At least 12 Home Savings properties slated for sale or demolition

CBRE, which manages the commercial lease on many of the former Home Savings properties (those sold, once upon a time, to Met Life and rented back by Home Savings, Washington Mutual, and now JP Morgan Chase) has listed 11 of these properties for sale:

CBRE Chase lease for sale

My sense is that JP Morgan Chase is staying as a tenant, but it would be a useful time for those in San Francisco, Garden Grove, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and Santa Cruz, in particular, to emphasize the importance of this art and architecture in their community, and to push for its preservation.

In separate news, a second Sacramento branch, in the Arden area, has been slated for demolition; I hope that Arden Way Arcade, Sacramento Modern, and supporters from around the state can advocate for its preservation.


Millard Sheets Studio, Arden Way, Sacramento, 1978; detail of mosaic.

For these and more properties, be sure to check the Definitive List for information about artists and dates.

Please keep me posted about any further developments, and ways that I can help.

Millard Sheets Studio, Santa Cruz branch, completed 1978. Photo from 2017 by Hunter Kerhart.


The Book’s Impact So Far: 8 Months of Updates and Awards from the Road

Two young fans of the book show it "out in the wild" of southern California. Photograph by Kim Silverstein.

Two young fans of the book show it “out in the wild” of southern California. Photograph by Kim Silverstein.

Speaking at Palm Springs Modernism Week, 2018.

Speaking at Palm Springs Modernism Week, 2018.

Speaking at the University of California Berkeley.

Speaking at the University of California Berkeley.










Hi everyone!

I know it has been a long time since I posted on this blog — but I have been able to meet many Millard Sheets enthusiasts at book talks and other public lectures across California over the past eight months! It has been so wonderful to talk about this project with Sheets Studio artists, Sheets family members, in Sheets Studio buildings, and even on public radio!

I am honored that the book has been recognized as “bring[ing] attention to main street architecture with real design value and the impact of individual grassroots efforts” through the 2018 DOCOMOMO US Modernism in America Awards. And I am grateful that the Archives of American Art highlighted the book in its July e-newsletter.

With the book published, more local Millard Sheets enthusiasts and preservation advocates have found me, and so I have some updates:

• The 1980 Long Beach mosaic that was painted over has now re-emerged, with a formal rededication scheduled for October 2018. Learn more here and look for the unveiling photos soon!

• Despite having voted for the building as a local landmark in 2017, the Santa Monica City Council signed an agreement with the building owner in September 2018 to allow it to be demolished, with “four pieces of artwork” to be preserved within the city. Given the large mosaic, the stained-glass windows, and at least two large sculptures, it is unclear whether all will be preserved; read what we know now, here.

• The trees in front of the Home Savings at Lombard and Van Ness in San Francisco have been cut down, and so the mosaics can finally be seen again for the first time in decades! Here’s my photograph from the first day they were visible, in March 2018:

My photograph of the Lombard branch, San Francisco, March 2018, when the trees were cut down and the mosaics revealed again for the first time in decades.

My photograph of the Lombard branch, San Francisco, March 2018, when the trees were cut down and the mosaics revealed again for the first time in decades.

• I was also able to see three artworks for the first time: a Nancy Colbath-designed mosaic in Borrego Springs, and a sculpture by Gwynn Merrill outside the former Home Savings at 200 California, and a Parable of the Talents completed by Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel for a Dallas savings-and-loan in the 1950s, now on display at Biola University:

My photograph of Gwynn Merrill sculpture for Home Savings, San Francisco.

My photograph of Gwynn Merrill sculpture for Home Savings, San Francisco.

My photograph of a section of the mosaic by Nancy Colbath in Borrego Springs.

My photograph of a section of the mosaic by Nancy Colbath in Borrego Springs.

My photograph of Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel, Parable of the Talents for Dallas savings-and-loan, now at Biola University.

My photograph of Millard Sheets and Sue Hertel, Parable of the Talents for Dallas savings-and-loan, now at Biola University.

• In the book, I follow Denis O’Connor’s notes suggesting that the bird mosaics for Vallejo were demolished. Reader Ted Ellison happily has proved me wrong, and he has sent along these recent pictures of the building. Do note, though, how some floodlights have been placed over sections of the mosaic:


Ted Ellison, 2018 photograph of former Home Savings in Vallejo, artwork by Denis O'Connor and Studio.

Ted Ellison, 2018 photograph of former Home Savings in Vallejo, artwork by Denis O'Connor and Studio. Note floodlight cut into the mosaic.

Ted Ellison, 2018 photograph of former Home Savings in Vallejo, artwork by Denis O’Connor and Studio. Note the floodlight cut into the rear mosaic (not the same one as above).

