Friday, February 26, 2010


Periods of prosperity, each with deflating finales.

The booms encouraged American weakness: love of magnitude, a penchant for land gambling, deplorable waste.

But after the love is gone?

The 1890's delivered a decade of unmatched eclecticism, exotic 
revivals, rusticism, the Chicago School, new forms of expression, the basis of modern architecture.

In the 1930's a machine aesthetic, best exemplified by the Streamline Moderne--the continued development of those ideas first engendered in the late nineteenth century, tamped the fantasy and romance that infused America's bucolic post war period.  

The late 2000's?  

To Be Continued....


Thursday, November 05, 2009


Change is the only constant in urban quarters, the most prevailing characteristic.  A challenge then, is to view place not as still, but moving.

University Park, for example, amidst efforts to reframe the Figueroa corridor and USC's
 manifest destiny, might resemble a time lapse effect.  Flashy eateries and popular chains are sprouting along Figueroa, as is a mid rise cluster of student living complexes.  Once the district was a moribund slum.  Earlier still, it was home to the city's elite. 

Fifteen years ago Palmdale was an up-and-coming bedroom community with new municipal works, and a celebrated growth pattern.  Today, the city's image has been radically reset by meteoric foreclosure rates, and mounting social problems amongst its latch-key youth.

Like the expanding universe theories, different neighborhoods
move at different rates of speed.

A few nights ago, I attended a United Neighborhood Neighborhood Council Zoning & Planning
meeting, wherein two of the agenda items concerned Jefferson Park.  The meeting was held, without significant fanfare, on a weeknight, during the final game of the World Series.  Still, over a dozen residents attended, to further the drive toward a historic designation, one of the invisible rudders that helps steer transitional neighborhoods to productive waters, by more effectively managing change.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Candid Camera

Some object to security bars, which in neighborhoods that lack the moderating capabilities of landscape, can seem repressively encircling.  In many higher income communities, features of potential alienation are shrunken, if not more unsettling.

Home Security Cameras are an example of such, fixed to eaves, above entrances, atop high walls. Residences, even neighborhoods, blazon their deployment.  

As the systems drop in price (a package with four dome-shaped infrared cameras and a four channel DVR with 250 gb, costs around $1,000.00), their employment mounts.

The proliferation is also connected to the rise of the home office.  Increasingly, sound and image related professionals, in flagging entertainment industries, are forsaking rental space; instead, housing expensive equipment in re-purposed 
garages, basements, and rumpus rooms.

I asked one Hollywood Hills home owner if he'd utilized his multi-camera surveillance set-up. 
 "Yes," he replied glowingly, "we identified the cat spraying our front door."


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wall of Sound

The artery severing damage imposed by freeways is old news, cleaving into neighborhoods, destabilizing, imposing new and unsympathetic patterns of use.

Following the 1972 Noise Control Act, and its 66 decibel standard, many of these concrete marauders were outfitted with Soundwalls or Noise Barriers, producing a measure of separation.

Soundwalls are commonplace today, lining most interurban highways and byways.  Most, but not all.  Shockingly, an at-grade section of the 10 freeway, lies agape in Pico-Union, while further West (in West Adams Heights) an off-ramp pierces residential idyll.

Besides unmitigated sound, these defenseless neighborhoods are exposed to greater doses of harmful particulates, a debilitating visual excess, and a lack of protection from flying cars.

Jadedly, I assumed those susceptibilities were limited to areas with diminished advocacy; until, a showing on Cahuenga Terrace, in the rarefied Hollywood Dells (see image #3).  Wide freakin' open.  
Is the city to blame?  Partly, politically I'm sure, but the ultimate responsibility lies with Caltrans.  In reviewing the Caltrans Strategic Plan 2007-12, the usual spate of road building projects are detailed, along with public awareness campaigns on drunk driving, measures to protect fish during bridge construction, and  anti-terrorism efforts in ports.  Fifty seven pages and not a mention of soundwalls.  

What could be more important?  


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tree Houses

In real estate dream #4a, I'm staging a tree house, with bakelite radio and army issue binoculars, mosquito netting, maps of the Ubangi River, and a dog eared copy of Lord Jim, or The Swiss Family Robinson.

