Friday, April 16, 2010

Diamonds are Forever

The varied shingle idiom is amongst the defining characteristics of the late Victorian house styles.  

The diamond motif, possibly inspired by playing cards, appears often.
A void, filled inexplicably, by a curtain of vellum.

The term imbrication refers to the overlapping of shaped (patterned) tiles or shingles.

Image left features a diamond, set bindi-like, in a front facing gable.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fools Market

Real estate's new Magilla Gorilla is the escrow process, longer, and more onerous.  Appraisals are uncertain, rendered by out of area know nothings, loan approvals take an eternity to garner, lender demands: unceasing and often idiotic.  

Not only is the 30 day escrow process a thing of the past, but even a 45 day time frame is ambitious, perhaps ill advised.  Best plan on three months for an FHA deal.  Delays a plenty. Need synchronized closings?  Forget it, better to build in a seller rent-back.

The Appraisal Story

The appraiser surveyed the property, clipboard in hand, likely ignoring my neighborhood spiel.
"It's a new house," he blurted, questioningly.  
"No," I responded flatly--a bit astonished, "it was built in 1898.  Where are you from," I continued.
"La Canada," he volunteered, stealing a glance at his car, parked next to a hydrant.
"Have you ever been to this neighborhood before," I asked warily, "we're close to USC you know."
He hadn't, he didn't, and he tanked the value, comparing the property to others North of the freeway, apples and oranges.  


Supposedly we're safeguarding the consumer, thwarting cronyism with these new reforms, Good Faith Estimates, and the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), which mandates an anonymous appraiser pool rather than area-experienced specialists.  Frankly, I think it's bunk. Window dressing, at the consumer's expense, to mask financial mismanagement and a creative shortfall.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Swiss Chalet Style (Part 2)

Please see preceding post: Swiss Chalet Style Part 1

Disappointingly, most of L.A.'s Chalets have been significantly altered: projecting porches enclosed, or eliminated; detailed balustrades, scroll sawn railings, lost or replaced by hollow core metal.

An outstanding model from versatile, creative architect Charles Whittlesey (image middle), and the Angelus Vista neighborhood.  Whittlesey's rendition includes an extending ridge and tapered modillions. 

The Bavarian spirit is alive and well in Adams-Normandie thanks to notched stickwork and scalloped details.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Swiss Chalet Style (Part 1)

Few examples of the Swiss Chalet Style exist in Los Angeles, and almost all were built during the Edwardian era.  

Two principal sub-types can be distinguished.  The first (see image top) combines a low-pitched front-gabled roof, with clipped (or jerkinhead) end, deep eaves, and exposed rafters.

The second (see image middle) is sited perpendicularly, and a large, elaborate masonry chimney serves as a visual centerpiece.

Tudor-like half-timbering, patterned stickwork, and a second story porch or balcony paired with substantial brackets, are also defining features. 

Chalet elements were frequently applied to the pervasive Craftsman plan type.  In the third image, a bungalow bears Chalet style stickwork in its gables.  Note the elaborated, pendant-like, ends.
Part 2 tomorrow....


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Monday, March 08, 2010

Irving Gill (Part 1)

Contrary to architectural mythos, the subordination of ornament--the neue Sachlichkeit--was not first realized in Vienna or Glasgow, Berlin or Oak Park, but in the sleepy, seaside hamlet of San Diego, California, where architect Irving Gill, began practice in 1893, following a brief stint in the legendary Chicago office of Adler & Sullivan.

Aided by one of his early partners, William Hebbard (who also emanated from the great Chicago seed pod), and possibly influenced by an early job stabilizing the ruins of the Mission San Diego de Alcala, Gill began offering minimalist interpretations of established styles as early as the late 1890's.  The improvisational Gill may have also gained from "primitivist" Frank Mead, a student of Andalusian forms, who joined the firm in 1905 and with whom Gill briefly partnered in 1907.  

Solo by 1908, and pursuing a style without definite historical precedent, the ever inventive Gill who experimented with new materials (concrete, magnesite) and methods (thin wall, tilt-slab construction), was labeled a cubist and a secessionist by an uncomprehending press.  

That nothing so fresh was produced along the Eastern seaboard for a whole generation is a manifold cause for astonishment, though perhaps Gill was liberated by San Diego's isolation and freedom from architectural precepts.   While the office building had undergone a streamlining, courtesy of the Chicago gang, Gill's brand of austerity--particularly in the domestic arena--was unprecedented.

Irving Gill's architectural legacy is unmatched in San Diego, where the majority of his projects can be found, and where he died in 1936.  Gill fostered a series of inspired disciples, largely arts and crafts geometricists, including his nephew Louis Gill, Lloyd Wright, Hazel Waterman, and Emmor Brooke Weaver.

The San Diego Heritage Association's Annual Historic House Tour, on Saturday, March 21st, is featuring four Gill and Hebbard designs, on Balboa Park adjacent Seventh Avenue.  For more information and tickets, go to


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Block Changers

It's nice to be associated with architectural masterworks, bag hefty commissions, bask in reflected glory.  But my greatest source of professional satisfaction is representing buyers on block changers, typically long neglected, tenant-occupied dwellings, spewing adverse impacts.

While it's important to shepherd the comings and goings of swans, neighborhood trajectories are altered most by the passage of ugly ducklings.   Because seldom is an entire block guilty of impiety; instead, a single residence is the source of horn honking, the feral cat population, late night shenanigans.

Bad apples put to compost.  "The Christmas House" lay vacant after evicting a deadbeat tenant, vandalized and collecting refuse.  At "La Casa Azul" people slept two to a bed, and in bunks, in violation of occupancy restrictions.  The yard grew wild and brown (photo is post trim).  

Homeownership may be a right, but it's also a responsibility.