Friday, March 16, 2018

New Book: Banking on Beauty

If you ever followed this blog, you must know about Millard Sheets and Home Savings and Loan. 
Sheets was the artist behind the beautiful mosaics and murals on Home Savings Branches, once the largest chain of savings & loan banks in the US. 
The ultimate book has appeared about both: Banking on Beauty, by Professor Adam Arenson. It's a big, heavy, coffee table reference that was just published by the University of Texas Press. 
Inside the book, you'll find everything you could ever hope to know about all the design and art of the Home Savings and Loan branches: original drawings, dates, contractors, artists, concepts, more. It's a great reference, and I'm amazed, with all the artwork, that the price is only $45. Well worth it.
Last Wednesday, the Marciano Art Foundation hosted Profession Arenson and Laura MacDonald in a building designed by Sheets almost 60 years ago: the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd, in the Windsor Square neighborhood.  Thank you, Flo Selfman, for letting me know about this, and making reservations!

These pictures show a couple of the mosaics over the side entrance of the building. Masonic symbols, all. Laura MacDonald talked about the history of Freemasonry as it relates to architecture, and how the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple reflected the principles of the order. 
After that, Professor Arenson talked specifically about Millard Sheets, about some of the myths and the complicated history of his design studio. All in brief, of course, because time was limited. The building was closing only 15 minutes after the talk, giving folks barely enough time to buy their books and get them signed.
Oh, and Tony Sheets, son of Millard, was also on hand to give support.
Adam Arenson has been working on this project for ten years now. I am so glad to see it published!
Was not able to take any notes during the talk, which was accompanied by lots of slides and photographs, but one thing that I remember is this: The Home Savings and Loan buildings where big, square, solid edifices with artwork, always. Like the Beverly Hills branch, (links go to my blog posts and pictures). The BH branch opened in 1956, and is the oldest surviving Home Savings and Loan Building. Big, square, solid.
After Howard Ahmanson died, though, his sons took over the business, and they were willing to vary the design a little. That's why some of the later branches, like Santa Monica's - which is now a New Balance Shoes store.  This branch is not square--it has "wings" spreading out from the front entrance.

There are amazing mosaics at The Marciano Art Foundation, as well, done by Sheets and by Susan Hertel. I've written about Susan Hertel before too, especially about the lovely birds in the mosaics at the Redondo Beach Wells Fargo (which started life as a temporary, prefabricated Home Savings and Loan).
I learned the other night that Hertel kept a bunch of pets at Millard Sheets Designs in Claremont, and those pets were the models for her very graceful artwork. 

A mosaic on the third floor of the building, sadly hidden by interior walls and impossible to photograph, has some of Susan Hertel's animals, including this fellow. I could not photograph the whole mosaic, because of that stupid wall. LA Weekly, where I found the photo below, also questioned the wisdom of hiding the mosaic behind a wall the room used to be a dining hall, with the mosaic in full view. 

Finally, here is a photo of the outside mosaic by Sheets, shamelessly copied from a Curbed LA post. The photo was taken by Elizabeth Daniels. The mosaic is on the east side of the building and shows the history of temple-building.

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