It's Sheets Week and we're celebrating Millard Sheets, the artist and architectural designer who dotted Southern California with beautiful modern Home Savings bank branches (now mostly Chases). Throughout the week, we'll be touring some of the Sheets buildings that still stand.Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
The bank branch at Sunset and Vine is probably one of the most familiar Millard Sheets buildings to most Angelenos--it's on a prominent corner, still largely intact, and has a crazy statue of a girl riding a bull backwards (more on that, don't worry). The branch also has a mosaic of film stars on its front, a stained glass piece made to look like strips of film, and a mural about The Squaw Man (the first feature-length film shot in Hollywood, just down the block at Selma and Vine). It also happens to have been one of Sheets's favorites. Here he is talking about in a 1976 oral history interview from UCLA:
The one at Sunset and Vine is a good one because there we happened to have a site which was the particular site where the first full-length motion picture was made in Hollywood. So without having to search too much for themes, we decided that we'd make motion pictures the theme of the art in the building. I designed a semiabstract arrangement on the front of the building, underneath the overhang. I made some very simple stripes of figures with an organic sort of a movement through them. Then between those were black granite panels, vertical stripes that had hundreds of names carved into them in gold of the great stars in Hollywood. So it's a little bit like the history of Hollywood, just to go stand in front and read the names. But between the names are many portraits, full-length figure portraits of some of the greatest stars. This was a hell of a problem because it isn't too difficult to cut a head or do a figure in mosaic, but when we found ourselves trying to do portraits of people that everybody in the world knows through motion picture, it was a hell of a challenge. It was very exciting because I think we did keep them as works of art, solid and simple. At the same time they do work, and people do know who they are. There are some of those also on the rear side of the building. On the interior. Sue Hertel , this young gal whom I mentioned worked for me, did a stained-glass window that I think is one of the most exciting windows, one of the best I've ever seen. We were fooling around for ideas or subject matter, and I said, "Sue, I've got a great idea, the chase. All of the early pictures somebody was chasing somebody. The Indians were chasing the cowboys and vice versa, and in the Mac Sennett comedies, everybody was chasing everybody. Buster Keaton was being chased. Even Moby Dick was being chased. Let's do it like a series of film strips, some big and wide and strong and some narrower, and we'll show the little perforations along the edge of the strip to suggest that it is film. Then in a very abstract way, let's do this whole window just full, again, of the kind of thing that made motion pictures what they were in the early days." That's one that everybody admires. It's been reproduced in all sorts of magazines all over the country. The tourist agencies run busloads of people out there every week in Tanner buses to look at the building because it's a kind of a landmark now. I painted a mural on the inside with the theme of the actual shooting of the first full-length picture ever made in Hollywood.
That building has become a kind of a landmark in many ways for a lot of people. It has a big pool out in front, and I was able to buy an early [Paul] Manship sculpture which he did for an estate in Delaware. Some of the owners died, and we were able to buy the sculpture. We had it in storage for about six or eight years before I decided how to use it. I built a special fountain on the corner, a great place for hippies (in the worst of the hippie days) to wash their feet, but finally they outgrew that. But it's a fun building.
Later in the interview, he adds "We've very often done things like the one in Hollywood, which is just a small, two-story building, backed up by a huge skyscraper and surrounded by a very tall building. It sits there almost like a little, special plum, and it works."
· Sheets Week [Curbed LA]