S. David Underwood, Sheets Studio Architect

S. David Underwood, Sentinel Savings and Loan, San Diego, 1962 (demolished); photograph by Busco-Nestor Studios. S. David Underwood Archive.

S. David Underwood, Sentinel Savings and Loan, San Diego, 1962 (demolished); photograph by Busco-Nestor Studios. S. David Underwood Archive.

In July 1948, Millard Sheets typed up a followup note to Jack Beardwood, a TIME bureau chief and Millard’s connection to LIFE magazine. “It just occurred to me,” he wrote, ” it might be wise to suggest…that the magazine should not use the word ‘architect’ in the article in connection with my name.” As Sheets noted, “not having an actual architectural degree, along with many others who design,” he had no need to claim the title and “wav[e] a red flag in front of the A.I.A.,” architecture’s national professional association.

Sheets made clear that he did the overall design, approaching it as art in its totality–but that there was always an architect there to sign off, to make working drawings, and to see to it that regulations were followed. In the letter from 1948, Sheets mentioned Benjamin H. Anderson as the architect of record on the air school projects; as we have discussed here, Rufus Turner has shared memories of the studio beginning in the late 1950s.

But, as soon as there was a Sheets Studio to be part of, the studio’s principal architect was S. David Underwood. Rufus Turner has memories of seeing Underwood hard at work in Sheets’s large personal studio at the Padua Hills house–and even of Underwood having a cot there to sleep, before the Foothill Boulevard studio was constructed, after a 1958 groundbreaking.

Born in Montreal in 1917, Underwood had grown up in Glendale, California, and his first commercial architecture was for a schoolmate, Robert C. Wian, designing distinctive, “landmark” architecture for the new branches of his hamburger stand, Bob’s Big Boy. This iconic work (see next week’s post) stood out among roadside architecture, much as Sheets would need for Home Savings.

Underwood came to work with Sheets in 1955, just as Sheets’s work in murals and interior design was blossoming into the design of complete buildings, with the mainstay of the office’s work, at the behest of Howard Ahmanson, begun with a phone call in 1953, for both Home Savings (Underwood worked on 16 locations, 1956-1962) and Guaranty Savings and Loan (three locations, including Redwood City) in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Underwood made all this work possible, Sheets understood. Millard wanted to sketch the silhouette of the building and design its artistic flourishes, but he wanted someone else to decide how to route the pipes, support the roof, or create drawings for permits and contractors. This synergy of vision and technical details was all necessary for the art to emerge–and the next few weeks will highlight these designs, from subtle to spectacular.

Like the work of Sue Hertel, Denis O’Connor, David’s wife Martha Menke Underwood (married in 1962, they divorced in 1979) and others in the Sheets Studio, Dave Underwood’s work was publicly regarded as Millard Sheets Studio work, without much room for individual credit.

By 1962, Underwood left the studio to set up his own architectural office in Claremont, though he continued to collaborate with Millard Sheets on some projects, including the Garrison Theater (updated link here). Underwood continued to design buildings, including a lot of distinctive office space in Claremont, including the San Jose Avenue office building for the Carpenters’ Union (updated link here), and the Midland Mutual Insurance building at Harvard and Fourth, until his retirement in 1990. Underwood died in 2002.

As all the references above suggest, there are a lot of buildings I could have chosen to introduce Underwood on the blog. But one stood out–because it was a memorable landmark of my childhood.

S. David Underwood, Sentinel Savings and Loan, San Diego, 1962 (demolished); S. David Underwood Archive.

S. David Underwood, Sentinel Savings and Loan, San Diego, 1962 (demolished); S. David Underwood Archive.

The Sentinel Savings and Loan building was built on Camino del Rio North in San Diego, near the intersection of Interstates 8 and 805 was constructed in 1962, one of Underwood’s first projects to be listed under his own architectural firm, after his time with the Sheets Studio.

