The Title Guarantee and Trust Company Building – The TGB
411 W 5th St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
©2015 The L.A. Loft Blog is not affiliated with the Title Guarantee Building.
Coming Soon: Your Chance to Own an Icon.
In September 2015, the public will have an opportunity to choose from a selection of historic art deco style lofts for sale in one of the most iconic buildings in Downtown Los Angeles. With views of the park at Pershing Square, the TGB was originally constructed in 1930. The Title Guarantee Building symbolizes the architecture, art and craftsmanship coming out of the gilded age of L.A. From detailed brick and tile work to lush marble, hand-made woodcraft to the lobby’s celebrated Hugo Ballin art murals – this is truly a uniquely authentic residence and a valuable chance to control a slice of historic Downtown.
Title Guarantee and Trust Company Building in the Historic Core
The Title Guarantee and Trust Company Building is an Art Deco style highrise building on Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1930, on the site of the California Club building. The building was designed by The Parkinsons who also designed many Los Angeles landmarks, including Los Angeles City Hall and Bullocks Wilshire. Originally an office building, the structure was later converted into lofts. In 1984, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
After several years of serving as loft rental apartments, the units will be restored to renewed luster before the sale. Renters have praised the great livability of the building and its amazing loft units with high ceilings, multi-level units with mezzanine lofts for excellent separation, in-unit washer and dryers, and quiet between units.
The building has its down sides, including the traffic noise on Hill Street, noise from pedestrians and the busy Perch lounge across the narrow street. The trash shoots travel through some closets, which have no doors, and thus allow noise from the chutes. The valet parking has been a blessing, and sometimes a curse depending on the valet attendants. The entire area around Pershing Square is a base of a large number of homeless people who sometimes camp out in and around the building. The parking lot next door may soon be replaced by a building, which could potentially block views for some units. The fantastic units facing streets and Pershing Square will likely have some protection of the awesome views for some time.
There is no rooftop access, but some of the units have patios. The building units have also received accolades for their concrete floors, updated counter tops and a large, stainless appliances.
Coming Soon – The new lofts are expected to go on sale to the public in September.
Get on the Interest List. Fill out the online form:
The History and Murals of the Title Guarantee Building
“In commissioning Hugo Ballin to execute a series of mural paintings for the lobby of its building at Fifth and Hill Streets in Los Angeles, the Title Guarantee and Trust Company had in mind the presentation, in vigorous, colorful and adequate manner, of the picturesque and vital phases of Southern California’s history.
It desired to align itself with that modern tendency which seeks to bring contemporary art to the immediate enjoyment of the public. To this end Mr. Ballin prepared six panels, the first being dedicated to the prehistoric era. The product of a distinguished painter, this group forms a unity of rich, rhythmic color, with bold figures and splendid themes offering stimulation to the imagination. The Ballin panels, definitely enriching the community, should prove of permanent historical and esthetic interest.”
The Title Guarantee and Trust Company grew along with the city and profited tremendously from that growth. The company’s founder, Edwin W. Sargent, began his career as founding partner at the Los Angeles Abstract Company in 1887, one of the first institutions in Los Angeles to provide authoritative titles to land parcels and issue certificates of title in real estate transactions. Claims to land and resources in Southern California had been hotly contested since the region transitioned from Mexican rule to become an American state. Some Anglos unlawfully seized land from indigenous peoples, others refused to recognize the sanctity of disenos, land grant contracts issued by the Mexican government, and real estate speculators and squatters often flouted existing property claims. By issuing authoritative titles, the Los Angeles Abstract Company “brought order to the chaos in the real estate title business in Los Angeles,” providing a foundation that allowed for the city’s development and growth. In 1895, Sargent founded his own company, the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, and by the late 1920s, he held documentation for the titles to over 1.1 million parcels of land in Southern California valued at over $4 billion dollars.7
Sargent died in 1929, and to ensure that the company’s reputation did not die with him, his successor, A. F. Morlan, and the Board of Directors decided to erect a large new corporate headquarters as a monument to the company’s success. They needed the building to convey their historic strength and the stability of the company while also positioning the company on the cutting edge of Los Angeles’ development, signaling to its potential clients and investors that it was both a part of the city’s small town past and its metropolitan future. There also were practical reasons for expanding the company’s offices: they needed to house the over one million title files held by the company, documents related to virtually every parcel of land in Los Angeles county since the establishment of the American government in 1850s. Among the documents were a “Book of Disenos” (a survey of Mexican land grants) and records of the acts of the Mexican Ayuntamiento (Council) that preceded the American government, critical to authenticating land claims from the days of Spanish and Mexican rule. The documents held by the company served as the mechanism through which American understandings of property rights and land ownership had been realized in the region, “guaranteeing” not only individual land claims but also Anglo-American hegemony in Southern California more broadly. The new building thereby would serve not only as a monument to the company’s strength, but also to the strength and vitality of the real estate industry and the city of Los Angeles itself.
The company enlisted the father-son team of John B. and Donald D. Parkinson to design an “ultra-modern” building with over 130,000 square feet of office space on a lot they had purchased on Pershing Square, just blocks from the Superior Court and the newly opened City Hall. The elder Parkinson had made his name in the architecture world when he designed the city’s first “sky scraper” at Fourth and Spring Streets in 1904 (now known as the Continental Building), prompting the City Council to pass an ordinance limiting the height of new construction projects to 150 feet.