Some arboreal structures are cobbled together from partial sheets of ply and builders waste (see top). Others employ fine finish materials, inspired by fantastical architectural, or the tree dwelling tribes of New Guinea.

Pitchford Estate in Shropshire County England claims the oldest extant tree house, believed to date from at least 1692.

But while constructing a woodsy roost used to be a rite of passage, chief staging for hideouts, secret clubs, and sleep overs, the pre-fab play structure seems to have commandeered the kiddie commorancy niche.

But who needs all that outdoor imagination stuff when you have video games?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Not So Smart Buildings (Part 2)?

(See Not So Smart Buildings Part 1 from 10/29/08)

Over the years I've worked many a home tour, often as a docent, which has happily led to contact with tour takers, strangers, and the occasional exchange.
Them: "I love these old homes, but I couldn't live in one."
Me: "Oh yeah, why not?"
Them: (some combination of) "They're too busy/It's all a bit much/I need a simpler palette."
And these are the sympathetic folk, who can hold their balance in a Queen Anne parlor, unsettled by Malibu tile and William Morris inspired wallpaper?!

What can I say? We're living in a era wherein concrete floors and a field of white is championed as good design (and it might be, for the few it truly serves). The return to minimalism in contemporary building and design is likely, typically, a response to preceding movements, the playful, sometimes cloying, affectations of post-modernism, and the excessive structural pursuits of computer age architecture.

While I may seem overtaken by the sentiment classique, it is rather that I resist the embalmers, those who would label that which falls outside today's International Style redux as ideologically astern.

This current fetish, for atomic age modernism, the boxy and planar, clerestory windows and machine age materials is fad, standard fad, neither the divinations of the design gods nor the ultimate vessel for 21st century man, but merely another point on the architectural continuum.

Ironically, the era recalled eschewed historical precedents and references, and sought to formulate new concepts of form and space. The revival amounts to sincere appreciation, nostalgia, marketing snap, and cyclicity. The revival is, at times, pure cliche.

(Five images of six wonderful buildings from six different eras.)


Friday, December 19, 2008

That Naughty Beverly Center

I'll not revisit my billboard rants, complaints about the scenery scarring effects, the new, intrusive light boxes, L.A.'s pitiful regulation. But I will tiptoe outside my usual bounds.

Is anything in society exempt from sexual interjection, is anything sacrosanct? Hunky Santa and the Candy Cane Girls, what a pathetic marketing pitch--and cynical! Whatever happened to quality merchandise, attentive service, and price savings?

Admittedly, I've once or twice been distracted by beautiful women, but I'd rather my hosiery purchase not be accompanied by erotic dance.

Of course, I think the whole Santa's lap thing is a little weird. We lecture our kids about the possible perils of strangers, then clamor for a photo op with some fatso in red skivvies.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Gas the Dutchie (Part 1)

As some seek to connect spiking fuel prices with housing market woes, others wonder if my real estate beat, hard-headedly fixed on the "old core" or "the early sprawl," is awash with petrol refugees, exurban escapees, eager to swap Victorville for Vermont Knolls, Frazier Park for Jefferson Park, and Westlake for Westlake.

Certainly, the near downtown market is performing differently than others, unevenly, with less value lost at the high end; though, I'm not sure if the "urban pioneer movement" (as it insultingly came to be known in the 1980's) is occupied with birthing breath, or on the verge of a lung expanding second wind. Maybe even revolutions respect the repose of the place.

Increased energy costs, even in a city state with tremendous economic decentralization, may hasten buyers to our basin-central burg. Unappetizing retail still disappoints some, while the coming Expo Line and LA Live projects are billed as difference makers.

Some of the bandwagoners are jumping on, "it's a culture victory, viva New Urbanism."
Of course, I'm zigging rather than zagging, concerned with even greater development pressures, and those sitting duck neighborhoods, without the smallest of adhesions, or even a viceroy to lead the charge.

Get ready for the next hard sell.
Sunday's Open: 2892 W. 15th ST 4 beds, 2 baths $759,000
2 blocks North of Venice, 2 blocks East of Western
Harvard Heights!


