New book -- Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture

Adam Arenson's picture

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California (University of Texas Press, 2018). With 157 of 176 images in color and a bold, beautiful design complementing its extensive footnotes and never-before-seen research, the book is as comfortable on the coffee table as the seminar table. 

Combining urban history, business history, and art and architectural history, Banking on Beauty reveals the partnership between Howard Ahmanson's Home Savings and Loan/Savings of America—for decades, the nation’s largest savings and loan—and the Millard Sheets Studio that produced more than 160 buildings in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri over the course of a quarter century, as well as additional projects for Bob's Big Boy, Hilton Honolulu Village, Bank of America, the US Army Air Corps, and other clients. Adorned with murals, mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures, these institutions shaped the corporate and cultural landscapes of mid-twentieth-century America, especially on Southern California suburban main streets. 

Drawing extensively on archival materials, site visits, and oral history interviews, Banking on Beauty tells how the architecture and art were created, the politics of where the branches were built, and why the Sheets Studio switched from portraying universal family scenes to celebrating local history amid the dramatic cultural and political changes of the 1960s. 

Richly illustrated and beautifully written, Banking on Beauty builds a convincing case for preserving these outstanding examples of Midcentury Modern architecture, which currently face an uncertain future.


I would welcome opportunities to discuss the book in more cities, and to participate in college courses using the book, either in person or via videoconference.


Learn more, see details of book events, and see a map of all known Millard Sheets Studio public commissions at


Link to the book at University of Texas Press:


Adam Arenson

Associate Professor of History and Director of the Urban Studies Program

Manhattan College