• In the book, I suggest that the El Sereno branch never had any Millard Sheets Studio artwork; in February, I met a woman who used to bank there who said there was likely a mural behind the tellers. I haven’t been able to learn more, but if you have any more information about this branch, please let me know!

I am so glad that this research is published, and that it has found an audience among those interested in Mid-Century Modern art and architecture, suburban main streets, community history, and more! I hope to continue to organize events to discuss this research, and to help communities with preservation efforts — I look forward to hearing from you!

Revealing my Book Cover and Upcoming Events

Banking On Beauty

Banking on Beauty:
Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California

Available February 2018 • University of Texas Press

Expansively researched and illustrated, this lively history recounts how the extraordinary partnership of financier Howard Ahmanson and artist Millard Sheets produced outstanding mid-century modern architecture and art for Home Savings and Loan and other commercial clients.

Meet the author at upcoming events. 

See the list of Home Savings art and architecture locations and Millard Sheets Studio commercial commissions.

Read my one hundred blog posts about my research in creating this book.

My book will be published in the first half of 2018

Hi everyone!

I know it has been quiet on the blog — because I have been perfecting the book manuscript!

I’m proud to say that the book — covering the Home Savings art and architecture commissions from the 1950s to the 1990s, and the entire scope of Millard Sheets’s public and commercial art and architecture commissions — will be published by the University of Texas Press in the first half of 2018,  with 150 color illustrations. I will post the exact title, cover art, and pre-order information when they are available.

I enjoyed speaking at Palm Springs Modernism Week about the project, and I plan to speak in many locations about it in 2018.

As for right now, be sure to catch the exhibition on Millard Sheets, Tony Sheets, and Rick Caughman at the Ontario Museum of Art and the Chaffey Community Museum of Art, through March 26.

Spring 2016: Do you have any Sheets Studio or Home Savings images?

Home Savings and Loan mosaic from expansion of the Encino branch with segment tags, laid out on the Sheets Studio floor, 1977. Courtesy of Brian Worley.

Home Savings and Loan mosaic from expansion of the Encino branch with segment tags, laid out on the Sheets Studio floor, 1977. Courtesy of Brian Worley.

Hello again! After wonderful and encouraging events last month in San Francisco and this month at the Columbia University Seminar on The City, I am happy to report that I have serious interest from a few publishers, as well as some conversations ongoing with museums about an exhibition.

A history of the collaboration between the Millard Sheets Studio and Home Savings and Loan, studded more than one hundred color images and beautifully designed, is on its way!

My target publication date is Fall 2017, in time for your holiday purchases. What that means is,  between now and July 1, I will be gathering the very best images–archival or taken yesterday–for every building, angle, process, or detail I would like to include. I will also be revising what I have written with the goal of entering production this fall.

If you have places I should speak, or media outlets I should alert, let me know — I can add them to my planning list. But, for now, think if you have an image you haven’t seen on the blog, or that might not be in the Millard Sheets, Denis O’Connor, or Home Savings archives. I would love to know about it, and if we can create a high-resolution digital scan and include it, I will credit you as my source in the final publication.

Please be in touch, and I will provide an update once the images are assembled and the text is honed.

Towards 2016 — An Upcoming Event and Work in Progress

Millard Sheets Studio, murals in the Scottish Rite Center, San Francisco, completed c.1965

Millard Sheets Studio, murals in the Scottish Rite Center, San Francisco, completed c.1965

Hi everyone! My first semester teaching at Manhattan College is winding down, and so I finally have a chance to update things here.

I have a full draft completed for my book on the art and architecture of the Millard Sheets Studio, and I have conversations ongoing with publishers and museums (though your leads welcomed!), as I edit and I plan an exhibition.  I am also connected to new archives, and I am helping with preservation for Sheets Studio artwork from Los Angeles to Texas and beyond. Hopefully I will have a chance to write more about it here soon.

I am pleased to announce I will start 2016 with an event January 14 at the Scottish Rite Center in San Francisco with Millard’s son, the artist Tony Sheets; mosaicist and scholar Lillian Sizemore; storyteller Jim Cogan, and more. “CREATIVE COLLABORATION – Honoring Millard Sheets: Master of Art & Design” will be a great day, organized by Peter Mullens, the Tile Heritage Foundation, and the Stone Foundation, among others. Learn more here and join us!

Millard Sheets Studio, Scottish Rite banquet hall, c. 1965

Millard Sheets Studio, Scottish Rite Center banquet hall, c. 1965

Millard Sheets Studio, mosaic panels and grille, Scottish Rite Center, c. 1965

How Your Term Paper Is Like an Episode of CSI

Dear Students,

The semester is drawing to a close, so it’s time to get serious about that research paper.

Wait—you are headed to the couch to watch some TV?

Ok, that seems a reasonable way to prepare to write it.

