Before disappearing in 1999 through its acquisition by Washington Mutural, Home Savings of America was not only Southern California's premier savings and loan institution, it also had a unique history and tradition of incorporating public art in its branch offices. Murals designed by Millard Sheets, Susan Hertel, and Denis O'Connor,(1) as well as sculpture executed primarily by Albert Stewart, constituted one of the largest public art programs in the nation. One of the branches, a one story structure containing two small mosaic panels designed by Susan Hertel,(2) was located on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles. In 1988, Home Savings dramatically transformed this site by constructing a 24-story office tower.
The office tower originally had a $450,000 budget for public art, representing one percent of the construction costs. While the building was being designed, Home Saving retained Building Arts Production Company, headed by James Metz and artist Robert Graham, to develop an art program that would integrate the decorative, ornamental and functional elements with the architecture as well as promote a collaboration among the artists, architect, engineer and production company.(3) It was anticipated that the art would "exceed the CRA required scope of work and increase the actual artistic contribution to the project."(4) The art consultants assembled a team of artists that included, in addition to Graham, Billy Al Bengston, Ronald Davis, Gwynn Murill, David Novros, and Charles Arnoldi.(5) Artwork was planned for the building's exterior columns, the screen surrounding the multi-level interior parking structure, arches, elevators, and a fountain, a fresco, the floor, and light fixtures in the 7th floor Sky Lobby.(6) Murrill planned to install a 10'-12' high bird sculpture on a rooftop gable and bands of terra cotta animals on columns. Graham planned to embellish a ledge, David Novros was scheduled to execute a fresco, and Ronald Davis was responsible for designing the stone paving and fountain in the Sky Lobby. Billy Al Bengston was assigned responsibility for designing the elevator cab interiors, and metal screens for the garage. Charles Arnoldi was scheduled to design the elevator doors, elevator panels, and the hand rails.(7) Home Savings predicted that this art would activate the Sky Lobby, create landmarks in the garage panels, and enhance the appearance of the elevators, floors, and railings.(8) The Arts Advisory Committee of the Community Redevelopment Agency approved the plan and found it "remarkable, of the highest quality, and to be precedent setting for its integrated arts program."(9) However, Home Savings was only interested in implementing several elements of the comprehensive plan, claiming other elements were neither "consistent with the image that Home Savings wished to project in this building nor were they sympathetic to the building design."(10) The artists responded by telling Home Savings that it could not pick and choose what elements to use but had to accept the entire program as a "package." As a result, Home Savings terminated its business relationship with Graham, Metz and the artists who were involved in the project and retained Tamara Thomas as the art consultant.
Encouraged by Home Savings' continuing commitment to develop a program that integrated art and architecture, she proposed murals, mosaic tile patterns, sculpture and other elements for the building.(11) A new Preliminary Art Plan was presented to the Arts Advisory Committee in December 1987, which included a mural by Terry Schoonhoven, glass walls by Patsy Norvell, artwork in the fixtures and walls of the Sky Lobby, and figurative mosaics by Ned Smythe for the two 40' x 10' arched panels over the building's entrances. The Art Advisory Committee strongly criticized Smythe's proposal, which depicted a woman sitting in a chair, and a man lying in an idyllic outdoor setting, claiming it was not integrated with the building's architecture, it was commercial in its impact, and its subject matter was not appropriate.(12) After the Arts Advisory Committee meeting, the Home Savings Chairman of the Board also rejected Smythe's design. Smythe then submitted a revised proposal for a two-dimensional work incorporating a family group(13) for the arched mosaic panels, but the AAC refused to approve it because they had not seen the schematics on the project.(14) Smythe subsequently dropped out of the project and Joyce Kozloff was commissioned to execute two mosaic murals in the arched panels where Smyth's work was scheduled to be installed.
In 1988, a revised art plan involving the two mosaics by Joyce Kozloff and Schoonoven's mural on the ceiling above the Metro Rail portal was approved by the Arts Advisory Committee.(15) In addition to the public art on the exterior of the building, murals by Carlos Almaraz, "The Story of L.A.", and Tony Berlant, "Yang-Na" were executed for the bank branch on the ground floor, and a mural by Richard Haas, "Latitude 34, Longitude 118, A Southern California Panorama," wasexecuted in the Sky Lobby.(16)
Footnotes:1 "Street Gallery," revised 2nd edition, by Robin J. Dunitz, RJD Enterprises, 1998, pp. 18-19.
2 Letter, dated April 3, 1985, from George Underwood, V.P. Home Savings of America, to Michael Several.
3 "Proposed Policy and Program Goals," submitted December 15, 1986 by Home Savings to Marc Pally.
7 "Home Savings of America Tower Art Program," no date.
8 "Form #2, Preliminary Art Plan and 50% Schematics," submitted by Gin Weathers, Home Savings of America to Marc Palley, Community Redevelopment Agency, December 15, 1986.
9 Letter from Marc Palley, Community Redevelopment Agency, to Gin Weathers, Ahmanson Commercial Development Company, April 9, 1987.
10 Letter from Gin Weathers, Ahmanson Commercial Development Company, to Donald Spivak, Community Redevelopment Agency, May 21, 1987; see also Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, June 8, 1987.
11 Op. Cit., letter from Weathers to Spivak, May 21, 1987.
12 Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, December 7, 1987.
13 Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, February 16, 1988.
15 Memorandum from John J. Tuite to Agency Commissioners, re: Second Implementation Agreement and Preliminary Art Plan for Home Savings of America Tower, September 14, 1988; Memorandum from John J. Tuite to Agency Commissioners, re: Final Art Plan for Home Savings of America Tower, January 11, 1989.
16 Minutes of the Arts Advisory Committee, December 7, 1987; Letter from Gin Weathers to Carol Goldstein, December 8, 1987; Home of Savings of America Artwork Program, Los Angeles Downtown Tower, no date.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, December 1999.
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