Monday, April 14, 2014

Tile Mosaics at the Los Angeles Design Center

The Los Angeles Design Center, standing at 433 S. Spring Street, was once the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. And over the entrance are three tile pictures that have been there since the building opened in 1928.

This shot gives you some perspective of the building and its art. It comes from the LADT (Los Angeles DownTown) News website.

The 10-story building (some sites say it's 13 stories) was designed by Parkinson and Parkinson (John and Donald, father and son) at a time when public art was de rigueur. In order to put art on the outside that was appropriate to the art deco lines of the building, the Parkinsons asked Hugo Ballin to create the murals. A firm called Gladding McBean fabricated the tiles.

Ballin was the trendiest, hottest artist around in the late 20s. According to the Times of long ago, Ballin also created a mural map of the state for the Director's Room of the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. That was up on the 10th floor, with the fancy boardrooms and the cafeteria. Wonder if that's still there?

The Title Insurance and Trust Company moved out in the late 1970s. The company still exists; it is now TICOR. The building was bought and revamped as an interior design showcase. That lasted about ten years. Remember the Library Fire of the late 80s? This building housed much of the library's collection from 1989 to 1993.

LADT posted an article about the building in 2012 when the property was bought by Izek Shomof, who intends to convert it to condos.

Here are close-ups of the tile mosaics, courtesy of The photo to the left (and which is also on the left when facing the building) shows "Protection." Although it's not easy to see, that female figure--not the man in the gold shawl, but the woman behind him--stretches her arm out to the left and holds a sword.

The mural below right is "Fidelity." Its layout mirrors "Protection," with a female figure behind and above a above a male, one arm stretched back and the other bent.

In between these figures is "Trust" showing a female figure sitting in the center. Sorry, I could not find a picture showing that--even though its been there, in plain sight, for over 85 years. But the artwork is thoughtfully appropriate for an insurance company.

Hugo Ballin's story is interesting: he started working for Samuel Goldwyn when Goldwyn Pictures was based in New Jersey. A trained artist, he became an art director and production designer for Goldwyn. After following him out west, Ballin started to write and direct silent films and had his own production company.  Early, silent versions of Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair were among his films.

He returned to art in the late twenties, and you can see his work at:

He even designed the commemorative medallions for the 1932 Olympics, and he wrote a few novels too--at least one was quite controversial. When he died in 1956, he was said to be working on a 27-foot high panel for a Catholic Church in Redondo Beach. That may have been St. Lawrence Martyr, which was built in 1956. Ballin's work was only 1/3 done, though, so it was probably never installed.

In 1936, Ballin sent 8 sketches to the WPA powers-that-be to be considered for the Post Office in the nation's capital. He deliberately went over the top on one sketch of the Gold Rush era, showing violence and drunkenness, beggars going hungry, and a "fat cat" couple looking over everything while eating their roast turkey. Their butler looks like Felix the Cat, and the candle sticks were obscene. Guess what? That sketch won him the opportunity to create the mural for the Inglewood, California post office, and be paid $680.

Ballin turned down the offer but said he might create the mural for a Hollywood bar. He sounds like a character who liked pranks and pushing buttons, seeing how much he could get away with. He's on my list of people I'd like to have lunch with in heaven.

The site has this picture of the chandelier. The chandelier? I'm sorry, but the light fixture is not what is captivating in this picture! The ceiling is incredible. It--and the entire interior--was designed by Herman Sachs. The ceiling, per the LA Times of 1928, is "paneled in oblong forms, decorated in gold, chrome oxide green, lapis lazuli blue, in rubbed lacquer, making a modern color scheme."

BlogDownTown displayed a photo of the building in 1929 when they wrote about it--well worth looking it. That blog drew on stories from the Los Angeles Times to describe how the building was erected and the opening day ceremonies.


Rub said...

Hi Vickey - thanks for this excellent article. I may want to ask you some more questions about it - but meantime just noting that John & Donald Parkinson were father and son, not brothers....

Vickey Kall said...

Thank you, Rub--I made the correction!