Our Readers Write: Architectural designer’s daughter calls for preservation of PB bank building and art

Mosaics on the Chase Bank building (formerly Home Savings & Loan) at 4650 Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach.
These are some of the eight mosaics depicting the story of San Diego on the Chase Bank building (formerly Home Savings & Loan) at 4650 Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach.
(Milan Kovacevic)

Preserve Pacific Beach bank building and its art

As a longtime resident of San Diego deeply involved in the arts, both as former president of the board of trustees of the Mingei International Museum and a member of artist and architect James Hubbell’s Ilan Lael Foundation board, I richly value what San Diego has in beauty and stature in its artistic buildings and monuments. I place a very high value on San Diego’s beauty, which is also reflected beyond museum walls in its artistically designed buildings and monuments.

But this is personal.

My father, Millard Owen Sheets, a well-known artist and architectural designer, was given a free hand by bank President Howard Ahmanson in 1955 to design Home Savings & Loan buildings. When Dad asked Ahmanson whether he could put art on and in the buildings, Ahmanson told him to do what he wanted and to not to ask for permission. After all, Sheets was the architectural designer and artist.

From the beginning, Dad tied his designs to each building’s specific locale and included art that told stories about the history of the area. For Sheets, buildings and art were inseparable.

The first Home Savings building opened in Los Angeles to a line of investors that reached around the block. Clearly, relating to the public in this new way was an appealing approach to architecture.

As Adam Arenson wrote in his 2018 book, “Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California,” “Adorned with murals, mosaics, stained glass and sculptures, the Home Savings branches displayed a celebratory vision of community history and community values that garnered widespread acclaim.”

What the building constructed in 1977 at 4650 Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach represents to me is dignity and beauty uplifting that particular corner. One cannot pass by it without notice. There is both elegance and simplicity to the building, the art and the landscape. It is a rare treasure of Pacific Beach. (“Could Chase Bank mosaics in Pacific Beach soon leave the neighborhood? Efforts are underway to save them,” PB Monthly, Aug. 6.)

The building was intended to function as an artistic whole. Therefore, I believe the building and the art should be preserved as a whole and find a reuse that honors the art and architecture.

I appreciate your serious consideration of this heartfelt letter and would encourage you to make your own sentiments known.

The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle

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