At Government Services Savings and Loan, telling one kind of account from another is easy - if you know your art.
A passbook with a reproduction of Edward Sachse's 1859 lithograph of Capitol Hill on the cover is for retrodividend savings. William MacLeod's 1844 view of Capitol Hill indicates certificate account books.
The originals for these reproductions are part of the Bethesda-based corporation's own art collection, consisting of about 75 works that portray historical Washington and military subjects. The major force behind the assembling of this collection and the resultant blending of art, history and business has been Arthur Phelan, chairman of the board of trustees and chief executive officer for Government Services.
For Phelan, developing the art collection has been a natural extension of his own interest in American painting. "I got interested in art through an interest in the historical process," he said, because paintings offer a clear record of the changes that people have made in the environment.
He points to animals in the McLeod painting.In 1844, the scenery of the Hill included farms and open country-side in addition to the Capitol. "Individual human beings made the decisions that drove the cows off Capitol Hill and out to Prince George's County," he said.
In Phelan's view, it is the individual, primarily within the corporate structure, who can make decisions that will affect the quality of urban Americans life. The evolution of frontier forts and one-street settlements to cities and the changes that evolution made in the landscape are two major themes of his own art collection. Recognizing that urbanization is a fact of present American life - the cows are not apt to come back to Capitol Hill - Phelan is concerned about the lack of quality in that life.
He cited the maze of traffic signs along Wisconsin Avenue. "Just the street signs alone are an eyesore. Highway engineers dictate aesthetics. There is no design continuity."
Government in general, said Phelan, is too often hampered by bureaucratic conflicts and a lack of design standards to be able to initiate improvements in urban aesthetics. "Government can only create equality, not quality," he said.
His own efforts to have telephone lines along Wisconsin Avenue placed underground came to nothing because there was central agency that could coordinate the project, he said.
Although Pheland does not believe the public is pressing for more attrative surroundings, he believes they do care about their environment. "There's no beauty lobby, perhaps because people get burned out on other causes," he said. "People notice when they are handed an attractive environment. It's like paintings. You know when one hits you in the eyes."
The burden of improving urban life then falls to the corporate community, said Phelan, because its members have the decision making capacities and financial resources to make action possible. There are also sound business reasons why corporations, banks in particular, should be concerned with the quality of urban life, he said.
"Banks have a relatively unique role in our society," he said. "They are viewed much more the average corporation because they protect money. A bank that can build a beautiful, long lived building tends to stand for long life, continuity in our society."
In additional to its art collection, Government Services has linked aesthetics and economics in other ways. Since April 1977, the ground-floor walls of its executive office building on Wisconsin Avenue have been turned into exhibition space for works by Washington artists as well as pictures from the banks and Phelan's collections. The exhibition policy has been extended to the bank's recently opened White Flint branch.
Government Services has also donated office space in its Bethesda Avenue administrative building to the fledgling Montgomery County Arts Council, which , in Phelan's view, could become an important force for improving the quality of life in the county. Phelan is a member of the council's board of directors.