed away, and so has Buffums, and perhaps the place I went to driving school, up on the other mesa. And so has Home Savings, and so has Washington Mutual, who sold this branch in 1998. And so has the barbeques store that once was here. As reader Andrea Flint-Gogek so kindly shows us in these recent pictures, the former bank is empty.

So if you would love a classy location for your La Mesa business here it is! Save the whales! And if you are the owner and ever think of tearing it down, I can give you a list of museums that would be happy to pay the costs to remove such important mosaics from the buildings.

The Hidden LA Zoo Painting in Burbank

LA Zoo painting, Burbank branch, 1969. Photo courtesy of Carrie McCoy

LA Zoo painting, Burbank branch, 1969. Photo courtesy of Carrie McCoy

It seems like something out of a Dan Brown novel: there is a Sheets Studio painting, hiding in plain sight.

Statues over the corner door, Burbank, 1969

Statues over the corner door, Burbank, 1969

Last month I visited the Burbank Home Savings branch, and I could tell there was something fishy. On a prominent corner, the three-story structure dominates its site, with ornate sculptures high on the corner, and a mosaic of family life welcoming guests from up the hill.

Both works show family theme in full: a family reaching high into the tree, and children on the horses of a merry-go-round, a reference to the amusements of Griffith Park.

Children on a carousel, Burbank, 1969

Children on a carousel, Burbank, 1969

Though I could not find signatures, it looked like the work of Sue Hertel and perhaps Al Stewart, familiar Home Savings themes.

But it was when I went inside that I felt something missing. Like many former Home Savings banks, the large lobby had been subdivided into cubicles, and the balconies enclosed (in mismatching drywall). The travertine here was pinstriped with black lines, and a clock in the original was maintained, directly across from the teller’s windows, but it seemed like something was missing.

For such a large, prominent branch, no inside art?

Well, Carrie McCoy told me how things used to be. She had worked three decades for Home Savings, working her way up into the branch’s management, and still on hand when the sale to Washington Mutual occurred in 1998. And she had what seems to be the only photograph of the bank’s painting, of the LA Zoo, its angular trees and casual animals suggesting a collaboration between Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel. (No signature is evident in this photograph.)

And Carrie also knew what happened to it, and had the documentation to prove it. The LA Zoo painting was not destroyed; it was not removed, either. As far as she or I know, it remains in place, for in 1992 the Home Savings branch manager decided to cover it, in a renovation, and Carrie had copies of the specs from TG Construction of El Segundo, who did the work, from new paint and some window replacements to the order to “cover existing art work, approximately 24′ x 24′, at bank lobby area.” The plans show the drywall and studs used to protect it.

Those involved must have assumed this was their only choice, but as Tony Sheets has proven at the San Jose Airport Terminal and elsewhere, the paintings were almost always done on canvas, and hence they can be popped off the wall and rolled up, as needed.

Carrie said she mentioned this to the Washington Mutual, and then the Chase managers; perhaps this new announcement could get it uncovered, either for display in the bank, where it was intended, or at a nearby museum that also celebrates California and the West, Griffith Park, and the community — the Autry National Center.


Happy 2011! The definitive list of Sheets Studio public buildings is coming a bit slower than expected, but the addresses and status of the 200+ sites I have identified will be available in January.

Night and Day at Ahmanson’s “Other” Wilshire Bank

Susan Lautmann Hertel, "Day" and "Night" stained glass, Ahmanson Bank and Trust, 1959

Susan Lautmann Hertel, “Day” and “Night” stained glass, fabricated by Wallis-Wiley Studio, Ahmanson Bank and Trust, 1959

The same day I visited the Wilshire Blvd. Scottish Rite Temple and the first Home Savings location at 9245 Wilshire, I made it down the block to the Ahmanson Bank and Trust location (now First Bank) at 9145 Wilshire. There is remarkable exterior art–mosaics and sculpture, soon to be restored–which I will describe another time, but this week I finally made it back with permissions to take photographs of these large stained glass windows.

The bank manager, Jeremy Sarkissian, is enthusiastic about this history of this bank, and he provided images of what once was — fountains, sculptures, and more. But the bank — with a wide opening entrance space, an unusual round elevator, and mosaic elements around the vault–still shows many signs of its Sheets Studio heritage, even before renovations.

These wonderful large stained-glass windows provide quite a contrast to the history of banking one block west. Filled with animals, gathered around a tree reaching up either to the sun or the moon, these windows show a vibrancy that hints at the choices that Sue Hertel made to enliven the projects with bright colors, a greater variety of animals, and a sensibility of animal arrangements and poses that suggest family intimacies, rather than static poses.

American Artist magazine, October 1960

American Artist magazine, October 1960

This project was documented while under construction by American Artist, showing most of the artists at work. And the signature–S. Lautmann Hertel–indicates a moment of transition in Sue Lautmann Hertel’s life, when, newly married, she was signing these works with both last names, before switching to Sue Hertel for the rest of her life.

In the past few weeks, I have had the chance to visit many new branches and museums; the results should be appearing in the months ahead. But for next week, I plan to offer a new definitive list of Sheets Studio projects in public buildings; check back for a New Year’s treat!

S. Lautmann Hertel signature, 1959

S. Lautmann Hertel signature, 1959