To maneuver around the ordinance’s height restrictions, the Parkinson firm designed an elaborate decorative feature on the roof of the Title building, leaving floors twelve and above unoccupied so as to extend the height of the building to 240 feet. The Gothic-style rooftop had multiple-tiered buttresses and towers that echoed the medieval cathedrals of Europe and contributed to the building’s vertical thrust. A high-tech system of floodlights was added so that the building became even more spectacular at night. The terra cotta tiles on the exterior of the building were specially finished with a texture that accentuated the lighting effect and, along with recessed windows, added to the upward thrust and verticality of the building. The building also was outfitted with the most state-of-the-art amenities, including an electrical ventilation system and four high-speed elevators.8 By adapting traditional forms and techniques using modern technologies, the Parkinsons created a structure that elegantly advanced the company’s needs.
The Parkinsons hired Eugene Maier-Krieg to sculpt decorative features on the building’s exterior and Hugo Ballin to paint a series of murals for the building’s lobby. To further enhance the company’s mission, Ballin designed a series of six panels tracing Los Angeles’ history from prehistoric times to its “modern” present (in 1930), situating the company and the documents held in its headquarters within the city’s historical narrative. In each panel, Ballin underscored the legitimacy of the titles held at the building and the positive, modernizing effects that Anglo American rule had on the region. One panel romanticized the days of “rancho” life as a time when Spanish padres and colonists co-mingled with the indigenous population and two panels portrayed the transition to American rule as peaceful, rational and orderly. The coming of the railroad is similarly touted as having “ended the isolation of the pueblo” and the “modern era” embodied by a dynamic, male figure surrounded by props signifying the technological achievements that enabled the city’s growth. Rather than employ idealized, female figures as allegorical symbols as he had in previous commissions, in the Title murals Ballin used hyper-masculine forms, emphasizing their physicality and strength to capture rapid changes occurring in Los Angeles’ economy, population and culture at the time. By abandoning his “virgins” in favor of “dynamos,” Ballin was able to match the “ultra-modern” aesthetics of the building without straying too far from his traditional, classical style. And by adding “dynamos” to his historical motif, his murals both reinforced the Title Guarantee and Trust Company’s role in the history of the city and positioned it at the forefront of the city’s development in the future.
Despite the permanency of the structure, the Title Guarantee and Trust company did not last: it first merged with the Title Insurance and Trust Company, was then taken over by a Chicago firm, and its millions of titles are now held by the Fidelity Insurance Company. The Title Guarantee building, however, has remained, and has been recognized by both the National Register of Historic Places and the Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monuments for its significance to the city’s architectural heritage, ensuring that the building and Ballin’s murals will be part of the downtown landscape for years to come. They were cleaned as part of the building’s renovation in 2013-2014, and can be viewed by contacting the Title Guarantee Management Company.
Ballin described his murals at the Title Guarantee and Trust Building in a pamphlet published in 1931:
“One of the important decisions in California history was made in early 1847 over a table on the veranda of a small ranch house that then stood near Cahuenga Pass.
This event – the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga whereby the Mexican forces surrendered to the American – is celebrated in the third panel executed by Hugo Ballin.
In this panel Generals Pico and Fremont play leading roles. The former, Andres Pico, was the rough-and-ready leader of the Mexican army, a man who had swept the United States troops into an overwhelming defeat in the San Pasqual Valley with his horsemen recruited from the ranchos. The signing of the articles that ended the hostilities had followed the last military maneuver, that of Stockton and Kearny marching north from San Diego and John C. Fremont marching south to meet them. The Stockton-Kearny forces had engaged two minor battles at the San Gabriel River and at La Mesa, entering Los Angeles thereafter without opposition. With the war over, the American flag was to float over Los Angeles, the bands were to march and play, and the rank and file were again to be happy. In the panel, Fremont, the ‘Pathfinder’ is telling Pico where to sign. Behind the latter stand several Mexican officers.”
Here Ballin depicts a triumphant version of Los Angeles’ transition to becoming an American state, casting that transition as dignified and disciplined, when in reality, claims to land and resources were hotly contested for decades after the Treaty of Cahuenga. Some Anglos unlawfully seized land from those holding disenos (land grant contracts issued by the Mexican government), others refused to recognize their legitimacy, and real estate speculators and squatters often flouted existing property claims. That Ballin would offer such an orderly and diplomatic version of events was likely in part to please his corporate patrons from the Title Guarantee and Trust company. The company’s founder, Edwin Sergeant, had been among the first individuals in Los Angeles to issue authoritative titles to real estate holdings using legal documents from both the Mexican and Spanish governments to support land claims from the days of Spanish and Mexican rule. Indeed, the new building had been designed to house the over 1.1 million titles to parcels of land in Southern California held by the company, including a “Book of Disenos” (a survey of Mexican land grants) and records of the acts of the Mexican Ayuntamiento (Council) that preceded the American government. Those documents served as the mechanism through which American understandings of property rights and land ownership had been realized in the region, “guaranteeing” not only individual land claims but also Anglo-American hegemony in Southern California more broadly.1 By depicting the transition to American rule in this way, Ballin thereby celebrates the company’s purpose and reifies its role in establishing American rule, and supporting the development, strength and vitality of the city of Los Angeles.
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