Drive by the at Pacific Coast Highway and Torrance Boulevard on Sunday, and you may see ladders and scaffolding blocking the entrance.
Art conservators Traci Lucero and Leslie Friedman are on the job, cleaning and repairing the 32-year-old glass and tile mural, which shows birds in flight against a bright red background.
"We found another mosaic!" Lucero told Redondo Beach Patch. She had stumbled across the second artwork, which was hidden in plain sight on the south side of the bank over an unused door. That side of the bank is only a few feet from the Cozy Café, so the mosaic is difficult to see from the street.
Since the Cozy Café has been in place for more than 60 years, and its extension for 50 years, the position of the second mosaic is a mystery. Why install a work of art where it can’t be easily viewed? No one knows.
Edna Silva of Wells Fargo Corporate Communication said that the second mosaic will be restored as well.
"I don't have any details on when they'll start," she said, but she confirmed that work on the first mosaic, which faces Torrance Boulevard, should be finished by April 17.
The restoration is due in part to last year.
Those calls alerted the bank's Department of Historical Services to the work by Susan Lautman Hertel, an artist who died 18 years ago.
When the building first went up in 1979, it was a Home Savings and Loan, a banking firm started by Howard Ahmanson in the 1950s. Ahmanson gave his banking chain a distinctive look by commissioning artist Millard Sheets to design the buildings and create the artwork that went into them.
Hertel, a former art student of Sheets, worked with him for 30 years, then took over his design firm when Sheets retired in the mid-70s. Besides the Redondo Beach mosaics, Hertel also composed and installed the mosaic panel on the Torrance Home Savings, now a Chase Bank, several miles east on Torrance Boulevard.
Most former Home Savings and Loan mosaics are in better shape, although one in Rolling Hills Estates had to be taken down and re-installed two years ago. In that case, the salty sea breezes caused the adhesive backing of the mosaic to deteriorate.
Since the Redondo Beach Wells Fargo Bank is only blocks from the beach, its mosaics may be suffering from the same problem.
The entire restoration process is being carefully documented, Silva pointed out, with copious notes and photographs taken at every stage, "in case there's any future restoration, (so) that they know exactly what's been done to the mural."
There is an ethical reason for that. The artist is no longer around to make decisions or pick which tile goes where. Even though the conservators are exercising their best judgment, ultimately "everything they do is reversible," according to Silva.
The art conservators start by cleaning the mosaic, then use fill material where tiles are missing. Paint is applied to match the original piece so that from a distance, the artwork looks whole.
Up close though, the work of the conservators should be clear. And that's the point, Silva said: to "distinguish the original piece from what the [conservator] has done."
The scaffolding in Redondo Beach goes up and down on Sundays only, because the bank is open all other days.
"It's done outside the work hours," said Stan Tolentino, the bank's service manager. He pointed out that as the scaffolding blocks the main entrance, "it's not something we can dig into during work hours."