LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously approved on Thursday, a Department of City Planning recommendation to declare the old Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company Home Office building a “Historic-Cultural Monument.”
“As a resident of South Los Angeles nearly my entire life, I am thrilled to see the Cultural Heritage Commission recognize the historic and cultural value of this iconic building,” said Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, who represents the Eighth District, where the building is located.
Built in 1949 and located at the intersection of Adams Blvd & Western Ave in the West Adams area, the five-story commercial building exhibits character-defining features of the Modern style, and was designed by architect Paul R. Williams (1894-1980). Williams was one of the foremost architects of Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century, designing thousands of private homes as well as public and commercial buildings. Williams was also the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi River, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects, and also served on the first Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920.
The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded in 1925 by three African-American businessmen. Serving African-Americans who had been denied coverage by insurance companies because of racial discrimination, the company opened in a storefront in South Los Angeles and later built its own headquarters on Central Avenue (Historic-Cultural Monument #580; 1929). The company quickly grew to become the largest black-owned business west of the Mississippi River and in 1948 commissioned the construction of a new home office on Adams Boulevard. The building served as the headquarters for the company for over 60 years from 1949-2010.
In 2009, state insurance regulators seized control of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company after convincing a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge that the insurer's reserves had run dangerously low. By law, the state insurance commissioner has the power to reorganize and revitalize the company –much as with a bankruptcy for corporations – or he or she can liquidate it.
In addition to the building itself, some prized assets of the company – now at the center of a contentious debate – are two oil on canvas murals in the upper portion of the sidewalls in the lobby. The murals, “The Negro in California History—Settlement and Development” by Hale Woodruff and “The Negro in California History—Exploration and Colonization” by Charles Alston, were commissioned specifically for the building. Regulators are attempting to sell off the murals, sparking outrage among community leaders and residents, who argue they are part of the architect’s original design and should remain with the building.