Thursday, September 27, 2007


Property inspectors can perform the most critical service in a transaction. Their findings and reporting can cinch a purchase or derail an escrow. It isn't simply about structural analysis, and honest reporting, it's about providing a context, sometimes demystification, and a standard appropriate perspective.

Some inspectors are deal killers, pure and simple. Afraid of liability, they assail the smallest shortcomings, and while the information they dispense may be credible, even accurate, it often exaggerates risk or lacks a real market perspective that less experienced, or unprepared agents can neither temper nor support. They may even think their role is to provide the buyer's agent with additional negotiation buckshot.

Oh yeah and some inspectors are just plain ol' wrong. One, noting the steep peak of a finished attic ceiling, decried the lack of a specific structural member. Fortunately, the seller was able to produce photos of the space whilst unfinished, its framing, and the plainly visible, structural element (in this case, collar ties).

I've seen all types of inspectors on the old house trail: soft ball artists who wouldn't note dry rot if they stepped through a hole in the floor, suburban goofballs who've never seen a clawfoot tub and run from masonry like a centerfielder after a shallow pop fly, the editorialists who pepper in nasty asides about the neighborhood and its family unworthiness. Some impose a new home standard on 100 year old product, foster an innate hostility towards the old, and a false hierarchy that champions the new. Old systems, for example, are often taken to task, but seldom is dense, old-growth, full dimension framing celebrated--though it should be.

Some brokerages discourage their agents from recommending inspectors, preferring the client pick their own (another liability stopper). Most buyers have neither the tools, nor the experience to differentiate or vet inspectors properly, often asking for random referrals or making blind selections from an on-line database.

Some buyers mistakenly tab contractors, salespeople who shamelessly hawk their product or service, often at usurious rates. A foundation contractor once sought to manipulate a buyer with a haggard Clint Eastwood line, "Do you feel lucky?" Often when cornered, or challenged, they'll offer discountingly, "it's only my opinion." Naturally, but to an besieged buyer it's frequently received as scripture.

Regarding modus operandi, I prefer those who generate a hard copy report on-site, rather than the delayed, everyone on pins and needles, e-mailers who take days to respond. I also prefer inspectors who provide a verbal summation, working through the printed report, fielding questions, even those unrelated. This is especially valuable because many inspectors are not particularly good writers, organize material awkwardly, or distinguish built states without criterion.

There's plenty of capable inspectors of course, to deliver determinations good and bad. I've a few regulars and I often share resources and recommendations with other area specialists. Mostly, I try to help clients identify condition issues before the offer writing phase, so the physical inspection is less about startling revelation and more about helpful direction.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Living History Tour

Sunday, September 29th, the West Adams Heritage Association presents the 17th annual Living History Tour at Angelus Rosedale Cemetary (1831 W. Washington Boulevard).

The Angelus Rosedale Cemetary, one of the city's oldest, was founded in 1884. The Living History tour features graveside actor portrayals of famous L.A. personages. This year's luminaries include: John Marcellus Stewart, an early California gold miner; silent film era actress Louise Glaum; "The American Apostle of Termperance", Francis Murphy; radio personality Bubbles Whitman, film director Marshall Neilan; and, Eliza Griffin Johnson, an artist and wife of a Confederate General.

Tickets are available in advance only, for $30 per person (children under 10 free). Checks may be sent to:
WAHA Cemetary Tour
2209 Virginia Road
Los Angeles, CA 90016

For more information, or to confirm reservations, please call the WAHA reservations hotline (323-732-4223), e-mail, or visit

I took most of the photos involved in the promotion of this year's tour, including director Marshall Neilan's star (located outside the Pantages Theatre). A large star-shaped cut-out will be used to mark Marshall's headstone-less site. I'll likely be milling around, perhaps acting as the chapel greeter, maybe just parking cars.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cut Outs Part 1

Decorative cut-outs were very popular in turn-of-the-century home building and furniture making.