"Adrian Chapelo," Mission Valley, San Diego, 1965, via Flickr, with permisison

“Adrian Chapelo,” Mission Valley, San Diego, 1965, via Flickr, with permisison

As this photograph demonstrates, by 1965 the Sentinel Savings building anchored a trio of distinctive modernist structures in Mission Valley. In 1971, Sentinel Savings was purchased by Great Western, the name on the building in my childhood. Of these three, now only the First United Methodist church remains.

Though quite different from the Sheets Studio architecture for Home Savings, the clean geometric lines, use of solid and airy forms, and the use of the tall interior space suggested some of the same eye-catching choices, and show also the affinity of all this bank architecture to some of the most well-regarded examples of Mid Century Modernism. (See this example, a round bank in Sunnyvale from 1963 — is there some direct link to Underwood?)

Come back over the next few weeks to see more examples of Underwood’s work, before, during, and after his Sheets Studio work.

Thanks to Brian Worley, Rufus Turner, Steve Underwood, “Adrian Chapelo,” and Jane Kenealy of the San Diego History Center for their help with information for this post.

The Permanent Home for Temporary Mosaics: Home Savings’s Last Headquarters in Irwindale

"Millard Sheets Designs," temporary mosaic panel, one of three, c. 1974, now in Irwindale

“Millard Sheets Designs,” temporary mosaic panel, one of three, c. 1974, now in Irwindale

For decades after its acquisition by Howard Ahmanson in 1947,Home Savings and Loan had its headquarters along Wilshire Boulevard — first in Beverly Hills, and then in Los Angeles, and finally, in 1985, to a campus in Irwindale. When Home Savings was purchased in 1998, the headquarters was transferred to Washington Mutual.

Now they are two of the three buildings in the renamed San Gabriel Valley Corporate Campus, its office suites are leased by CBRE, the large commercial real-estate services firm (which also manages former Home Savings properties in Coronado, Santa Monica, and Montebello, among other locations, sold by Home Savings to Met Life in the 1980s).

Some wonderful art–mosaics, paintings, fountains, and sculptures–were commissioned for the campus from Joyce Kozloff, Richard Haas, Astrid Preston, and others. (A nice post and illustrations of Kozloff’s work from friend-of-the-blog Vickey is here.) All of it seems to be still on site except the Preston works from the cafeteria walls, which JP Morgan Chase took after they acquired Washington Mutual, and no one quite seems to no where they went. (Leads, as always, welcomed.)

"Millard Sheets Designs," temporary mosaic panel, two of three shown, c. 1974, now in Irwindale

“Millard Sheets Designs,” temporary mosaic panel, two of three shown, c. 1974, now in Irwindale

But the most remarkable find on campus for me were these three mosaic panels, installed on a brick wall to the right of the second building’s entrance. Showing a woman and children on horseback, a woman lifting a child into a tree, and a Dalmatian frolicking alongside, these joyous mosaic panels highlight the family themes so common in Sue Hertel’s work for the Millard Sheets Studio, as well as the angular trees, touches of gold, and intricate patternwork that Sheets himself was fond of.

Unlike any other Home Savings work I have seen, the panels are signed MSD — for Millard Sheets Designs, perhaps marking another moment in the evolving attributions in the Studio’s mosaics, from just Millard’s signature to a period of no signatures and then works completely designed, fabricated, and signed by Sue Hertel and Denis O’Connor. (In this case, Brian Worley has a distinct memory of doing that Dalmatian.)

These are intimate family scenes, but not linked to any specific place. To me, they suggest Sheets Studio designs elsewhere: the woman holding the child echoes Burbank and Pomona, while the children on horseback in a forest echo Burbank and Highland Park. A number of Sue Hertel’s designs show frolicking animals; for dogs, the Studio City stained glass and the mosaic in Anaheim come to mind.

These hints, once matched with Brian’s recollections, helped me realize what they are: the temporary mosaic panels, made in frames and intended to be installed in temporary Home Savings branches throughout the Southland, while their permanent buildings were built. (My research suggests they were built for a temporary location in downtown Los Angeles, possibly at 7th and Figueroa, 1974, and may have been displayed at later temporary branches in Westminster, Riverside, and Santa Cruz.)

