This 12-story Art Deco office tower, built in 1929, was for over forty years the only high-rise in the city. Visible from many parts of Santa Monica, it is the city’s most prominent designated landmark.
The Bay Cities Guaranty Building takes its name from the firm that built it to serve as its headquarters—Bay Cities Guaranty and Loan Association. Mostly forgotten now, the firm was the leading lending institution in Santa Monica during the late 1920s and helped to finance the vast boom in real estate development that came with dramatic population growth during that decade.
The building’s location was an excellent choice for the firm’s flagship, situated on what was then the principle access route from Los Angeles in the city’s central business district. Bay Cities Guaranty selected Walker and Eisen, a prominent Southern California architectural firm known for well-appointed office buildings, banks, and hotels, to design the tower.
Though classically trained, by the late 1920s Walker and Eisen were designing in the Art Deco style, popular for its modern aesthetic and optimistic affirmation of technological progress. Art Deco architecture frequently stressed verticality and that is the case here, where alternating wide and narrow pylons, running the full length of the building, as well as recessed, vertically stacked windows emphasize upward movement. The Art Deco tendency towards stylized, geometric forms is also seen in the zigzag pattern along the cornice, as well as in the use of a chevron pattern in the space between upper story windows. (It is interesting to compare these simplified motifs with those seen on the Mayfair Theatre just across the street where, also in 1929, a radically different architectural style was employed.) The Bay Cities Building is especially striking for its four-story stepped clock tower faced in terra-cotta tile.
When the building opened in January, 1930 the Outlook newspaper declared it “a step forward in the advancement of the business section of Santa Monica and a vast change in Santa Monica’s skyline.” At least the latter was true. Soon after the structure opened, Bay Cities Guaranty and Trust Company plunged into financial crisis and folded as the stock market crash of 1929 reverberated here in Santa Monica.
The sophisticated and modern high-rise lived on however, and over the ensuing decades housed numerous medical, dental, law, and other offices. In the process the Bay Cities Building underwent many modifications. Happily, a recent renovation has restored much of its former integrity, allowing the tower to reclaim its rightful place at the heart of the central business district.