First Black Insurance Company Designated Historical Cultural Monument

There was a time in Los Angeles when Blacks could not get life insurance coverage, even if they could afford to pay for it. In 1925, several African-American business leaders created the first Black-owned insurance company. They called it Golden State Life. The purpose of the company was to fill the void and market its products to a thirsty Black consumer market.

Over the years, the company enjoyed booming success and outgrew its original site on Central Avenue. In 1949, they built a state-of-the-art edifice in the West Adams community and relocated their corporate headquarters.

Building designed by first black architect admitted to the American Institute of Architects

The building was an icon and pride of the community as it proudly sat on the corner of Adams Boulevard and Western Avenue. Famed architect Paul Williams was the designer, and the building was known as a jewel. In addition to serving as administrative offices, it housed a rare collection of African-American art. Throughout the years, many would look for any excuse to head to the office building and experience the one of kind artifact collections interpreting various aspects of African-American culture.

The Process

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council favorably responded to Los Angeles Conservancy's petition to have the building declared a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM). Conservancy Director of Advocacy Adrian Fine mentioned, "It was a tough process, but our group takes its mission of protecting structures which have historical significance very seriously." For a while, it seemed like the project dragged on and on, but community and political leaders never waned in their support.

Golden State was known as a solid corporate citizen, but like many companies of its era, they used lobby space for various community projects. As mentioned, the building was very unique in structure, but it was the art collection that symbolized pride and progress. During that period, the African-Americans community also started migrating from Central Avenue to the West Adams community and beyond.

Threatened by Economic Meltdown

In 2008, the U.S. economy faced an economic shutdown which some compared to the Great Depression. Consumers and businesses across the nation faced financial peril like never seen before. Golden State Life Insurance Company was one of those businesses which could not weather the storm. In 2009, state regulators arranged for the company's liquidation. Resolution of the physical building and its famed art collection became the project for the Conservancy to salvage.

Yesterday's announcement brings closure in securing the building's legacy. Los Angeles Community Impact Development Corporation is the building's new owner. According to Fine, they plan on keeping the building intact but will add to the rear of the building. There is discussion to convert it into office space, but for now, supporters of the project are cherishingtheir victory in obtaining the HCM status.

The achievement by the Los Angeles Conservancy adds to the public benefit of why they are important in preserving the past.

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