I can’t say this is the most prominent file home for these mosaic panels, but they do seem appreciated by CBRE, on a campus that once thronged with Home Savings employees.

Thanks to Jason Bonomo of CBRE for giving me a tour of the Home Savings artwork on the property, and to Brian Worley for helping to identify the panels.


On Campus: Sheets Studio Artwork Found (and Lost?) at Mt. SAC

Millard Sheets Studio, Joe Mountie mosaic, Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, c. 1965

Joe Mountie mosaic, Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, c. 1965

With the semester well underway, I am spending time on my campus, grading and teaching, which made me think of one of the campus art completed by the Millard Sheets Studio.

The Garrison Theater and other spaces around the Claremont Colleges come first to mind, along with “Touchdown Jesus” at Notre Dame and the tapestry in the Foley Communication Arts Center at Loyola Marymount. But Mt. San Antonio College (lovingly called Mt. SAC by those in the know) provides a few intriguing examples — and a question of missing art.

As you walk into the newly renovated Mt. SAC library, there is a brightly colored mosaic of “Little Joe,” a retired version of the school’s Joe Mountie the Mountaineer mascot, grinning up from the pavement. Though the faux-Indian facepaint, the coonskin cap, and the rifle are more reminiscent of the Indian mascots and caricatures of 1964-1965, now mostly phased out around collegiate sports, the mosaic still catches the eye, and probably has a Sheets Studio connection (if more likely to be student work than the Studio itself.)

Sue Hertel, "The Water and The Lion," mural detail, Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, c. 1965 (from Hall and Pietzsch, comp., 1996)

Sue Hertel, “The Water and The Lion,” mural detail, Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, c. 1965 (from Hall and Pietzsch, comp., 1996)

But the clear Sheets Studio (and friend-of-Sheets Studio) work for Mt. SAC was (is?) the set of library murals created by Susan Hertel and Tom Van Sant. According to the 1996 Mt. SAC history, Van Sant created murals symbolizing the social sciences and humanities; Hertel’s showed physical and biological sciences, with The Bull, The Flowering Tree, The Horse, and (as seen here) The Water and the Lion. From this photograph — all I have seen of the work — it is clearly linked stylistically to the wood panels and mosaic work of the Sheets Studio for Home Savings, especially (at this moment) reminding me of Pomona and Arcadia.

But where are the murals? If on wood panels, they could easily have been removed; canvas murals from the Sheets Studio can also be rolled up. Are they in storage? Covered? Egad, destroyed? I wish we knew more. (I asked around the library in June, but haven’t heard anything.) I hope these murals can be placed back in the public view, ideally at Mt. SAC art gallery or in a public, secure place nearby.

Please be in touch if you know more about these works!

Previewing Home Savings with American Trust: The Pageant of History and The Panorama of Today in Northern California

Millard Sheets, The Pageant of History in Northern California, for American Trust Company of San Francisco, 1954

Millard Sheets, The Pageant of History in Northern California, for American Trust Company of San Francisco, 1954

In historical research, the most important sources often come to you incomplete.

So it seems with these remarkable images, done as a lithograph to celebrate the centennial of the American Trust Company, which was founded in 1854 as the San Francisco Accumulating Fund Association by Ephraim Willard Burr, who went on to be mayor of San Francisco. The company, which once owned a lot of northern California land, merged into Wells Fargo in 1960. The company president, James K. Lochead, was proud to introduce them as commissions from Millard Sheets, “himself a Californian.”

I first saw these prints at the UCLA Special Collections, and then I was fortunate to find copies for sale from Alan Wofsy Fine Arts; Alan also has the 4-page brochure where Sheets explained the images in detail (six paragraphs per image, like a long version of what the Van Ness branch has) and concludes this was where “the past becomes legend and the present, soon to be legend, begins.”

The images tell the history of the greater San Francisco Bay area, and they are a remarkable preview of what will appear in Home Savings images later: vaqueros and missions; wagon trains and railroads; women at the beach and sailboats out at sea; eagles and skunks and deer and lots of cows and horses. There are also other historical scenes that do not appear later: Fort Ross; the takeover of Monterey and the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic; the Ferry Building; the UC Berkeley Campanile; the Capitol building; large airplanes crossing the bay and grain elevators on the landscape. The farm equipment and industrial agriculture buildings likely reflected some of American Trust’s customers; the proliferation of American and Californian flags makes one wonder why these did not play a larger role in the later Home Savings works.

