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North America Savings 'Museum' Offers Its Collectibles to a Souvenir-Buying Public

December 01, 1987|JAMES S. GRANELLI | Times Staff Writer

Displayed throughout the fifth-floor executive suite of North America Savings & Loan are 227 pieces of art: sculptures, porcelains, a pair of mother-of-pearl opera glasses and paintings--mostly paintings. There are English country scenes. There are portraits of dogs and horses. And there are red-coated riders and their baying hounds, in pursuit of the fox.

But most noticeably, there are eagles. Bronze eagles and porcelain eagles and paintings of eagles. One even comes with a poem about oysters and eagles--how the oyster sits passively while the predatory eagle goes out and takes what it wants.

That may be an appropriate epitaph for Duayne D. Christensen, the savings and loan's late owner and chairman. His estate and Janet F. McKinzie, his companion and confidante, are the primary targets of a lawsuit that accuses them of taking more than $43 million from the savings and loan.

Regulators declared North America Savings insolvent and seized it Jan. 16, just hours after Christensen died in a single-car crash.

The art and collectibles at the former Santa Ana-based institution are high priced--or, at least, Christensen used savings and loan money to pay high prices for the works. It will all go on the block at 10 a.m. Saturday.

An original oil painting called "Sharing a Meal" cost the savings and loan $3,900 and hangs near the entry of the former headquarters in Santa Ana. A $10,000 bronze statue of a man digging with a shovel stands on a corner table in Christensen's office.

In all, the savings and loan paid more than $250,000 for the collection, regulators figure.

Adams & Associates Appraisers in Irvine have estimated the auction value at about $32,000, which includes a few TVs and sound systems. The estimate is low, said Carol Casey, a co-director at Adams.

The savings and loan, rechartered as a federal savings association, moved out of the 36,000 square feet of offices on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana last week and is now housed in Costa Mesa.

It occupies 6,000 square feet of office space on the third floor of the Great Western Bank building across from South Coast Plaza, sharing part of the floor with American Diversified Savings Bank, which regulators seized in February, 1986.

North America Savings is readying its former executive suite for Saturday's auction. Potential bidders can review the sale items from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.

Much of the expensive furniture and artwork is in the board room and in Christensen's cavernous office, which regulators had sealed from public view until The Times was allowed in to take pictures last week.

His office is as big as many houses--1,500 square feet--and the cost of the rich, wood-paneled ceiling alone would make a healthy down payment on most homes, quipped a lawyer for the savings and loan's receiver, Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.

Christensen, who stood 6 feet, 1 inch, evidently wanted to emphasize his height. The seat of the high-backed leather chair behind his desk was nearly as high as the top of two low-backed chairs reserved for visitors and subordinates.

"It's the appearance of power--basic college psychology 101," Janice Ramocinski, the savings and loan's current president, said in describing Christensen's seating arrangement.

The decor of the executive suite--dark green colors, ornate picture frames, scenes of hounds and horsemen--create an atmosphere of a British hunt club. An overdone British hunt club.

Inlaid in the lobby rug, for instance, is a stylized eagle embedded with tiny lights that change colors every few seconds.

Much of the collection tends to be decorator art, said Casey, the appraiser. But many pieces are well done copies of museum pieces or are works done in the styles of the masters of the 19th Century.

And what some may view as gaudiness, others may view as beauty, Casey suggested.

While she estimated the total value at $32,000, auction fever could generate more than twice that amount, the appraiser said.

"I expect some people will come in for souvenirs, and they'll be ready to pay fat bucks."

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