Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mosaic Monday: Olde City Hall, Torrance

The original Torrance City Hall on Cravens Avenue was designed by architects Walker & Eisen and built with WPA funds in 1936. The City Hall was an efficient, standard moderne building that served for 25+ years--with no mosaic. That came later.

Walker & Eisen were a well-known and successful firm by the 1930s. They actually helped construct the Oviatt Building in on 6th and Olive in Los Angeles--now the Cicada Restaurant. According to PublicArtInLA, they were "primarily responsible for the shell of the building and the Olive Street facade. Percy Augustus Eisen (1885-1946) and Albert Raymond Walker (1881-1958) were in partnership from 1919 to 194-. . . . Their later works were mostly government buildings, theaters, and branch facilities carried out in the moderne style. Major commissions included the Fine Arts Building (1925), United Artists Building (1927), Title Insurance Building (1928), National Bank of Commerce (1929), Fruit Growers Exchange (1934), Beverly-Wilshire Hotel (1926), El Cortez Hotel (San Diego, 1927), El Mirador Hotel (Palm Springs 1927), Mar Monte Hotel (Santa Barbara 1927), Torrance City Hall, Jail, and Municipal Building (1936), . . . " (text prepared by Martin Eli Weil, A. I. A., Restoration Architect, for Ratkovich, Bowers Incorporated, October 1982, for nomination of the building to the National Register of Historic Places.)

Well, that confirms a story I've heard from people who grew up in Old Torrance--that the basement served as a jail. Children who walked by the City Hall on their way to school in the 1950s and early 60s remember that the prisoners would call to them from small, sidewalk-level windows: "Hey, kids! Let us out of here!"

By the 1970s, a new, bigger-by-a-factor-of-maybe-twenty City Hall complex was built and the old building became a Home Savings. That's when this mosaic was added. I have not been able to confirm that the work is Millard Sheets'--the Torrance Historical Society and the main library weren't sure, and the local newspapers are not indexed or online.

However, I'd put five bucks on it being Sheets' handiwork. In fact, I believe there were once more mosaics, but this is the only one that remains on the outside. Home Savings moved away in the 80s, and the building is now the local office of Time Warner Cable.


Judy Herman said...

Apparently Sheets did work on a Home Savings in Torrance. If you really want to pursue where it was, drop by the Smithsonian:
See reel 14-5695

Judy Herman said...

Apparently Sheets did work on a Home Savings in Torrance. If you really want to pursue where it was, drop by the Smithsonian:
See reel 14-5695.

Vix said...

Thank you Judy! I've forwarded the link to the Adam Arenson blog as well, which IS active. Preservationists could sure use someone with your talents and research skills!

Anonymous said...

There's a former HSL at 2121 Torrance Blvd from 1979 that still has a mural and statues.

Do you have any idea what the function was of this building between 1956 (when, according to the plaque on the front, it ceased to be city hall) and the 1970s when Home S&L moved in? Have you checked phone books, for example?

I'm working with the LA Conservancy's volunteers to survey the bank's locations in LA county. We're posting our findings (including lots of photos) in the forum. The thread is under "mid century modern preservation discussion." I shot this building a few days ago, but was unsure if it was actually an HSL. Then I found your page.


Vix said...

I'm a little confuesed by your comment. The bank at 2121 Torranc blvd, to my knowledge, has always been a bank. First it was a Home S&S, then WaMu, then a Chase. Are there statues there? I'm embarassed to say I haven't noticed them.
You mention a plaque stating it was City Hall. As far as I know, the City Hall was on Cravens, never at 2121 Torrance BLvd.
There may be a plaque in front of the Cravens location. After 1956, I believe the Cravens buidling was a Home S&L until the Torranc BLvd. location was established. But no, I have not checked old phone books.
I think it's great that Conservancy is documenting these buildings!