The American Trust and Savings branch at 10th and L in Sacramento once had three painted panels by Sheets — were these of the same them, or different? And who created the design for these works, and how did they relate to the Home Savings commission, the same year, which moved from a general and abstract history of finance and California life to the kind of specific history you see here?

I have tried the Sheets Archives without much information, and the Wells Fargo history center without getting a response; ideas and tips welcomed! I do think these remarkable prints hold a key window into the choice of historical scenes for the Home Savings buildings.

Millard Sheets, The Panorama of Today in Northern California, for American Trust Company of San Francisco, 1954

Millard Sheets, The Panorama of Today in Northern California, for American Trust Company of San Francisco, 1954

Millard Sheets Week: Hiding in Plain Sight at Manchester and Sepulveda

Bill Megaw and Millard Sheets Studio, sculpture for bank, before 1975

Albert Stewart, Bill Megaw and Millard Sheets Studio, “Horse and Man” sculpture for United Savings Bank, Manchester and Sepulveda, 1957

Hello! Curbed LA has been posting great materials for their Millard Sheets Week, drawing on this blog, the L.A. Conservancy tour last March, and their reporting. Great stuff, and welcome to their readers!

I am back to teaching at UTEP and so back and forth from LAX a bunch again. And so I have had occasion to visit this Millard Sheets Studio sculpture, originally commissioned for United Financial (or Imperial Bank — see below), and to observe it odd bedfellows on the corner of Manchester and Sepulveda.

From the Sheets Papers, it seems the sculpture is of marble, and is credited to Bill Megaw. (UPDATE: The commission is listed in the Albert Stewart memorial volume as “Horse and Man,” 1957.) It reflects, to me, the pose in George Caleb Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap and some pioneer sculptures around the country, as well as Lawrence Tenney Stevens’s Monument to Young Farmers which I just saw again, along with Tony Sheets and his wonderful exhibit at the L.A. County Fair. According to the correspondence from 1975 between Sheets and Kenneth Childs, once a Home Savings executive, it is marble, and by Bill Megaw. BGuilt for United Savings Bank, there was an effort to move it for Imperial Bank. Clearly, it stayed in place!

Bank sculpture and its current setting, 2012

Bank sculpture and its current setting, Manchester and Sepulveda, 2012

It is also a reminder of how many projects the Sheets Studio did. S. David Underwood, the subject of some upcoming posts, was the primary Sheets Studio architect, and with Rufus Turner and others they worked on Home Savings, but also on interiors, remodels, and other buildings that sometimes showed the same style–and sometimes were completely different. In the “definitive list,” which needs updating, there are lots of occasions where the Sheets Studio did a mosaic, or ordered furniture, or something, and so many traces of their influence on Mid-Century Modern art and architecture  hiding around town–or already lost.

More examples in the weeks to come, but just one here: late in life, Millard Sheets provided a video oral history for Home Savings at his home in Gualala, taped by a time led by George Underwood. In that account, he mentions that Howard Ahmanson contacted him about the Home Savings work after seeing a March 22, 1953, article in the L.A. Times about Sheets’s work for Pacific Clay Products, at 4th and Bixel, which helps date their collaboration. The building is now the offices of the Children’s Home Society of California, and I don’t think the interior or exterior show influence of Sheets’s work — if so, let me know! — but it did launch a legendary partnership. And that is the most prominent of the ways the Sheets Studio work is hiding all around us.

Late Summer Dreams of San Diego Fun

Sue Hertel, Alba Cisneros, and Millard Sheets Studio, San Diego Children's Zoo, c. 1975-1977

Sue Hertel and Millard Sheets Studio, San Diego Children’s Zoo, c. 1975-1977

I know I have posted these mosaics before, in regard to dating and process… but classes have begun at UTEP this week. So, while I have some longer posts in the works and research questions out there, I just wanted to revisit another “home” branch for me, in San Diego — as I look forward to being there Labor Day weekend and checking on the status of the mosaics, sculpture, and paintings.