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Fast and the Photographic

I was racing down Hauser when this apartment building caused the breaks on my truck to lock. Since I don't know how to do the Toyko Drift, I instead settled for a tire shredding screetch, and poorly composed photo.

I dub thee 'the Minaret Parapet', I announced to a few startled neighbors, one of whom wet her finger in order to write my plate number on a dirty car door. "Would you prefer the Deco drip," I bellowed as I sped away.

Most are suspicious of my picture taking. Some ask if I'm an appraiser. Few believe in my fandom. In East Adams, a woman yelled from her door, "Why are you taking a picture of my house?"
"It's a fantastic house, " I responded.
"Why are you taking a picture of it then?" she continued.

Many are concerned that I'm trying to capture their likeness, perhaps for deportation purposes. "I'm photographing turrets," I'll offer disarmingly (then show other images in the camera memory). Sometimes I tender my card, in a gesture people accept as legitimizing. "If you'd ever feel comfortable letting me in, I'd love to see the interior," I've asked.

One man responded, "Nobody gets in, not even mama."
"When was the last time somebody got in?" I inquired smiling.
"I lets the cable guy in," he returned, without a trace of humor, "he don't stay long."


Sunday, February 17, 2008

PLUM part 3 or more on McMansions

America's latest hare and hounds, Mansionization the campaign, square footage the quarry.

The space race, is it Jones'n, keeping up with the Jones', or subcortical sabotage? Or partly a response to increasing urban density, this hoarding of interior space?

Los Angeles, frequently billed as the swami of decentralization, continues to become more dense, now the 8th densest big city in America, leap-frogging Baltimore and Minneapolis. More pointedly, of the ten most populous U.S. cities, LA ranks fourth in persons per square mile, trailing only New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Concomitantly, the creation of valuable green space, open space, grand public space fails to keep pace (ergo the popularity of bogus public spaces like the Grove). Interiors have swollen to compensate for lost exterior space, a residential DMZ.

McMansions are frequently the end yield of teardowns. They are homes assembled from mass produced parts, with stock plans often used to reduce costs, an artless assemblage of borrowed signifiers, cheesy Mediterranean revival elements paired with colonial kitsch.

They are actually very useful for illustrating the importance of proportion, because they almost always get it wrong. Tiny windows appear even more diminutive, shrunken against sheer stucco face. Party-sized balconies jut into perpetual space, porches are reduced to open air broom closets.

The free world's 21st century version of ruinous 1950's-60's era urban renewal, destroying cohesiveness in the name of progress, like the terrible fabric discarding re-muddles that transform L.A.'s great early housing stock into the next blight.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Traffic Czar

I haven't an opinion on the mayor's plan to alter traffic patterns along Pico and Olympic. I have in the past however, jokingly lobbied for the pseudo position of Traffic Czar, dedicated to the research and consideration of traffic streamlining measures, coordinating the efforts of planning, engineering, and transit. How's that for a job description?

Fascinated by some of the traffic calming measures implemented by other cities, notably Berkeley (see images), I'd favor significantly more street closures along/perpendicular to major thoroughfares. Support among community groups would be high, in praise of the insulating value of the cul-de-sac.

Likely, I'd just funnel as much money as possible toward rail growth, abandoning any precept of build it/fill it freeway expansion projects.

I'd likely impose a commuter tax too, ala Philadelphia, and not a payroll expense tax. How about a tax on drive-thru's? I'd go tax crazy! The power is corrupting already! Seriously, I think the citizens of Los Angeles will pay for demonstrable capital improvements. It's easier to sell people stuff they can see and use.

I will be open at 2241 and 1/2 W. 24th ST. tomorrow (Sunday, February 17th) from 1 - 4:30 pm. The property is located nearly one block East of Arlington, on the North side of the street.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Window Replacement Part 2

Q: What's the difference between window replacement and pornography?

A: One is a multi-billion dollar industry that exploits human weakness with the promise of increased performance and potency. The other sells sex.

Depressingly, conformity is generally hand-cuffed to mass production and "affordability". Manufacturing prowess marketed as progress, deus ex machina, all that jive talk.