How so? Suspense-filled half-hour and hour-long shows are effective at providing a compelling question, keeping focused on the argument at hand, condensing research into its most effective form, making the investigators the stars, and finishing with a flourish, right on time.

In the spirit of term-paper season, I want explain how that crime, medical, or legal drama might be your best writing coach.

Providing a compelling question. It happens so often it’s a cliché: the crime procedural opens with a regular life being interrupted by the discovery of a dead body. Attention-gripping, to the point: this is not an introduction that starts as so many student papers do, with some paean to how “throughout time, wars have plagued human societies.” Here’s a dead guy, and we’re going to spend an hour figuring out how he got here, and whether the perpetrator will be punished.

Take the lesson to heart: in your title and your opening paragraph, provide a compelling image, a sharp-edged argument, a reason for your reader to want to keep going and not change be channel to another paper.

Keeping focused on the argument at hand. Television shows create and solve problems so well that they need to create dead ends and dismissed possibilities to keep viewers along for the ride.

Your research and writing process will have a lot of dead ends of on its own: hunches that don’t pan out, sources you can’t find, ways of framing the argument that turn out to be all wrong. Unlike TV, we generally don’t want to hear about them, but it is worth including a few of the alternative explanations that rival your argument, and demonstrate why your thesis is the one that will carry the day, not that idea the police captain at the desk insists is correct.

Condensing research into its most effective form. Do you notice how television shows ask for DNA evidence and get it immediately? Or say they will go through all the surveillance footage for the past three weeks, and then cut to the telling clip? That’s because they don’t have time to show you how long these procedures really take, between the actual labor and the lab backlogs (which are months, years, and even the equivalent of forever on rape kits in some states). Skipping the tedium, and the waiting, and the uninteresting dead ends means that results magically appear: the perfect evidence for the search is revealed succinctly, and the chase moves on.

Your research paper should do the same thing. For a quality research paper, you will read lots and lots of things that aren’t relevant to your paper, and find evidence that isn’t quite good enough to make it into the text. That’s the nature of the business—so don’t put that dross in your paper. It can all go in your bibliography, and some can go in your citations as “For similar cases, see…”. Even an invaluable source will go on at length, and that isn’t an invitation for a long block quotation. Take the juiciest bits, string them together with an ellipses, and keep moving.

Making the investigators the stars of the show. That colorful character you meet in the first minute of a procedural, who you know will be dead soon? The aggrieved widow or mother or brother, who might also be the culprit? The child rushed into the emergency room? That crying client with sympathy but not the law on their side? Your are immediately captivated by them—but, after watching a few episodes, you know that they are only the prelude. The shows don’t really begin until they call up the familiar cast of police detectives and medical examiners, prosecutors and judges, doctors and nurses. It’s called a procedural because the real stars are those who dramatize the everyday working of the police, hospitals, and courtrooms with their Hollywood-endowed credentials.

In your paper, you and your argument should similarly receive starring roles. Some sources are so eloquent or so compelling that you are tempted just to let them fill the space, but what makes it an essay rather than just a transcript is your intervention—the moments when you guide the reader to see what is important, or contradictory, or wrong based on other sources and traces of evidence. A paper can’t just be an impersonal gathering of the evidence. While the first-person “I did this” or “I think” won’t work for most paper styles, insert your argument as the director does: in the scenes you select, the order you choose for them, the decision of who gets the close-up and when. How you signal your argument’s importance is the interesting part, even if a thousand other television shows or student papers have been down this road before.

Finishing with a flourish, right on time. Whether it is Lennie Briscoe finishing with a wisecrack or the ER team sharing a beer, lots of procedurals finish their work with a few seconds to spare, so that the main characters can sit back, relax, and reflect one more time on the bigger picture. Then the credits roll and the next half-hour of television can fall right into line.

There are three lessons here for the paper-writing: leave a concluding space for the big picture; fill the space allotted; and get finished by your deadline. The latter two are rather obvious—and, in the age of digital submissions, we know when you messed with the margins or the font size to make it artificially longer or shorter. But the first one is very important: just as the investigator relates all the pieces of the case to the suspects, and they finally break down and admit what they did, a good summary always is a good choice.

That final breather is key, where you can step back and tell us why your argument matters not just for the evidence here, but for the wider field of study, how questions like these are essential to some wider, perhaps even universal truth. Pulling the camera back from that porch, and flying up over the town, as the sun is setting—that’s the kind of magical paper writing that can earn an A.

So happy term-paper season. For you and your favorite television show, I hope the ratings are good.

Update, and Home Savings Branches outside California in Context

Bank of America, former Home Savings branch in Berwyn, Illinois. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.

Bank of America, former Home Savings branch in Berwyn, Illinois. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.

Hello again!

As we reach the end of 2014, I wanted to give you an update about all that is happening behind the scenes–as well as to share some thoughts about those Home Savings branches constructed outside California, and the effort to add them to the story.