Homes both modest and grand exhibit these details. On exteriors, cut-outs were most often featured on bargeboards (see image left), or gable vents. (In interiors, the ballusters were the hotess with the mostess).

Card suites, like these clubs, were a very hep motif, hearts the most common.

This amazing balconet in Western Heights is riddled with diamonds. A balconet, incidentally, is not a small balcony, but rather a false balcony. Dig the zig-zag brackets. A planter box? Nah, I don't think so.

Where to start, aside from the whole, tie beam, collar beam, king post, open gable thing? Yeah, the swallows. Fantastic, eh?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Is it Safe Part 4

Maybe it would be less safe in West Adams and environs, if our neighborhoods weren't packed with film crews. One night recently, I encountered three different productions: a MOW on 29th Place, a law-and-order drama on Dalton, and a sorority send up in Western Heights. Most of the set cops didn't seem too concerned with their purportedly perilous surroundings, lazing about on their motorcycles, half-heartedly assisting with traffic "lock downs", or chatting up the hair girl.

I'm asked constantly about the proliferation of security bars, doors, and fences in South Los Angeles. Ugly to be sure, and unneeded in most cases, though not confined to the 'hood. A block from Larchmont Village, at Windsor and first, windows bars can be noted in every direction (see photos). It's a Los Angeles pandemic, status for some, the fear peddler's calling card for others.

Of course nobody questions the safety of Larchmont Village, save the nescient LALife (which rated Hancock Park 1.5 on its safety scale of 1 to 10, ten being most safe). As determined by J-Park judico Michah Wright, the LALife site (previously lambasted here) does little more than overlay an entire district's reporting.

Hancock Park, or Victoria Park, or Leimert Park, is therefore bunched together with neighborhoods ten blocks away, even ten miles away, merely because they share the same patrols.

A little like posting the average pool depth, and then encouraging kids to jump in the deep end.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Brueghel or Bruegel

Pieter Brueghel the Elder was a Netherlandish renaissance painter, often cited for his Hiermonyous Bosch-influenced "demonological" paintings. Brueghel was likely, however, the first Western painter to paint landscapes as an end in themselves, rather than as a backdrop to religious allegory. Brueghel was also a town-lover, among the earliest urban documentarians.

His Flemish village scenes are richly rendered, rife with non-idealized architecture, crofts and thatched houses rather than palaces or country estates, populated by argricultural workers, peasants, and tradespeople. The nameless and the everyday milieu.
A detail from Hunters in Snow, featured memorably in Andrei Tarkovsky's severly haunting film Solaris (inexplicably re-made as a George Clooney vehicle). Probably Brueghel's first winter landscape. Blacksmiths toil as the huntsmen and hound return amidst fading light. The hillside is lined with houses of masonry construction, many with a jerkinhead, or clipped gable roof.

The Numbering at Bethlehem was signed and dated 1566. Elsewhere in the picture, the Imperial tax gatherers have established themselves at an inn, to collect duties as pigs are slaughtered, children play, and the drama of the Nativity unfolds. (Brueghel was about 40 when the Duke of Alba led Spanish forces into Brussels to forcibly convert the Protestants). In the center, a two story structure with a stepgevel and a second-story sand colored addition commands attention. Seen through bare branches, the red, winter sun nears the horizon.

Another particolare, this time from The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, and a town square setting. A typically busy scene, filled with a baker's wares, a window washer, and a meager cortege. Amongst the architectural detail: more stepgevels, and a half timbered house in the rear with an elaborately ornamented bargeboard. Tiny windows appear near the gable ridges, and shallow pent roofs, or shed roofs are evident above first floor windows.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Crown City Hardware

Crown City Hardware is located at 1047 N. Allen in Pasadena (a mile North of the Allen exit on the 210 freeway).

Crown City specializes in quality reproduction and decorative hardware, though there are antique items in the store as well.

The customer service, at the back hardware counter, is knowledgeable and resourceful. Crown City issues an extensive hardware catalog (the latest edition is 432 pages), which can be viewed online at

It's a great place to look for unusual hardware items like picture hooks, corner guards, or screen hangers.

