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Touring 5 Millard Sheets Projects in Greater Los Angeles

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. Throughout the week, we'll be touring some of the Sheets buildings that still stand.

Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

Beverly Hills Home Savings, 9245 Wilshire Blvd.
This 1953 building (still a bank, now a Chase) was the first Home Savings Millard Sheets designed and it was an enormous success. Here's how he tells it in a UCLA oral history:

In nine years the old building had taken in approximately $11 million in deposits. It was a very nice building, not unattractive, but it didn't have anything specifically to separate it from the other things on Wilshire Boulevard. When we built the new building, we had both mosaic and sculpture, and it had a different feeling entirely. In the first ten days, $19 million walked in the front door ?. They had customers fill out various kinds of questionnaires. Out of the small number of people that do fill out the questionnaires, some 90 percent of them said the reason they came to Home was they admired the buildings and had felt pride in banking in such a building. Well, we got to the point where we couldn't knock what they were saying. We had to accept it. That had a disadvantage because once that had been established, Mr. Ahmanson was very afraid of changing the basic scheme of things. That's why there has been certain repetition of using, for instance, travertine on the outside, of using certain things that have made the buildings always recognizable. He also says that they built if for less than $20 per square foot, including the art. Read more on the art over at Public Art in LA. Studio City Home Savings, 12051 Ventura Blvd.
Home Savings/Sheets expert Adam Arenson explains the lovely mosaic on this bank at Ventura and Laurel Canyon, which depicts several periods in California history: The Franciscan friars came to Christianize California's Indians; California's frontier was a place of vaqueros, ranching and cowboying according to Spanish and Mexican traditions before the coming of American control; the gold rush changed everything; and, in this rendition — presto! California was ready for the magical transformations of Hollywood moviemaking."

City Hall East
This mural is probably familiar to any city employee--it's on the northwest
side of City Hall East (there are actually two on the building). In the oral history, he explained

In each one it's a conglomerate of cultures. I took all of the major cultures of the world that have been the sources of our own American life, from the primitive to the more sophisticated cultures that have come here, and I've tried to do the symbols that would be as clear as possible in representing each of them. To put it together as a kind of total mosaic of design was a lot of fun, and I think the color is interesting ?. and here again I had to use a lot of people to work with me on the execution. I think I must have had eight artists working with me. I had one man that did nothing but wash the bottles out of which we squeezed the glaze. It's all hand-squeezed from a bottle with a little nozzle on the end of it. Santa Monica Home Savings, 2600 Wilshire Blvd.
Ah, don't you think the giant New Balance sign really adds something here? Yeesh. Anyway, here's Sheets again:

I had a front elevation that was turned exactly at a 45-degree angle to the corner, then two wings that came forward. They didn't go straight across, like many of our 45-degree corner buildings have done. I'm not objecting to that at all. But instead of doing, as I generally do, smaller, vignetted mosaics in the middle of perhaps a dark colored granite or something, I did a whole panel. It's one of the biggest ones we've done ?. I would never do it again. It's too much mosaic. Rolling Hills Estates Home Savings, 27319 Hawthorne Blvd.
This 1974 building got a facelift a couple years ago--it has a 12 by 37 mosaic featuring horses and riders (if you haven't picked it up, Sheets liked to match the art to the area) and a stained glass piece with "a horse ring, people, sheep, dogs and peacocks," according to a 2010 article in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News.
· Sheets Week [Curbed LA]