OnJuly 23, 1925 under the leadership of William Nickerson, Jr., Norman O. Houston and George Beavers, Jr., Golden State Guarantee Fund Insurance Company began in a one room office at 1412 Central Avenue. Within three months they had outgrown that space and moved to a storeroom at 3512 Central Avenue. Within three years the company had over 100 employees and branches in Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Diego, and Fresno.
In 1928, using African Americans for design and labor, they built the two-story Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building at 4261 Central Avenue where the firm occupied the top floor while the main floor was rented to merchants. The company name changed to Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (GSM) in 1931 and expanded into Illinois in 1938 and Texas in 1944. In 1948 GSM commissioned African American architect Paul Williams to design the building that stands to this day as an historic landmark on the corner of Western and Adams Blvds.
From the historic murals they commissioned for the lobby by artists Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff to their willingness in 1965 to allow artist William “Bill” Pajaud to curate what became the largest U.S. collection of corporate-owned African American art in this country, GSM became more than just a business. We salute its founders and the activist role they took in promoting African American culture and history for its employees and customers.
This exhibition would not have been possible but for support we initially received from The Getty Foundation for Places of Validation, Art & Progression as part of The Getty’s initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA: 1945-1980. Loaned items for this exhibition came from the UCLA Library Special Collections; the California State Insurance Commissioner; Alden Kimbrough, William Pajaud, and other collectors who graciously shared their histories, time, art and artifacts to make this tribute possible.