North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan, 1961, Valley Times Collection, L.A. Public Library.
Originally designed to serve as a combination bank and office building, the former North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan building at Riverside Drive and Lankershim Boulevard in Toluca Lake will be integrated into a proposed apartment/commercial development, thus saving the building through adaptive reuse. The tallest structure in the San Fernando Valley when it opened in 1961, the building has continually operated as a financial institution since its construction.
As the San Fernando Valley, and North Hollywood in particular, saw their populations expand from the 1920s into the 1930s, new financial institutions were established to serve the needs of these incoming residents. The North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan, established in 1923 as the Lankershim Building and Loan Association, functioned as one of the first savings and loan facilities in the area. Originally located at 5213 Lankershim Blvd., the company expanded its building and updated its name over the years, eventually gaining the new address 5226 Lankershim. By the late 1950s, the company was cramped and in need of larger space.
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The former North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan, via Google Street View.
President R. W. Blanchard and Walter A. Johnson, chairman of the association’s building committee, located a large piece of land at Riverside Drive and Lankershim Boulevard in 1958 which they felt perfectly suited their needs and allowed for the possibility of expansion. The April 23, 1958, Los Angeles Times announced the organization’s plans to demolish a public market on the site to construct an elaborate new headquarters. On November 23, 1958, the Los Angeles Times reported the company’s plans to construct a building to house its financial operations as well as earn capital through renting out office space.
The January 17, 1960, Los Angeles Times reported on the structure’s groundbreaking in an article accompanied by photo showing the institution’s executives posing with the model of the proposed building. The savings and loan association would occupy the first floor and basement of the $2-million, seven-story building, while renting out the upper floors. The contemporary building featuring exterior glass walls would be erected on a structural steel frame and “will be of earthquake-resistant and fireproof construction. Clear span construction technique, eliminating stairwells and supporting columns, will provide maximum flexibility in office arrangement.” The main building would sit horizontally on site, while the western tower would rise vertically
Ensuring quality design and work, the savings and loan hired renowned commercial architects George W. Allison and Ulysses F. Rible. Alison and Rible designed such buildings as UCLA’s Engineering Building, a chapel for Hollywood Presbyterian Church, the student union at Claremont College, a Pasadena City College structure, Los Angeles City College building, Pacific Bell building on Ventura Boulevard, the Reseda library, and the master plan for UC Riverside before designing the proposed savings and loan. S.B. Barnes and Associates served as the project’s engineer while Pozzi Construction Co. served as contractor.
North Hollywood Federal Savings under construction in 1960, from the Valley Times Collection at L.A. Public Library.
When it finally opened April 3, 1961, the $1.67-million North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan Association building possessed over 73,000 square feet as the tallest building in the San Fernando Valley per newspaper reports. The financial institution occupied 15,300 square feet on the first floor and entire basement, which contained a cafeteria for employees. For the grand opening week, members received genuine 24-karat gold leaf passbooks when opening a $100 account, an 18-page souvenir booklet, free refreshments, favors, and the opportunity to view the entire San Fernando Valley from its roof.
Over the years, many types of offices operated in the building, ranging from production companies and talent agencies to real estate, CPAs, and even doctors’ clinics. Its mode of construction allowed easy remodeling by adding or removing partitions to devise new business layouts. By the 1970s, a health spa replaced multiple offices, later becoming a state of the art gym on the second and third floors in 1993.
Savings and loan tellers, from left, Betty Falck, Marsha Meyer, Barbara Plachy, Gayle Cutler and Kathy Bergquist, 1959, Valley Times Collection, L.A. Public Library.
As the offices contained in the structure evolved, so did the signs on the exterior of the building. ranging from neon early on to plastic. The financial institutions housed in the structure evolved as well, from North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan to Home Savings, Washington Mutual, and now Chase.
Historic Places Los Angeles calls it an “excellent example of a Federal Savings and Loan Building in the San Fernando Valley, one of three ‘tall’ buildings…that were constructed in the eastern part of the Valley after World War II.” While some of the exterior had been remodeled, the building still remains eligible for nomination to Los Angeles’ Historic Cultural Monument list.
On September 11, various news outlets including CurbedLA reported that the Los Angeles’ Planning and Land Use Management Committee approved plans repurposing the “old” Chase bank at Lankershim and Riverside into a large apartment complex, a project first proposed in 2016. Reduced to five stories, the old bank building will be renovated into 55 apartments (eight so-called affordable units) and more than 8,500 square feet of commercial space, with a new 179-unit apartment building/commercial space to be constructed on the adjacent parking lot.
Adaptive reuse of the structure will save most of Allison and Rible’s fine design, repurposing a once commercial building into one serving residential needs. Many historic buildings in downtown Los Angeles have been successfully renovated to serve new purposes, with many industrial plants and office buildings converted into hotels, apartments, or condominiums, saving outstanding architectural and design elements, and aping a practice common on the East Coast and in Europe. Hopefully this is a first step for further adaptive reuse and protection for other historic landmarks, architectural resources, and striking buildings throughout Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.
While the former North Hollywood Federal Savings and Loan will no longer function as a financial institution, it will still serve the needs of San Fernando Valley residents as a housing complex, projects it often financed.