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African American landmark building in West Adams named L.A. historic monument

June 2, 2011 |  1:32 pm

Building
  6a00d8341c630a53ef015432b979b1970c-250wi A West Adams building that housed one of the first companies to offer life insurance to African Americans was designated this week by the L.A. City Council as a historic-cultural monument.

Preservationists who say the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co. building is architecturally and culturally significant were delighted with Wednesday's council vote.

Towering at the corner of West Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue, the building was completed in 1949 and designed by noted African American architect Paul Revere Williams.

It served as headquarters for the operation that became the largest black-owned insurance company in the western United States and one of the first to offer life insurance to African Americans.

It boasts large lobby murals created specifically for the building by African American artists Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff. The works illustrate the early contributions of African Americans to the history of Los Angeles and California.

“This rare combination of client, architect, and artists creates a trifecta of significance and is an irreplaceable part of our history,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group that helped to secure the building’s new status.

Councilman Bernard Parks, who represents the district where the building is located, said the structure also served as a venue for meetings of black activists and members of the African American community's elite.

The office building was closed in 2009. It remains a well-known landmark, Parks said.

“There are few people who were raised in the city of L.A. who don’t know it,” he said.

He confirmed the structure met several requirements necessary to become a historic monument.

These include exhibiting a noteworthy architectural style, being designed by a distinguished architect and representing aspects of the city’s culture and economic history.

After the structure was closed, the lobby murals were threatened with being sold to a museum, an idea that drew opposition from community members who believed the artwork needed to remain as an integral part of the building.

An L.A. Conservancy official said it was unclear what effect the building’s new status would have on the murals.

But the designation “does encompass both the exterior and interior of the building, making any significant changes subject to review by the city's Office of Historic Resources,” the spokesperson said.

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-- Ann M. Simmons

Photos, from top: The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co. office building is the city's newest historic-cultural monument (credit: Christina House / For The Times); it was built in 1949 by famed architect Paul Williams. (Los Angeles Times)

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