These families look a bit solemn for the fun they should be having, but they are clearly enjoying timeless San Diego pastimes, from the animals at the San Diego Zoo petting paddock to the sights of California Tower, and an old tram that looks a lot like the current San Diego trolley system in its red trim. (No more elephant rides at the zoo — they stopped those decades ago — but I think the LA County Fair might offer that along with the Sheets Center for the Arts mentioned last week.)

Sue Hertel, Alba Cisneros, and Millard Sheets Studio, "The Harbor," Mission Bay Drive at Garnet, San Diego, c. 1975-1977

Sue Hertel and Millard Sheets Studio, “The Harbor,” Mission Bay Drive at Garnet, San Diego, c. 1975-1977

Here, sailboats in the harbor compete with gulls diving after bread crumbs, the orcas of Sea World frolic on the left while fish and other creatures hang out in the tidepools at the right. Up the middle, the lighthouse of Cabrillo National Monument and the “world’s oldest active sailing ship,” the Star of India, highlight the centuries of European exploration and presence in the land of the Kumeyaay, but they wear their history lightly–the way I often found it, growing up in town, and the way many Home Savings art depicts it–just enough to make the local feel the bank belongs here, celebrating your home.

More from San Diego and beyond in the weeks ahead — for now, grasp the last summer you can! The Star of India even has visitors this weekend for the Festival of Sail.

Home Savings in Columbus, Ohio: Marlo Bartels’s Ceramic Tile Mosaic Saved

Marlo Bartels, ceramic tile mosaic for Columbus Ohio Home Savings, 1988; as photographed in Gail Paris Discovery Garden, Clinton Elementary School, by Terry Miller, courtesy Shirley Hyatt

Marlo Bartels, ceramic tile mosaic for Columbus, Ohio, Home Savings, 1988; as photographed in Gail Paris Discovery Garden, Clinton Elementary School, by Terry Miller, courtesy Shirley Hyatt

One of the fun summer activities here in southern California is the Festival of the Arts / Pageant of the Masters bonanza in Laguna Beach. I went as a child (and have seen it since copied on Gilmore Girls), but this year I had a chance to return thanks to spending a few days in the studio and around town with Marlo Bartels.

As we have discussed, a number of artists were given Home Savings commissions in the final years of the art program, beyond just the Sheets Studio. Many of these locations are outside California, and often the local community does not know they are part of a larger series — hence they are even more threatened with destruction.

Marlo Bartels, "Third Reef," Brooks Street ceramic mural on stair risers, 2009-2010

Marlo Bartels, “Third Reef,” Brooks Street ceramic mural on stair risers, 2009-2010

Marlo Bartels creates wonderful ceramic tiles by hand, shaping grooves and choosing glazes, and then matching bright colors and themes to the local landscape, whether it is a set of steps down to the beach in Laguna (replete with sea shapes and colors; see left) or creating artwork for corporate clients such as the Chart House restaurants and Home Savings. (Bartels also created the art for the wonderful Cancer Survivors’ Park in San Diego, my hometown, and has numerous residential and public commissions, as his website explains.)

Bartels’s work in Woodland Hills is threatened; I wonder whether his work for Home Savings in Thousand Oaks, Palm Desert (with Eric Johnson) and Monterey Park (with Astrid Preston); Pembroke Pines and Dunedin, Florida are associated much with his name or Home Savings.

The large image you see above is of Marlo Bartels’s mosaic for Columbus, Ohio, in 1988; a mosaic by Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel at 6280 Sawmill Road, in Dublin, Ohio, in 1990, is gone, showing how quickly these bank buildings, no longer built for permanence, can disappear.

But the story of Marlo’s Columbus mosaic has a happy ending. As you can see, Marlo’s materials may be different, but he followed a rather standard Home Savings way of creating branch artwork — visit the city, look for something distinctive (the skyline), use local symbols and icons (Ohio state flag; state bird; local animals; shapes that echo those of the Moundbuilder peoples) and then put them into a permanent, colorfast material, such as ceramic, and hope to celebrate the community forever.

