From History to the Planets in Downey

As a 19th-century urban historian of the American West by training, I first returned to the art and artwork of these Home Savings and Loan buildings to see what they said about California history. But I have been happy to have been pulled fully into the business-history, art-history, built-environment, and urban-studies questions the Home Savings and Loan buildings can answer for the 20th century, investigating not just historical topics but art with subjects such as family, festivals, and local landmarks.

Given the recent transit of Venus and the successful docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule with the International Space Station, I will focus this week on when Home Savings art encountered the great beyond of outer space.

The planets, with their companion image of the space shuttle in Lancaster (to be featured here soon), are seemingly a break from the traditions of Home Savings art under Millard Sheets. But celebrating outer space is celebrating local community in Downey, where the former aerospace and NASA facility is now the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a hands-on learning center for space science and national living memorial to the lost space shuttle crew.

And its format shows a signature Denis O’Connor/Sue Hertel design: a timeline triptych, to be read left to right from the natural/pre-Columbian origins of the area, through a typical scene of late-19th-century American settlement, to an image of today. The pattern works on a similar building in Northridge, from Native Americans to Monty Montana, that I will discuss next week (see the center panel here).

All the full image reveals, there are birds flying up there, with the planets; a nice reminder that we can dream far away, but keep our familiar surroundings in sight as well.

Go to  too see Downey and other locations.

Posted in Home Savings and Millard Sheets, Image of the Week.


  1. Hi, Adam~

    Hope things are going well with you and your family is healthy and well.

    I too am a quilter and enjoyed the quilts at various Chase banks.



  2. hi adam, Ive always loved that planet mosaic, but equally enchanted by the deer in front of the Supermoon and the giant Sun in central panel. This mosaic does seem prescient to the recent celestial events. Good call!

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