Open 7 am to 7 pm Monday - Friday , 8:30 am - 5:30 pm Sa


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Offer to Parag

"If you buy this house Parag", I promised, "I'll help you take down the awnings."

Parag made the purchase, but instead he opted for my help with carpet removal, and his painters removed the ridiculous awnings. Even more ridiculously, they masked a beautiful leaded glass transom. Of course, we wouldn't want all that light in the house making things, errr--look good.

I found this ad for awnings at the National Building Museum.
In ancient civilizations and even in the early 20th century, awnings were meant to be seasonal, mostly made of canvas, rolled up or stored, away from the summer months. Of course some were designed to be retractable. But when aluminum came in, these cheap, fixed, colorful shed shapes, spread like wildfire.

Awnings suit nicely sidewalk cafes, but I don't much care for them in residential architecture*, particularly not on late Queen Anne Transitionals.

*Nor do contemporary home builders it seems, particularly not in our air-conditioned world.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Barriers, Real & Imagined Part 1

The thoroughly acclaimed Western Heights Tour is past. Receipts are being totaled, home owners are catching up on lost zzz's, docents are resting their strained larynges. But an iota of controversy remains. A primary tour focus was to raise money for permanent, landscaped, traffic-calming features--full and partial street closures.

Such a thing wouldn't raise eyebrows in Brentwood, Bradbury, or Bixby Knolls, but in anti-establishment West Adams, anything that smacks of elitism or exclusion comes under instant fire (and rightly so, I say). Several West Adams area neighborhoods (most notably Victoria Park and LaFayette Square) have already closed off streets, mostly in an effort to abate non-resident cut-through traffic. The Victoria gates (like the Van Buren Place cul de sac) block the sidewalks as well. These are not gated communities, like Fremont Place or the late/great Chester Place, with sentry shacks and restricted pedestrian access; but for some they're discomfortingly similar.

Personally, I'm in favor of traffic-calming measures. Not just for Western Heights, but for all the Near West downtown neighborhoods, from the Crenshaw corridor East, and on beyond zebra.

West Adams was especially defiled by the 10 freeway*, saddled with five on/off ramps in a measly two-and-a-half mile span: Arlington, Western, Normandie, Vermont, Hoover. Residential streets like Arlington/Wilton and Normandie were resultingly tranformed into key North-South arteries (which resulted in additional malevolence). Residents ought to be able to consider compensatory measures.

To Be Continued....

*Nobody, but nobody got sucker-punched like Boyle Heights, bearer of the 5, 10, and 60 freeways.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Egyptian Revival Returns

The rare Egyptian Revival single family residence (in Longwood Highlands)!!!
It's missing the distinctive columns or bundled shafts, as well as the deep cavetto or gorge-and-roll cornice, but the battered (or sloped) walls and the smooth monolithic exterior finish is a dead give away (though some examples used a cement or smooth ashlar finish). I think some detail has gone missing in the cavities over the awnings, maybe the ever popular, ever horizontal vulture and sun disk symbol, or a wing-spread raven. Tall windows and flat roofs are also associated with the style, particularly in its second coming (1920 - 1930).


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Western Heights Home Tour

Six Blocks of History: Western Heights Homes Tour
Sunday, September 9
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You're invited to "Six Blocks of History, " the Western Heights Neighborhood Association (WHNA) Homes Tour. A self-guided walking tour through this preeminent "streetcar suburb" and eight, docent-staffed, historically significant homes, (including my listing at 2361 W. 20th St.).

Located just north of the Santa Monica Freeway between Western and Arlington, Western Heights is an architecturally diverse enclave filled with custom-built homes from the turn of the century, and the early decades of the 20th century. A staggering array of styles including Craftsman, Queen Anne, Monterrey, Spanish and Mediterranean revival. Many were designed by prominent architects, such as John C. Austin, Myron Hunt, George Rector, Elmer Grey, Sumner Hunt and Paul Williams.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 the day of the tour. Check in at 2173 W. 20th St., where the final ticket will be sold at 3:30 pm. (The tour houses close at 5 p.m.) Please try to avoid wearing high heels, or shoes that might blemish hardwood floors.