Perhaps the Utopians hail the abduction of detail and variation as a democraticizing measure, the present ever-insufficient, hampered by the bogus romantic.

Still if it were about plain utility, the waxy, band aid muntins would take a hike, 'cause divided lights read "stylish".

But what a turn on! Dear neighbor, we've the same vinyl windows, hollow core doors, and granite counters. We've each infused our lawns with turf builder, bordered by identical plantings. Our carpet and wall color choices are similar and agreeably neutral. Were we any more similar, I might agree to carpool.

A funeral anyone, for art?


Friday, January 11, 2008


Driving through through Koreatown, along 6th St. in particular, one nearly expects hard hat checkpoints. The bulky new, blots out the never before considered quaint, old. Steel frames emerging, Transformer-like, from parking lots, mere cracks in the pavement.

As one of my readers noted (under Those Dangerous White Suburbs comments), the United States has long held an anti-urban bias, freely associating the city (as opposed to the rural or suburb) with moral and social ruin (the impact of ever more intensive urbanization and immigrant tensions). This association may finally be kaput, steamrolled by the interest of builders, a full, mature generation of suburban expats, and an era of remarkable urban safety.

The 1950's status image of cookouts, huge, glistening slabs of meat, cocktails and a backyard putting green has been replaced by another developer led mirage: burghal immediacy, cosmopolita, laptops, a universe of sexy singles (albeit in office inappropriate clothing), and faux fro-yo, or what I call "cutsie commerce".

On cue, Los Angeles transformers herself from a collection of villages, from a pioneering city of neighborhoods, arguably the 20th century model, into the next overstuffed Gotham.

Money is the answer. The question being why promote new housing, so much new housing, as a social necessity? There's plenty of housing after all--cheap housing, in Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore (to name very few). While the employment market in those places may be less stout, and perhaps that's the role government should play (better incentivized federal enterprise zones, like the sort in the Gulf), in some places there aren't the jobs because there aren't the people.

This isn't Nimby-esqe gatekeeping, rather a question of asset management. Is Los Angeles losing herself, her essence, to subsidize the growth machine? Hoarding the financial frankfurter while Flint, Gary, and Buffalo starve?

The unimpinged, free flowing Los Angeles of Woody Allen's Annie Hall has been replaced, perhaps to the Manhattan mahatma's chagrin, by the new strata. Super-sized buildings and developments, schools, malls, single family dwellings, swell to fill available land and air space. Citizenry and the political elite brainwashedly champion the cause, and the steady accretion of downtown continues as convergent boundaries overwhelm. Neighborhood groups meet, fret, and hand-wring, hoping to install developer resistant measures, fingers in dykes.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Plum Part 2

There are several pathologies in the “how we live now” or "contemporary lifestyle" argument for teardowns and mansonification. The first is the typical American reflex to resist and resent any compromise or mitigations. Cons want a 6,000 square foot house, in a single family idyll, with ironclad property values, and total freedom of use and expression regardless of context.

Some are willing "to build green", as if that exonerates their resource intensive pursuit. A 6,000 square foot home can be made energy efficient in relation to other 6,000 square foot homes, but never in relation to 3,000 square foot homes, no matter the low perm housewraps, wabi sabi landscapes (in what little yard remains), and re-circulating systems. Still, it's a canard. Energy efficiency isn't the pursuit--except as gravitas--status and the stuff shuffle are.

The stuff shuffle.

Twenty years ago I worked as a furniture mover, for a small mom and pop operation in Oakland. My boss had clients he'd relocated five and six times, houses he'd visited over and over again. In the early 1980's he claimed the average property contained twice the volume (of possessions) as in 1950. A mere anecdote, yet the storage industry--unheard of thirty years ago, and once the provenance of moving companies--is now a $20 billion a year enterprise. Americans hoard so much crappola that it's consumed their attics, basements, garages, and now has to be stored off-site as well. For many, the solution is to build a bigger home, a much bigger home.

A bit of the added booty might be understood: telecommuting, cheaper garments that are easier to launder, more record keeping, the extra appliance. Still, the average new build in America is twice the size of its European equivalent and growing, despite declines in the average number of persons per household (now 2.5).

