Glass Passage

Background Information

Patsy Norvell, 1988. 660 S. Figueroa.
Columns on what was originally called the Home Savings Tower respect the street line and continue the rhythms of the adjacent Beaux Arts styled Fine Arts Building. However, the architectural references of the ground floor are more of an homage to Le Corbusier than to Louis XIV. Modernist glass panels dominate the space and are where Patsy Norvell's "Glass Passages" is installed. Beginning in 1979 with "Glass Gardens," Norvell is known for her glass enclosures. These works, which evolved into a series of unframed hinged glass screens incorporating exuberant sandblasted botanical imagery, explore the relationship between inside and outside space. "Glass Passage" continued her interest in borders and boundaries in the public realm. Framing the building's door to Seventh Street, an arched band announces the entrance and mirrors the triumphal gateways in the adjacent Fine Arts Building and the 818 Seventh Street Building across the street. The Figueroa Street entrance is marked by a different theme: symbolizing good fortune,(1) pine cones imitating the building's finials are nestled in Grecian styled urns that rest on pillars incorporating a leaf motif Norvell derived from the Home Savings' logo.(2)

A wall of alternating piers and glass plates marks the border between the building's interior and the portal for the subway station. Arches at the top of all four glass plates, embellished with a filigree pattern based on the leaf motif, create an arcade-like appearance in the corridor leading from the Figueroa Street entrance into the ground floor lobby. The replication of the building's bronze fence, sandblasted as a reverse image at the bottom of the glass plates, provides a sense of privacy for workers inside the building. The most distinguishing elements of "Glass Passages" are the carved images of the traveler palm and the philodendron in the panels framing the elevator lobby. These native Southern California plants, sandblasted one quarter of an inch, bring the outdoors inside the building and create a luminescent effect when lit at night.(3) The figures at the entrances and in the arches incorporate gold appliqu?, which Norvell used for the first time in her career to create a contrasting color to the sandblasted images, and as a link to the gold detailing Home Savings used in its bank branches.

Norvell was first contacted about the project in early 1987 by Tamara Thomas, the project's art consultant. After meeting with the architect, Thomas Vreeland, Norvell developed her installation with the assistance of the building's architectural drawings. She prepared a model and drawings of her installation, which included miniature sandblasted plexiglass panels.(4)


1 Letter from Thomas R. Vreeland, F.A.I.A., Principal Designer, Albert C. Martin & Associates, to Michael Several, July 26, 1988.

2 "French Renaissance Masterpiece: The Cornerstone of Downtown," Downtown News, p. 42, November 13, 1989.

3 "Home Saving Tower," Downtown News, November 14, 1988, p. 24.

4 Interviews with Patsy Norvell by Michael Several, January 23, 1989, February 11, 1989.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 2000.

Back to Figueroa Financial Corridor