The Fussy Eye: Code Unknown

Hieroglyphics in the ID.

The Bank of America branch in the ID is always fairly busy, with parcels and remittances being sent home to Guangzhou, Xi'an, and beyond. But few pause outside the modernist box, originally built for SeaFirst in 1959, to appreciate the strange decorative grill set over the entryway. There are no clues as to the architect or designer of the hanging metal frieze, which possibly alludes to Asian calligraphy characters set on scrolls. But surely not Chinese or Japanese or any other lettering system—they're more like pictograms or hieroglyphics. Whether they should read right-to-left or left-to-right (or be read at all), I can't tell. The rolled metal figures almost resemble notes placed on music staves. They suggest language, a lost system of pictographic communication; and your eye insists on looking for repetition and grammar among the red-backed dingbats. (Crenulated, gold-colored metal accent marks read like underscores for emphasis.) The glyphs also suggest those dancing, whimsical graphic motifs Jim Flora designed for so many album covers during the 1950s and '60s—that space-age era of Tiki bars, lava lamps, and our own World's Fair. Below the frieze, there's an upturned, uncarved stone like the remnant of a rock garden long raked away. Clearly, the original architect was aware of the surrounding neighborhood. Once known as Japan Town (until Japanese-Americans were carted away during World War II), the area was redesignated in 1951 as the "International Center"—less an ethnic ghetto; more vague, sanitary, and optimistic—like the metallic fresco that welcomes all customers, speaking all languages, into the bank. 

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