It has been a productive fall! With support from Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Ahmanson Foundation, I have been on leave, writing my book on the art, architecture, and urban context of the Sheets Studio work for Home Savings. Four of the planned seven chapters are drafted: The Story, Origins, Location, and Reception. That leaves Process, Meaning, and Legacies as the chapters to draft this spring. I am also speaking with presses about a full-color, heavily illustrated book, as well as museums about a possible exhibition. And, on Monday, I was interviewed by Paul Bockhurst for his documentary projects about Millard Sheets and other Claremont artists, and I toured Claremont Heritage.

Both the Location and Legacies chapter have sent me back into the records to track down dates and addresses–and so this week I published a full revision of the Definitive List, with more locations, and more accurate construction dates. There are two maps: one mapping all of the 168 former Home Savings locations, and the other with all the 159 other Sheets Studio public art sites. I welcome more information about their current status as well.

The question of current ownership–and whether those owners realize what they have–has finally driven my new post off the to-do list and now to your screens.

Vacant former Home Savings location at Bannister Mall, Kansas City. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.

Vacant former Home Savings location at Bannister Mall, Kansas City. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.

From 1947, when Howard Ahmanson purchased it, Home Savings had regular periods of growth, through acquiring other savings-and-loans, petitioning the state to expand their territory, and final due to changed regulations that allowed expansion throughout California, in around 1976, and then across the nation, in the mid-1980s. Though Millard Sheets had completed retired from the studio in 1980, Sue Hertel and Denis O’Connor, who had worked with Sheets on these commissions for decades, continued to produce similar work. Around 1990, Home Savings also commissioned some other artists, such as Marlo Bartels, Astrid Preston, and Richard Haas, to produce branch artwork, with a similar focus on community identity and history. These locations were constructed in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Texas.

In 1998, Home Savings was sold to Washington Mutual, and then in 2007-8, Washington Mutual was seized by the government and rapidly given to JP Morgan Chase. At both moments, some of the locations that the Sheets Studio had designed and decorated for Home Savings ceased to be banks. In 1998, some of those properties were sold to Met Life and managed by CB Richard Ellis, such as former branches in Santa Monica, Coronado, Montebello, and the Home Savings headquarters in Irwindale, along with some locations that are still banks, such as Santa Barbara and Riverside, presumably based on the value of their locations. Since Washington Mutual acquired a number of financial institutions before its collapse, other branches in an area where multiple banks were acquired, such as La Mesa and Redondo Beach, were sold off to other commercial-real-estate holders at other times. (I don’t have a master list of Washington Mutual locations from 2007; if you do, perhaps in a booklet form, I would love to see it!)

Chase was interested in taking Washington Mutual from the federal government in part because of its network of locations on the West Coast, where Chase had not had a presence; according to my list, Chase currently owns at least 69 locations with Sheets Studio artwork, mostly former Home Savings locations.

Wells Fargo, a former Home Savings branch in St. Petersburg, FL. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.

Wells Fargo, a former Home Savings branch in St. Petersburg, FL. Image from Google StreetView; see below for details.


But what gets really interesting is what happened to the 52 Home Savings locations with Sheets Studio artwork outside of California. Home Savings had for decades used their art and architecture as part of how to stand out against their traditional competitors in the West, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, both based in San Francisco at the time. While both had some tradition of historic artifacts or mosaic banks, these seemed pale imitations to the number and uniformity of the Home Savings locations.

Yet, outside of California, I have found that, over and over again, it is Wells Fargo and Bank of America that are using the former Home Savings buildings–either purchased outright, or by acquiring banks that had acquired the location, such as Wachovia in Florida. Whether these locations were sold off by Washington Mutual in 1998 or Chase in 2008, I am not sure, but it seems that the California banks understood the power of this art and architecture, and they wanted to be first in line to pick up the former competitors’ locations in other states. I have found 12 locations owned by Bank of America, mostly in Illinois; 12 by Wells Fargo, mostly in Florida; and a few by US Bank in California, and then local credit unions and banks and trust companies elsewhere.

Thus, in a way, even when these banks are isolated–only five in all of Ohio, six each in Texas and Missouri, fifteen in Illinois, nineteen in Florida, just one in New York–they actually are still part of a conversation with Home Savings, carried on by its once-rivals that survive as well as by Chase, the steward of the largest number of these buildings.

Below I post the full details for these outside-California Home Savings branches with Sheets Studio art and architecture, to aid those in these communities in seeing their value and working to preserve them.

If an address brings you to this post, please contact me so I can connect you to the wider history of these buildings and their artwork.