End Part 2


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

PLUM/Mansonification Part 1

I spent a hunk of a week ago Tuesday at City Hall, at the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) committee hearing. Amongst the agenda items was a proposal regarding Mansonification.

The turnout was impressive, the speakers impassioned. Both sides were represented, the negative effect on property values was proclaimed by all. Groups favoring lot coverage restrictions, touted the improved property value performance of HPOZ's and other neighborhoods with strict design guidelines (like Palos Verdes Estates). Opponents argued instead that property values are patently linked to unbridled redevelopment possibilities.

Cowardly, a study was requested concerning economic impacts. But how can such a thing be quantified? How do you calculate the value added by a massive re-do, and the corresponding value loss for the encumbered adjoining property?

Asked to report for the West Adams Heritage Asssociation Newsletter, I submitted the following:

The proposed ordinance meant to amend several provisions of the L.A. municipal code and reduce existing Floor Area Ratios (FAR), was shuttlecocked by council, after lengthy and divided--though largely favorable--public comment. An economic impact study was retiringly requested, as if subjunctive conditionals might be tabulated by abacus and forefinger, without regard for that ol' yellowing concern: quality of life. Regardless, the proposed code amendments were lamentably limited to R-1 lots (not otherwise located in Hillside Areas or the Coastal Zone), bupkis for the orphaned majority of West Adams. That's yiddish for beans, people.

Egads, try telling joe public they can't live in 4700 square feet, and they'll have to make do with a mere 2650. Not families of 10 mind you, but couples coveting a sub kitchen big enough to park a Winnebago in. Of course we wouldn't want to change "how we live now", particularly when we can afford a cleaning lady, gardener, pool boy, 12 burner Wolf range, 62 inch something or other, and relatively cheap energy.

The issue of space--or the supposed lack thereof--is a frequent justification by the teardown/McMansion adherents, and like most justifications, it is usually specious.
Sensitively scaled additions can be considered, a detached office or outbuilding constructed, basements can be expanded and sometimes attics, particularly in pre WWI buildings can be finished.



Sunday, December 09, 2007

Those Dangerous White Suburbs

During a break in Sunday night's hectic WAHA Holiday tour, I conversed with a new area resident who moved, she explained, after her daughter left for college. The daughter, she confessed, disliked the parents new surroundings in Adams-Normandie, and preferred instead their previous home in Manhattan Beach, "where the schools are good and it's safe".
"It's safe here too", I added, perhaps showing a bit of the chip on my shoulder, and also eager to challenge the dominant ideology.

What I've wanted to add, for the longest time, probably inappropriately is, "safe unlike those places outside city centers. You know, the places with the mass-killings." Leaving Virginia Tech out, because college campus craziness is a category onto itself, and yesterday's dire news in Omaha, we're still left with the Amish classroom tragedy, Columbine, the Tacoma Mall, Wakefield, Red Lake High, the Honolulu Xerox repair manhunt, the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, and others. None of which involved "negro stick-up men", Crips, Bloods, La eMe, or rap-star posses.

For a change, I don't mean to be flip or indifferent, this is about people losing their lives. As much as I prefer to prick the hegemon and serve a little 'come get yours whitey' comeuppance, when Christmas shoppers are gunned down in a mall, it's sad news. When a 24 year old black man is shot dead on a street corner--it's also sad news (even if he wasn't a pro-bowl safety), and it's no more natural or environmentally ordained.

In El Pueblo stories abound of terrified outsiders, begging off dinner invitations and asking for escorts to the driveway on account of a graffiti scrawl three blocks away, avoiding the 110 freeway lest car trouble require surface street interaction, and mistaking film shoot pyrotechnics for street gang warfare. Probably fueled by yellow media, some legitimate hardships, and big screen depictions like Keven Kline's near car-jacking in Lawrence Kasdan's bromidic Grand Canyon.

Maybe urbanites should instead play the biggety fool, asking prickly questions about retail outlets in Thousand Oaks, or assuming cover formations whilst visiting relatives in tiny New England hamlets. Maybe then America would really get serious about gun violence, and recognize the universal vulnerability it has wrought.