O.K. lurkers, all of you who view the site but never write comments. I know you are out there — the website stats tell me so. Here is your opportunity for end-of-the-year redemption. And it won’t even require opening your wallet, like all those mailers and pledge drives.
Last week I had a chance to meet with Janet Hansen, Deputy Manager of the City of Los Angeles’s Office of Historic Resources. We discussed the progress of SurveyLA, a massive building survey out to find out what remarkable (or unremarkable) structures exist within the city boundaries–iconic office buildings, private homes, apartment-building types, gas stations, theaters, all of it.
She was aware of the Home Savings buildings, and we have discussed the existing lists of branches, either from the mid-1980s or today. But of course merely having been a Home Savings branch does not mean the bank location has (or even had) artwork. She asked me a question I want to start to answer here, with your help: What architectural details, colors, media, size, signatures, or other character-defining features make these Sheets Studio buildings special?
Some of the banks were conceived in their totality by the Sheets Studio; others merely received mosaics, murals, sculptures, and/or stained glass, attached to existing buildings. Some received only the projecting cornice and row of gold tiles around the top, and perhaps the travertine facing on the most public side — no real Sheets Studio work, other than to match the most basic elements of the more iconic designs.
Below is my list, roughly working from the most obvious to the more subtle.
What would you include? Once we have a good list, Janet can get it into the hands of the SurveyLA surveyors, and help to identify and preserve these buildings.
- Signatures/insignia from Millard Sheets (full name in almost all cases); Denis O’Connor (circle with CD inside, for DOC initials); Susan Lautmann Hertel (“SH” initials in most cases) on mosaics and murals
- Evidence the building was built between 1955 and 1998, and was used as a bank (first Home Savings, then most became Washington Mutual and then Chase)
- Totally-designed banks are squarish, 2-to-4-story buildings on prominent avenues (often corner lots), have large open spaces inside, originally built as “living-room”-style lobbies; sometimes soaring 2-story ceilings have been cut down by a drop ceiling of a new upper section
- They also tend to be set back a bit from the sidewalk, with room for sculptures, planters, and sometimes fountains; parking lot in the rear
- Mosaics, murals, and stained glass, marked by themes of California life, either contemporary or historic, and/or family life; often include horses, almost always figurative, not abstract
- Mosaics completed in Byzantine (not flat-square) tile, though at times with Italian (flat-square) tiles in background
- gold Lion of Venice, symbol of Home Savings, or large Home Savings shields (all removed now, I think)
- Travertine facing on all/most public faces of the building
- Projecting cornice and row of golden metallic tiles around the top of the facade (some have been repainted other colors, when no longer banks; some have brown bands, without tiles)
That is what I find to distinguish these buildings; anything I have missed?
You are very thorough, Adam, I am impressed! I think you’ve got it covered.
Have you by any chance contacted Nancy Moure? She wrote the book on California art, and used to run the big California art website, but has more or less retired from that. She now does freelance projects on California subjects. She knows a lot.
I will contact her; thanks, Erika!
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