Home Savings 3090 (3050) Aventura Blvd Aventura FL 1990 Safra National Bank GoogleStreetView tile mosaic; O’Connor plan “beach scene (maybe Santa Monica)” Richard Haas; O’Connor
Home Savings 9035 Boca Fontana Blvd 33434 Boca Raton FL 1986 Fifth Third Bank GoogleStreetView mosaic: fish and snorklers Denis, Sue, Alba, Jill, Darin O’Connor
Home Savings 7380 Manatee Ave west Bradenton FL 1990 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView tile mosaic: city map, sword, compass rose Richard Haas
Home Savings 25749 U S Highway 19 Clearwater FL 1985? Perenich and Coldwell Banker; covered? GoogleStreetView painted mural: segulls in flight O’Connor
Home Savings 3325 W Hillsboro Blvd Deerfield FL 1986 TD Bank; shows no art? GoogleStreetView galleon and deers? Denis, NOVA Designs? O’Connor
Home Savings 1483 Main Street Dunedin FL 1989 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView egret and pelican over water; city shield? Marlo Bartels; Denis, Sue O’Connor; and
Home Savings 4875 N Federal Hwy Fort Lauderdale FL 1986 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView tower
Home Savings 12370 S Cleveland Ave Fort Myers FL 1986 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView mosaic: text tell history from muddy road to palms; Macgregor Blvd and mention Edison, Hendry, Terry, McGregor, Miles Denis, Sue, Homolka-Gilkerson O’Connor
Home Savings 1701 East Young Circle Hollywood FL 1988 demolished? GoogleStreetView “egrets” Denis, Sue O’Connor – CF Arlington Heights
Home Savings 9899 NE 2nd Ave Miami Shores FL 1986 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView pelicans, boats Denis, Sue, Alba, Jill, Darin, Martita O’Connor
Home Savings 900 Neapolitan Way Naples FL 1987 put on hold
Home Savings 12440 Pines Blvd 33027 Pembroke Pines FL 1988 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView Marlo Bartels
Home Savings 702 N University Dr Pembroke Pines FL 1985? Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView cows in enamel tile mosaic Fox Tile?
Home Savings 3340 N Tamiami Trail Port Charlotte FL 1985 Charlotte Heart & Vascular Institute GoogleStreetView mosaic: Caloosa Indians, cattle, eagles, Seminole Indians, wildlife, shels, ranching, galleons, egrets, black woman, pelicans, fishing, phosphates, palm trees Denis, Sue, Alba, Annie, Pete Knersel? O’Connor
Home Savings 2891 South Tamiami Trail, US Highway 41 Bougainvillea Sarasota FL 1987 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView circus animals, including monkeys, elephants, camels Denis, Franco -Nova Designs, Frank Homolka Jess Gilkerson; Studio MosaicArt Colledani Milan/NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 1901 Alton Road 33139 So. Miami Beach (Alton Rd.) FL 1987 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView mosaic – fish Denis O’Connor
Home Savings 4100 4th Street North St. Petersburg FL 1987 Wells Fargo GoogleStreetView 2 mosaic: dolphins and fish; just dolphins Denis O’Connor
Home Savings 2050 U. S. Highway #1 / 8th avenue Vero Beach FL 1990 tile mosaic Richard Haas
Home Savings 6000 Okeechobee Blvd, Drexel Plaza W. Palm Beach FL 1986 CDA Financial Plaza GoogleStreetView mosaic: polo players Denis, Franco; Studio MosaicArt Colledani Milan/NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 415 E. Rand Rd Arlington Heights IL 1989 Bank of America GoogleStreetView mosaic: “racetrack – horses & jockeys” Denis, Sue; Italian O’Connor
Home Savings 6400 W Cermak Rd (at Ridgeland) 60402 Berwyn IL 1991 Bank of America GoogleStreetView mosaic: theater showing The Ragman with Jackie Coogan; streetscape Denis, Sue, Gina Lawson, Leland Means, O’Connor
Home Savings 6115 S Pulaski Rd Chicago IL 1989 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic – snow scene, ice skating Denis, Sue O’Connor are these interior? Not there?
Home Savings 1300 Oakton Ave, 60018 Des Plaines IL 1988 demolished? mosaic: “street w/ people in front (brass band)” Denis, Sue, Franco O’Connor
Home Savings 1000 S York Rd Elmhurst IL 1990 Bank of America Google StreetView interior mural “another artist”
Home Savings 1336 Chicago Ave 60201 Evanston IL 1991 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic – men putting boat into lake; their wagon Denis, Sue, Gina, Kathy, Leland Means, Studio Marble O’Connor
Home Savings 2108 W Jefferson St Joliet IL 1988 Joliet Bank & Trust Google StreetView mosaic – birds; Roger Nelson inside painting of fields Denis, Sue, Roger Nelson O’Connor
