Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 24, 2018

Forlorn Outpost of Architectural History, Los Angeles

I enjoy writing about and showing photos of the major tourist sights of the world: the canals of Venice, the Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park or the rocky coast of Oregon.

I like thinking that a few readers will be inspired to visit the places I describe, armed with some additional information or insight. That extends to notable architecture, like my articles about Watts Towers and the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Not So Famous …

Conversely, showing you the seldom-seen is part of the raison d’etre of Under Western Skies, especially here in my town, Los Angeles, which is too vast for tourists see more than a slice of. I’m always glad to go out of my way if it gives me an opportunity to show you a part of Los Angeles you’ll never visit. I believe that if you appreciate how replete with diverse sites L.A. is, you’ll visit here with more context for understanding a metropolis that includes 88 cities and towns spread over more than 4,000 square miles.

After WWII, architects began exploring new approaches to form and function, leaving behind the styles of Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and classical revival. The firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), founded in 1936, was an influential one, designing significant commercial structures, which have included that Cadet Chapel, above, up to the present day, with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

One of the architects who worked for SOM was Edward Durell Stone, whose “pavilion” style buildings are icons of 1950s design, exemplified by his 1954 American Embassy in New Delhi, India.

US Embassy New Delhi Soumya S Das (640x374)

All But Unnoticed by the Passing Throng

Today, I was in Gardena, a city 14 miles south of downtown L.A., and drove a few blocks out of my way to see an earlier example of Stone’s work.

Great Western S&L Brad Nixon 9145 (640x410)

In 1952, the Great Western Savings and Loan Association* engaged SOM to design their Gardena office, along the major thoroughfare, Rosecrans Avenue (at red flag on map).

Gardena CA map Google

Unlike some of Stone’s memorable structures ─ including the New Delhi embassy ─ the Great Western building is made entirely of cast concrete, without the pierced screen walls or Middle Eastern motifs Stone adopted in later work. In a sense, it’s pure, form-follows-function design, with a degree of admirable directness.

Great Western S&L Brad Nixon 9136 (640x480)

The Original Look

It looks less than imposing now, but with some imagination, it’s possible to see the creative vision that’s been obscured by a number of changes. Here it is in a photo taken in about 1968.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The core design has worn well. Were the building in better condition, and had the landscaping been maintained, one would scarcely guess the structure’s been there for 65 years. Stone’s ideas have become so much a part of our architectural vocabulary that we accept them as part of the scene, having lived with innumerable iterations of his approach in industrial parks, civic centers and even shopping malls for an entire human lifetime (mine, at least).

Great Western S&L Brad Nixon 9135 (640x467)

That clear glass box framed by the concrete pylons and roof was a striking statement of the style of the era. Like the neighborhood around it, the building’s suffered a few insults in 7 decades. Especially egregious is the huge blank cube ─ a vault ─ stuck onto the center of the street façade.

Great Western S&L Brad Nixon 9141 (640x473)

The interior was almost certainly an impressive one: a single, open space. I’ll give you the best look I could manage, shooting into the unlighted building through dirty glass.

Great Western S&L Brad Nixon 9140 (640x467)

I hope you take advantage of your next opportunity to steer a cocktail party conversation around to architecture, and casually mention the existence of a little-known precursor of Stone’s famous embassy building. Oh, yes, you just happen to be familiar with it, thanks to your near-encyclopedic knowledge of the fabric of the City of Angels. It’ll be our secret.

Location

The building is located at 2501 West Rosecrans Avenue, Gardena CA, north side of the street, about 4 miles west of the Rosecrans exit from Interstate 110. Or 1.5 miles south of Interstate 105 on Crenshaw, then .25 mile east on Rosecrans. OR about 6.5 miles east of where Rosecrans starts at the ocean in Manhattan Beach. I told you it wasn’t close to anything.

Is there an architectural gem lurking, often unnoticed, in your town? Leave a comment.

*Great Western Savings and Loan Association became Great Western Bank, at one time the 2nd-largest savings & loan in the U.S. More information here.

The first two photographs of the Great Western building in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Map © Google.

Initial source information for the building from my bible for L.A. architecture, An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, © Robert Winter and David Gebhard 2003, Gibbs Smith, Publisher. Highly recommended.

New Delhi embassy photo © Soumya S Das – Own work, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38737085

Archival photo of Great Western Savings and Loan building retrieved from and © http://www.metalocus.es, January 23, 2018. Photographer not attributed.


Responses

  1. Lovely pictures and clear explanation. Thanks for giving us the little tour, Brad.

    Like

  2. A great flashback to midcentury modern architecture!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks great 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As soon as I saw the embassy in New Dehli, I recognized the form, even though I can’t pinpoint just now where I’ve seen it.

    In terms of significant buildings, Houston’s fairly evenly divided between Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and Phillip Johnson. SOM’s first project in Houston, the Medical Towers Building is nearly hidden in today’s Houston Medical Center, but like many of SOM’s early Houston office buildings, it’s still there, and still functional.

    The Great Western Building looks remarkably like a nearby used-to-be Bank of America.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Speaking of LA history, I woke up this morning thinking, “Now I have someone I can ask. Why are LA freeways known as “the 101,” “the 605,” and so on? We don’t talk about our freeways as “the 10” or “the 45,” and I can’t remember bumping up against that naming custom in any other state. When I hear someone say, “I took the 10 over to San Antonio,” I always ask if they’re from the Los Angeles area, and they often are.

    Like

    • I discovered the same thing when I moved here. Now, after 25 years, I do it, too. It’s due to the fact that when LA built its first freeways, the first in the west, they had names. The Arroyo Seco Freeway (from downtown to Pasadena) was first, in 1940. Then the San Bernardino, the Ventura, the San Diego freeways, in no particular order. By the time it became a convention to NUMBER freeways (Ike signed the Federal Highway Act in ’56, creating the interstate system), Angelenos already had the habit of calling freeways “The ________.” By ’64, all our existing freeways had numbers and all new ones got numbers as they appeared, but they simply became “The 10,” etc.
      Most cities name their highways, usually some memorialization, but here most of the freeway names describe where the road takes you: Santa Monica, Santa Ana, etc. The use of “the” may be irritating, but our use of the freeway name instead of the number is what can be truly confusing, if someone tells you to take the Harbor Freeway south to the Marina Freeway. THAT’S when you know you’re talking to a local.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s really interesting. And the idiosyncratic way of speaking of the freeways is less irritating than charming: one of those little bits of local color that help to define a place.

        Like


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