Built in 1949 and located at the intersection of Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue in the West Adams area, the five-story Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building (GSM) is Los Angeles’s newest designated landmark.
This commercial building exhibits character-defining features of the Moderne style, and was designed by architect Paul R. Williams (1894-1980). Williams was one of the foremost architects of Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century, designing thousands of private homes as well as public and commercial buildings. Williams was also the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi River, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects, and also served on the first Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920.
The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded in 1925 by three African-American businessmen. Serving African-Americans who had been denied coverage by insurance companies because of racial discrimination, the company opened in a storefront in South Los Angeles and later built its own headquarters on Central Avenue (Historic-Cultural Monument #580; 1929). The company quickly grew to become the largest black-owned business west of the Mississippi River and in 1948 commissioned the construction of a new home office on Adams Boulevard. The building served as the headquarters for the company for over 60 years from 1949-2010.
Inside, GSM’s double-height lobby features two famed murals, each 16’5” long and 9’3 1/4” tall and specifically commissioned for the building, depicting events in
California’s African American History from 1527 to 1949. The murals were painted by artists Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff under the direction of architect Williams. The murals were included in the landmark designation, but they remain threatened. The State Department of Insurance is litigating over its claims to ownership of the murals; if the department wins in court it may try to remove the murals from the building to sell them.
Until it closed its doors in 2011, Golden State Mutual was the largest black-owned insurance company in the western United States for most of its existence. More importantly, GSM literally changed the landscape of Los Angeles. The company made life insurance widely available to tens of thousands of its African American citizens, and in constructing the GSM Home Office in West Adams, the company expanded black enterprise and residency in Los Angeles. A 1978 company history sums up the present-day historic significance of the Golden State Mutual Life Home Office, that it “Stands today as a symbol of black enterprise and of loyal service to many thousands.”