Home Savings 8745 N Waukegan Rd Morton Grove IL 1988 Bank of America Google StreetView Denis, Sue, Frank Homolka, Franco O’Connor are these interior? Not there?
Home Savings 1080 S Elmhurst Rd Mt. Prospect IL 1989 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic of columns Denis, Sue, “others” O’Connor
Home Savings 1301 E Odgen Rd 60540 Naperville IL 1990 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic: fire company, wagon, bicycles; painted mural; is it mosaic: “volunteer fire dep”? Denis, Sue, Studio Marble O’Connor
Home Savings 4200 W 95th St Oaklawn IL 1989 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic – RR< family scene, animals, church Denis, Franco O’Connor
Home Savings 15826 S Lagrange Rd Orland Park IL 1988 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic: pointy trees; children as well? Denis, Sarah, Alba, Katy, Frank Homolka O’Connor
Home Savings 501 N Greenwood Ave Park Ridge IL 1986 Bank of America Google StreetView mosaic: wagon and children O’Connor
Home Savings 5033 Dempster St  Skokie IL 1986 PNC Bank Google StreetView Henry Harmes, children, Market Day, Blameuser’s saloon, baseball team, hardware store, Amelia Louise Klehan doctor Denis, Sue, Jill, Alba O’Connor
Home Savings 6300 S Kingery Hwy Suite 500 Willowbrook IL 1987 mall; unclear Google StreetView mosaic – birds, squirrels, and owl that looks too happy? Denis, Melvin Wood, Franco Merli, NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 1700 Clarkson Rd Chesterfield MO 1991 First National Bank Google StreetView mural: “German immigrant farmers” field of corn Leland Means O’Connor
Home Savings 201 N. Florissant Rd Ferguson MO 1987 US Bank Google StreetView mosaic: figures from Indian to conquistador to train conductor in front of train Denis, Sue; Nova Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 5720 E Bannister Rd Kansas City MO 1986 vacant Google StreetView sculptures Denis; Betty Davenport Ford? O’Connor
Home Savings 321 W Battlefield St Springfield MO 1986 Hawthorn Bank Google StreetView mosaic Denis, Sue, Studio MosaicArt Colledani Milan/NOVA Designs /studio shots — from CA or Italy?// O’Connor
Home Savings 3921 Hampton Ave St Louis MO 1980s Lindell Bank Google StreetView Ford? Sculpture
Home Savings 3727 Frederick St. Joseph MO 1988 Citizens Bank and Trust Google StreetView painted mural: Pony Express Denis, Sue, Rebecca Guzak O’Connor
Home Savings 108-36 Queens Boulevard (at 71 Rd) Forest Hills NY 1989 Commerce Bank Google StreetView tile mosaic of New York horizon, trains; DOC painted mural : bluebirds? Richard Haas; Denis discussed CF in O’Connor Papers
Home Savings 3174 Tremont Rd Columbus OH Jul-84 removed and preserved ceramic tile mosaic: cityscape and state symbols Marlo Bartels
Home Savings 95 E. William St Delaware OH 1989 First Merit Google StreetView “Little Brown Jug harness race” Denis, Sue, Franco/NOVA O’Connor
Home Savings 6280 Sawmill Rd Dublin OH 1989 Diamond Cellar; art removed Google StreetView mosaic: Wyandotte Indian, homesteader, dam, child on horse in cornfield, Victorian lady, University Hall Denis, Sue; NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 150 S State St Marion OH 1987 Huntington Google StreetView mosaic birds sitting on vines frieze over the doorway Denis, Sue O’Connor
Home Savings 1055 W Fifth St Marysville OH 1988 The Bank Google StreetView abstract tiles? Plan of mosaic of townscape Denis, Richard Ewen O’Connor
Home Savings 10721 Preston Rd Dallas TX 1989 Chase? Vacant? Google StreetView map of Texas, rodeo, Exxon Mobil pegasus, more Denis, Sue, Studio Marble O’Connor
Home Savings 12802 Memorial Drive Houston TX 1986 Chase Google StreetView Thundering Horses on the Open Range Denis, Sue, NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 14550 Memorial Drive Houston TX 1986 Chase Google StreetView painted mural: church, farm scene, tractor, trees Denis, Jude Freeman, Kathryn Yelsa
Home Savings 4081 F.M. 1960 West 77068 Houston TX 1987 Chase Google StreetView “rodeo” Denis, Sue, Frank Homolka; Studio MosaicArt Colledani Milan/NOVA Designs O’Connor
Home Savings 10011 FM 1960 Bypass Road West Humble TX 1986 painted mural: oil derrrick, cowboys, longhorns, train Denis, Sue, Kathryn Yelsa O’Connor
Home Savings 2201 N.W. Military Hwy San Antonio TX 1987 International Bank of Commerce Google StreetView mosaic: family group and livestock; H. Lee Hale: “use scenes of early Texas Pioneer cultures (German, English, Irish) overlaid on a background of wild flowers as the subject” – DOC – “No Alamo – Mexicans, etc.” Denis, NOVA Designs O’Connor

