Remember those bank murals? One of them could save California's landmark

A Sacramento bank building threatened with demolition to make way for a fast-food restaurant is getting another chance to be declared historically significant — especially because of its iconic building society mosaics.

One of the Arden Way building's exterior mosaics from 1950 depicting the history of the Gold Rush.  (Google Maps image)
One of the Arden Way building's exterior mosaics from 1950 depicting the history of the Gold Rush. (Google Maps image)

The building, which has been vacant for several years, sits on prime land in a retail district that includes the Arden Fair shopping center. Its owners want to replace it with a Shake Shack drive-in and at least one other restaurant, and have hired a consultant who argued the mid-1970s building would not qualify for listing on a list of historic places.

That opinion sparked a torrent of objections and led the Sacramento Historic Preservation Office to take a closer look at the 1950 Arden Way — and ultimately recommend adding it to the city's Register of Historic and Cultural Resources. That recommendation is expected to go before the City Council later this month.

Listing it on the historic register would not preclude the building's demolition, but it would complicate the process, city spokeswoman Kelli Trapani told the Sacramento Bee.

Preservationists call the Arden Way building a prime example of the work of Millard Sheets, the artist and designer known for mosaics and murals on hundreds of California buildings, including those owned by Home Savings of America.

The advisory from the city's historic preservation staff states: “For people living in California in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, local home savings and loan banks were distinctive and immediately recognizable. They…helped create a sense of place in a rapidly changing world.”

One of the letters calling for the preservation of the Arden Way building came from Adam Arenson, a professor at New York's Manhattan College, the preeminent scholar of Sheets' work – and who has a database of more than 300 buildings containing Sheets' artwork 'Studio has put together.

Although Sheets' work is primarily associated with Southern California, there are still prominent examples in the Bay Area – including the large San Jose Airport mural, a gift from the Mercury News in 1977. Sheets also created the monumental mosaic of the University of Notre Dame, which is popularly known as Touchdown Jesus.

Home Savings was purchased by Washington Mutual in 1998. This bank collapsed in 2008 and most of its assets were sold to JPMorgan Chase. Many of the former Home Savings buildings are now Chase banks.

Anna Harden

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