Historical African American Art in danger of Being Lost

At one time I was the president of the Organization of Black Screenwriters. That was Los Angeles. We met once a month at the Golden State Mutual Insurance Building on West Adams Boulevard. Every first Saturday. Our meeting place was the auditorium on the ground floor. A room that had seen better days, but a room steeped in the kind of history you see at museums. The lobby outside the auditorium was chock full of artifacts – sculpture, paintings, weathered, written documents that documented earlier, more socially and culturally significant times. Many notables in and outside the African American community passed through its hallowed halls. That building was, in effect, the cultural salon of its time.

The thing I remembered most was the fascinating murals on the ceiling…

The Golden State Mutual (GSM) building itself was commissioned by William Nickerson, Jr., Norman Oliver Houston and George Allen Beavers, Jr. — African American pioneers of the insurance industry, built by famed architect Paul Williams, who just happens to have been black, and housed one of the largest private African American art collections on the west coast. That was then.
I’ve recently learned via Ted Rutten’s OpEd piece in the LATimes.com (3/23/11) the murals themselves are at the center of a court fight. Golden State Insurance began its decline years ago, and according to Rutten, “Was seized by the state insurance commissioner, whose Conservation and Liquidation Office is in the process of disposing of Golden State’s assets, including what remains of its collection of African American art.” The Smithsonian is vying for the remaining art work, most specifically, the murals. And there’s no guarantee this work will see the light of day in this new location.

The GSM building was built in 1948, and as such, I believe, should receive some sort of historical landmark designation. All of its assets should remain with the building. In conversations I’ve had with former employees at Golden State, they spoke with pride and a certain reverence about artists Alston and Woodruff, how they used certain techniques to ensure the colors from the murals would remain vibrant. The proof is in their brilliance. Approximately 65 years later, those colors have remained constant.
That isn’t the only constant that should remain.
These hidden treasures are a legacy of the people who came to Golden State to conduct business and make history. It’s only fair future, local generations get the opportunities to experience this history, not have it shipped off for possible storage in the bowels of a distant locale

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