Who Paid for That?: Exhibition Review, Pacific Standard Time Presents Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future

The Art & Architecture Case Study houses and the Monsanto House of the Future were never mass-produced, even though both concepts were created with that goal. Why? The Monsanto house, intended to be cheap, modular, and replicable, was not; the Case Study houses, made out mass-produced industrial materials, could not find financing from lenders worried they were atypical, too small, too unusual.

I finished my grading for the semester and I rewarded myself with a trip to the Getty to see the Pacific Standard Time Presents exhibition, focused on LA architecture in the period of the successful PST art shows, 1945-1980. (Glad to be back on the blog; I have a lot of writing and research commitments in the months ahead, so my pace may slow down–but some of what you don’t see here will eventually mean more articles, books, and exhibitions on the Sheets Studio and the Home Savings and Loan influence, so don’t despair!)

At the exhibition, I found a lot of what you might expect as touchstones in a postwar LA architecture-and-urbanism show — the car, Googie, the freeway system, aerospace, LAX, Sunset and Wilshire streetscapes, Disneyland, Mid-Century Modern houses, the Music Center, Bunker Hill, the Watts Towers, the Chavez Ravine evictions and Dodger Stadium, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and concepts, built and un-built, from big-name architects from Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry to Morphosis. If, like the PST shows, the PST Presents shows are setting a baseline for the history of LA postwar architecture, this is all required for the survey.

Then there were the pleasant surprises: the focus on religious architecture, from an un-built mosque designed by Richard Neutra and Sinai Temple by Sidney Eisenshtat to churches, large and small, architect-designed and vernacular storefronts. I thought the attention to dingbat apartment buildings and Park La Brea was great, as well as the discussion of architecture for retail space, from the Kate Mantilini restaurant to Universal CityWalk, and the architecture paid for by higher-education institutions. The single biggest eye-opener for me was the temporary architecture and design work done for the 1984 Olympics — the video segment, all hot pink and electronic music, evoked the age wonderfully.

The Getty is an art museum, and their engagement with architecture here is mostly aesthetic — beautiful drawings, photographs, and models, and not a ton of text on the wall, advancing contextual or historiographic arguments. Maybe my years as a professor are getting to me, but I like a strongly argued exhibit, and I didn’t see any strong argument here (other than those made at the level of inclusion and exclusion). I flipped through the essays by noted historians and architectural historians, among others, in the 300-page accompanying volume, and I found mostly overviews of the existing consensus on suburbanization, LA’s relation to open space, to freeways, its architectural schools and the like — nice, but I am not sure they rise above the reference-work level.

And, throughout the exhibit and 300 pages of the book, there was no reference to Millard Sheets.

Of course this blog is biased on that point. And there was a large drawing of the Ahmanson Center, with the Home Savings & Loan name prominently displayed, in the exhibit. Choosing the most atypical Home Savings & Loan design, by big-name architect Edward Durrell Stone rather than the Sheets Studio or Frank Homolka, demonstrates the show’s biases.  The financing of homes gets a mention in the book, though no discussion of the specific role played by the S&L’s in financing and promoting LA’s main-commercial-street-and-tract-home-suburb-connected-by-freeway vibe. Howard Ahmanson’s name doesn’t appear – and they don’t have Eric John Abrahamson’s great new book for sale (nor anything by architectural expert Alan Hess).

Edward Durrell Stone, Ahmanson Center color sketch with unrealized tower. Courtesy of the Ahmanson Foundation

Edward Durrell Stone, Ahmanson Center color sketch with unrealized tower. Courtesy of the Ahmanson Foundation

And that got me thinking: Who paid for it?

Who paid for Googie architecture, and the Disney Concert Hall? Who paid for the Case Study homes, and the imagineering of Disneyland? You show me the gleaming cars and the drive-ins, but who was the customer, and who the producer? What economy made this possible, and what happened to that economy since?

I know the answer, and you may too, but it felt like the economic history of architecture and urbanism needed a larger role. The classic commercial and civic architect of LA in these years is Welton Becket — his name and designs are all over the exhibit, on almost every wall, but we get no image of him (except in a video of the dedication of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) and no discussion of his life, his views, his experiences. (It doesn’t seem anyone has written anything significant about his firm in decades —  a great research opportunity!)

I am not asking for Millard Sheets and his studio to be featured. But it seems not giving this attention to Becket (or any of the other architects) means we don’t learn what vision they had, how they were trained, who paid the bills, and what constraints they faced. In urban architecture, especially for commercial or civic clients, these seem essential concerns.

Perhaps this is what makes me a historian first, interested in politics, economics, and then culture, rather than an art historian. But it felt like ignoring the industry and financing of the architecture left the exhibit a bit shallow.

