A beacon of the past reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance style of architecture that was popular nearly a century ago, the former First Trust Bank Building on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Madison Avenue is among a number of architectural jewels built in Pasadena throughout the 1920s.
This was Pasadena’s Golden Age of architecture, a time during which such structures as City Hall, the city’s Central Library, the Rose Bowl, and the old Pasadena Star-News building were built. And, like those, First Trust (now Bank of the West) has stood the test of time, looking much as it did when it first opened in 1927.
However, for all its gold-colored bronze, inlaid marble floors, travertine walls and gilt coffered ceiling, all designed to have a welcoming effect on its millionaire customers, perhaps the most striking element of the building is the artwork by muralist Alson Clark hanging inside depicting California’s top four industries at the time.
One of Clark’s murals depicts shipping at San Pedro harbor. In another, a family works in an orchard. There is also a mural of oil field workers, and, of course, a scene from the production of a film.
Entering this time capsule is a journey back to when customers were enticed to participate in commerce and trade for the connection and improvement of the community. Thus, a movement to connect humanity and free thought for a better lifestyle was in motion through the appreciation of the arts. Pasadena was voted the best city to live in America in 1939, according to the Pasadena Community Book, 1943, article by Editor in Chief William L. Blair.
The structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built not only for the comfort of its wealthy patrons but to also withstand earthquakes. According to the journal Bungalow Reader, architects Cyril Bennett and Fitch Haskell retained Caltech professor R.R. Martel to devise the first steel beam structural system that would work with the concrete walls as reinforcement which successfully prevents earthquake damage for tall buildings and became a standard of the times.
The eight-story structure is also adorned with a steel and glass cupola, a shining beacon then and today, designed for style and a reminder to new aviators to take heed while soaring through the sky above the city and mountains.
The original detailed ceiling painted in blue, gold and red, the walnut teller’s cages and bronze and glass screens speak to the work integrity of the era.
Etched above the rear door of the lobby describes the proclamation for the Golden Era, from Deuteronomy:
A good land. A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates. A land of olive trees and honey.
An appreciation of the art history and architecture of Pasadena, built on principle, community ethics and prosperity for a lifestyle celebrating human spirit, will sustain our future as a leading city in America built by our forefathers on this good land.