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How LA Banks Got Their Mid-Century Mosaics and Murals

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Why do so many Los Angeles-area banks have amazing murals, mosaics, and sculptures? It's mostly the the work of the Millard Sheets Studio, which starting in the fifties designed more than 100 Home Savings bank buildings and their accompanying artwork. Howard Ahmanson Sr. bought Home Savings and Loan in 1947 and the bank prospered by making home loans to SoCal residents during the mid-century boom, according to historian Adam Arenson's blog on the banks. Sheets was an artist who became well-known in the thirties for his paintings. In 1952, according to the Daily News, Ahmanson wrote to Sheets: "Have traveled Wilshire Boulevard for twenty-five years. Know name of architect and year every building was built. Bored ... Need buildings designed?I want buildings that will be exciting seventy-five years from now."

Ahmanson and Sheets's first bank collaboration was the Wilshire Home Savings in Beverly Hills (their first building together was the National American Insurance building on Wilshire, near Western, now the Ahmanson Center). Ahmanson gave Sheets plenty of latitude to create "banks clad in travertine and trimmed in gold, adorned with mosaic, murals and stained glass, and sculptures that lauded family life and the history of the Golden State." (Ahmanson loved them, according to a Smithsonian interview with Sheets.) Sheets designed 40 banks before Ahmanson died in 1968; he designed 80 afterward.

In 1998, Home Savings sold to Washington Mutual, which collapsed in 2008. Its banks were acquired by Chase.

As part of the massive Pacific Standard Time art survey, Arenson will lead a tour of some of the Home Savings banks hosted by the Autry National Center.
· The art of Home Savings in San Fernando Valley mosaics, sculptures [LADN]
· The Art of Home Savings [The Cultural Civil War]