If the goal of the show was to demonstrate how LA constructed a futuristic city, isn’t the financing, the politics, the urban planning, the historical and political context, and the public reaction important? Those motivations drive my interest in the Sheets Studio work for Home Savings & Loan — why a commercial enterprise would invest in first-quality art and architecture in these exact years, depicting southern California community history and events, in an effort to change the landscape and cement their legacy.

Business, economics, and politics behind (and, often, in) art and architecture — seems like pretty powerful stuff to me. It will get its due in my Home Savings book and exhibit, one of these days. Perhaps the Getty can help us see these connections for the architecture and urbanism they have on display — in their next PST exhibits?

Millard Sheets and the Home Savings Shield

Millard Sheets, Home Savings shield, in Home Savings calendar by George Underwood; courtesy of George Underwood

Millard Sheets, Home Savings shield, in Home Savings calendar by George Underwood; courtesy of George Underwood

Businesses need brand logos. And so, though the art and architecture of Home Savings were their own sort of branding–prominent corners, eye-catching art, local themes–in 1955 Home Savings needed a brand logo, and Millard Sheets designed this shield. Some of its earliest renditions were in the traditional Home Savings form — mosaic.

Sheets, Home Savings shield as mosaic, 1978 calendar, courtesy George Underwood

Sheets, Home Savings shield as mosaic, 1978 calendar, courtesy George Underwood

Like many successful logos, the Home Savings shield seems simple, through a number of careful design choices. Here words are scaled according to their relative importance–the concept of “HOME” as well as its use as a nickname for the savings and loan makes it an obvious choice for being largest. Next comes “Savings” — you can see below, in other versions, that its prominence was kept, while “loan” began shrinking.

The calendar caption, saying that the shield was “comparatively ‘new'”, reflects the Home Savings gospel that the business went back to 1889–an idea Sheets incorporated into the shield itself. But Howard Ahmanson bought Home Savings in 1947, and all transformations date from there. (See more in Eric Abrahamson’s new book, Building Home.)

Home Savings locations also had the griffin, designed by Albert Stewart via a Sheets connection, which was the symbol of the larger Ahmanson holding company, and today is the symbol of the Ahmanson Foundation. It passed a key test for modern logos — good at all sizes — that recently got the UC system logo in trouble. But nothing about it said banking exactly, despite the reference to the winged lion of St. Mark, symbol of Venice, a longtime global trading hub.

The shield is obviously a symbol of protection, and the background–which at first seems to be an abstract design, like on a tapestry — shows small trees, reinforcing the idea of growth, seed capital, and the power of long-term investment.

But then there is the problem of how to make the shield stand out in two dimensions. In my conversations with George Underwood, who oversaw the inside publishing and advertising efforts that brought us the calendars, advertisements, stationery, and more, he spoke of the agony of figuring out how to make the shield look good.

We can see two of those solutions here: the laying down shield (a photograph of a three-dimensional shield at a dramatic angle) was often used in print and television ads; it positions the viewer as looking up at the shield, as we might from the sidewalk to the side of a building. And it always helps a brand to feel folks are looking up to it!

Sheets and George Underwood, Home Savings shield in 2 dimensions, 1970 calendar, courtesy George Underwood

Sheets and George Underwood, Home Savings shield in 2 dimensions, 1970 calendar, courtesy George Underwood

Then there are the subtle but important design changes in the shield above, in the midst of the rainbow of color. To emphasize the depth and weight of the shield even in a two-dimensional rendering, the top line is bowed out, as in the photograph, and the placement of the letters are also distorted across what would be the bulge at the center of the shield, strengthening the illusion of three dimensions.

How Chase re-purposed a Home Savings shield, as seen in 2012 in Garden Grove

How Chase re-purposed a Home Savings shield, as seen in 2012 in Garden Grove

Such an important symbol as the Home Savings shield eventually made its way into interior-illumination signage, sometimes on buildings but mostly on standalone signs. The plastic version was crafted by Tony Sheets, and some still exist; at right is a case of how Chase has reused on such existing sign, in Garden Grove. (I haven’t seen examples of how Washington Mutual used the street signs in this way, but they must have done so at least in this location.)

Though the Chase symbol seems incongruous here, the survival of the shield, even as transformed, is something to celebrate. Architect and historian Alan Hess just showed me a Mobil red pegasus that Sheets and his network of sculptors had created for a station at Harbor and Katella in Anaheim though it is long gone. Right now, fellow roadside-architecture preservationists are hard at work trying to save the Unocal 76 balls from being replaced with signs that merely show a picture of them.

When a company disappears or modernizes, preserving items with its logo in public places can be difficult. But, from the Queens Pepsi-Cola sign to the Hollywoodland real-estate origins of that iconic sign, it is possible — and worth doing!