Marlo Bartels, Columbus mosaic ready for transport, 1992. Image courtesy Marlo Bartels.

Marlo Bartels, Columbus mosaic ready for transport, 1992. Restoration was necessary in part due to vandals knocking over the transport. Image courtesy Marlo Bartels.

But in 1992, just four years after installation, the bank building was torn down (UPDATE: after it and the Graceland Shopping Center it was in were damaged in a fire) and the mosaic was threatened. Thankfully, the Casto Corporation (owner of the shopping center) was willing to help save the necessary wall, and Susan Gaunce of the local Clintonville Area Commission contacted Marlo and brought him to Columbus to help with the reinstallation and teach a few workshops. The mural then became the backdrop for the Gail Paris Discovery Garden at Clinton Elementary School.

I have just heard from Shirley Hyatt, author of Clintonville and Beechwood, that Clinton had been closed for renovations, but when it opened for this school year — this week!–the tile mosaic is to be brought inside, so the kids can see and touch it more often–and where it can be protected, hopefully for decades to come.

Thanks for Terry Miller and Shirley Hyatt for providing this image (and the updates). More of the move, the restoration work, or Marlo’s sessions in Columbus–or any of the outside-California locations–always welcomed!

LA County Fair Art at 90 – Where it All Began

Albert Stewart and John Edward Svenson, Bull Wall, brick relief at Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, LA Fairplex, 1952 (photograph 2010)

Albert Stewart and John Edward Svenson, Bull Wall, brick relief at Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, LA Fairplex, 1952 (photograph 2010)

The timing of the LA County Fair is either brilliant or insane.

A county fair is an icon of summer fun (away from the coasts), and the largest in the world is in Los Angeles — and it is held in September, when school is back in session and Halloween has taken over the store promotions. This either is a perfect extension of summer (and often the hottest days of the year here) or a crazy strategy.

Either way, the LA County Fair is intimately tied to the work of Millard Sheets, and his circle of artists and friends in the Pomona Valley. Sheets won the first art competition at the fair, in 1922, at age (corrected) 15, in the year the Fair opened, and by 1924 he was assisting Theodore Modra in organizing the fair’s art exhibit.

John Edward Svenson, The Ranchero sculpture in wood, Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, 1953 (photograph 2010)

John Edward Svenson, The Ranchero sculpture in wood, Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, 1953 (photograph 2010)

In 1931, after Modra died, Sheets was named Superintendent of the Art Department, and he guided the design and selection for the art exhibits at the Fair through 1957, including the 1954 Arts of Daily Living exhibit, which received national coverage and a visit from Frank Lloyd Wright as a celebration of the innovative modern way of decorating, including the artwork of John Edward Svenson, Harrison McIntosh, Jean and Arthur Ames, Sam Maloof, Betty Davenport Ford, Albert Stewart, Rupert Deese, Phil Dike, and others. Many from this circle (or their students at Scripps or the Claremont Graduate School) created the art for the Home Savings banks and other Sheets Studio commissions in the decades that followed.

In 1994, the Fine Arts Building at the Fair was renamed as the Millard Sheets Gallery (now the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at the LA County Fairplex, to be exact). Since 2007, Millard’s youngest son, Tony Sheets, has been directing the gallery and creating wonderful annual exhibits ever since.

This year, the exhibit celebrates “Art and Fair: A 90 Year Celebration,” and includes a look at the Fair’s origins, its architecture and design elements, iconic past exhibits, and a section on “The Work of Millard Sheets: Bringing World Famous Art to the Community.”

On Thursday, September 13, Tony Sheets will speak about the exhibit at a luncheon at Scripps College’s Malott Commons Hampton Room, organized by the Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity — alas, I will be teaching that day in El Paso — but I recommend you grab a seat by contacting Marci Stewart at 909-985-8092.

The Fair runs August 31 to September 30, Wednesday to Sunday. Perhaps I will see you there!


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.