Lorna Mills Exhibit Closes Soon

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By M. “Charlie” Ferrazzi, Special to the Independent

A chorus helps opening the new Laguna Federal Savings, now home to Wells Fargo.
A chorus helps opening the new Laguna Federal Savings, now home to Wells Fargo.

Time is running out to see a Community Art Project exhibit that should appeal to local history buffs and art lovers in the Wells Fargo building, 260 Ocean Ave. The display closes Saturday, Oct. 22.

Drawing from columns by Andy Hedden, originally published in the Laguna Beach Independent, a picture emerges of Lorna Mills, a woman who started in 1936 as a clerk at Laguna Federal Savings and Loan and rose to become the first woman in California to hold the positions of president, manager and vice chairman of a banking institution.

Viewing Hedden’s columns and copies of original materials of the time, provided from the files of Bonnie Rohrer, Mills emerges as dedicated not only to her job but also to helping people navigate the financial realm of banking. She didn’t just invest in financial transactions, she also invested in the people who were involved; homeowners, merchants, realtors, business and personal borrowers, and home builders. And not only in Laguna Beach, but also elsewhere in Orange County.

A postcard etching of the home office of Laguna Federal Savings and Loan Association, designed by Josten's of Owatonna, Minn.
A postcard etching of the home office of Laguna Federal Savings and Loan Association, designed by Josten’s of Owatonna, Minn.

Through these transactions she grew Laguna Federal into one of the largest lending institutions at the time. Her community-based approach was always a backbone of her philosophy, along with strong customer service and providing what was best for the customer’s needs, not just Laguna Federal.

In 1961 Laguna Federal had outgrown its space. By then Mills had been head of the bank for four years. When working with architects Aubrey St. Clair and W.B. Verity, she stipulated that there would be gallery space for the display of art. The result was a building of three levels; first floor for banking, second and third floors were galleries for art displays. Utilizing a rotunda structure open in the center with a skylight for natural lighting, the second and third floor were visible to bank visitors. This was a way to show Laguna Federal’s dedication to the encouragement of the spirit of Laguna’s art colony.

The exhibit includes a copy of a brochure about the opening of the new building, highlighting features not found in other financial institutions of the day, and financial statements that are far simpler than todays.

Historical Society files highlighting early residents are included in the display, starting with the native Americans.

 

The author formerly owned the Esther Wells Gallery in town.

 

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