You can still purchase tickets online. Log onto, and "click here to buy tickets online." You will be prompted through PayPal. Questions? E-mail, or contact yours truly.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pitfalls and Potholes

Today took the cake. It's hard enough to get buyers out with the F-word* sprinkled about the business section, loan products vanishing like doppelgangers in a carney, and half of L.A. rigging low-tech swamp coolers, or clinging to the coastline like egg-protecting penguins. But road closures too?

Thanks to the planned, traffic-limiting abutments at the Arlington end of 20th St., the Meyers Residence (2361 W. 20th St.) cannot be reached by car without crossing Cimarron--where today road work took place. Cars were ticketed and towed (isn't towing penalty enough?), barriers and road closure signs were erected, and my brokers open....well it didn't exactly set attendance marks.

A few found their way. One spirited agent/buyer combo vaulted the barriers, "it'll weed out the meek," they offered encouragingly. Another party parked three blocks away, "not only is the street closed," he confirmed, "but there's a movie shooting on the next block and there's no parking there either."
"Great", I muttered, "it was hard enough working against dour sentiment and mother nature, now I've got to take on guys in reflective vests, lots of guys in reflective vests."

*the new F-word: foreclosure!


Monday, September 03, 2007

Most Asked Questions #1

How to strip painted metal hardware?

There are many techniques, some probably better than mine. I begin by soaking the hardware in a dilute bath of tri sodium phosphate (TSP). I prefer TSP to conventional paint strippers, for cost, handling, and disposal. (Incidentally, one neighbor swears by the de-laminating power of Coca Cola, as if you needed another reason to quit drinking the stuff.)
I prefer to work with TSP in a liquid rather than a powder form. Over time the powder binds, has to be chipped loose, becomes airborne and inopportunely snorted. The liquid TSP substitutes seem to work fine as well.

How long do things need to soak? After a few hours begin to probe or even score the paint with dental picks and awls. Wire brushes and scrubbing pads are your principal weapons. Dental floss can penetrate hard to reach places. Use superfine steel wool for the final clean up. Sometimes pieces need to soak longer, even days, with the TSP solution refreshed periodically.

Now and then I'll leave something in too long and it'll grow rusty; but even those apparent casualties can often be reclaimed, scrubbed, polished clean, and re-plated. Some like to lacquer (usually spray on) their hardware afterwords, or wipe with furniture polish (like Old English).

These butterfly hinges had been painted repeatedly. I worked on each for about 2 minutes, on three or four occasions, over a week.
None have been polished or lacquered.
Thanks everybody for coming by my open yesterday, in the extreme (outdoor) heat. I'll be back in the air conditioned comfort of 2361 W. 20th tomorrow from 11 - 2:30, the last scheduled showing until after the Western Heights home tour.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Things I Found in August

Fine 1920's toilet bowl. Found on Van Ness near 73rd St. There's nothing I enjoy finding more than early bath fixtures.

T-Neck 45. Isley Brothers. Found on Cambridge. The Isley Brothers have to be one of the eleven greatest bands ever: Earth, Wind, and Fire, Led Zepplin, The Isley Brothers, the Kinks, James Brown and the Fabulous Flames, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Cream, Booker T and the MG's, the English Beat, Funkadelic/Parliment, and the Small Faces. Something like that. Bill Haley & his Comets?

Calvin Klein neck tie. Found on Westmoreland Boulevard. Subsequently dry cleaned for 2 bucks.

Sunday's Open: 2361 W. 20th St. 2 - 5:30 pm.
This property will not be open next Sunday, September 9th, regardless of availability, on account of the Western Heights home tour (which I'll promote later this week). So come see it now!

photo left: one of two very large bedrooms. The property claims a total of three bedrooms and a den.