Crime Scene on Sepulveda

Look at her. In her defense, she was fated on the drafting table to be one of the Valley’s Ten Ugliest. 7101 Sepulveda, a brutalist concrete filing cabinet, a Robert Moses-esque excretion dropped in 1962, no quarter given to public taste. Someone may have endeavored to pass it off as in the then-voguish International style, but certain buildings just say No. This one says it with gun placement window slots. Your eyeballs, like the Pharisees, shall not cross.

This is the building to which the Stasi brought people for questioning who were never heard from again.

As foreshadowing it sat too close to the curb, shrinking the sidewalk to less than three feet at the corner and around the utility pole to allow more room for parking in the back.

The early sixties were a time of Great Progress in California. The freeway system, the Universities, the aqueduct. Pat Brown. Clark Kerr. Buildings, even churches, were stripped to their utilitarian essentials. Gone were cornices and patterned brickwork and decorative overhangs and bas relief.  In the name of modernity crap like this was erected all over the state, particularly college campuses. Modernity was defined by two words: air conditioning.  But also parking.  Parking has preordained most civic decisions since.

Tax Protestors, 1964. Valley Times Collection

For the first five years of its life 7101 Sepulveda served as a branch office of the Internal Revenue Service, an example of form matching function.

From 1967 to 1995 it housed Merit College, an early for-profit school training court reporters and paralegals.

In 1995 Merit College closed its doors without notice, leaving 900 students in the lurch.

Since 1995 it has been vacant, defying the economic laws of scarcity, immune to adaptive re-use. A monument to bad planning, but also a certain species of absentee landlordism.  The kind who waits for others to develop the neighborhood while they collect royalties off the cell phone towers on the roof.

Inevitably it was occupied as a crackhead Delta House and in 2019 gutted by fire.

You would think the City would make this eyesore a municipal issue. Twenty-eight years of public blight should be enough. You would be wrong. Government may have grown glandularly since 1962, it has not become wiser or more responsive, nor more effective in countering monetary interests. Arguably, less so.

Ed Ruscha

There’s an aesthetic sidebar to this. In 1967 the artist Ed Ruscha rented a plane and took a series of aerial photographs of Van Nuys parking lots, several of which hang in the Tate Gallery London. A signed print of 7101 Sepulveda was offered at auction for $8500.

I have mixed feeling about this. Normally I begrudge no man his hustle, but Lazy Art is annoying, more so if it’s making serious bank off my neighborhood without engaging it. Suffice to say this conceptual perspective now hangs un-ironically in the homes of people who couldn’t find Van Nuys on a map.

In 2020, CBRE sent up a drone and took this photo to lure potential buyers. Unlike the Ruscha print, it is available for download without charge.

The exoskeleton and parking lot can now be yours for $8.7 million.

So, if you’re keeping score, 7101 Sepulveda has been vacant and unproductive for nearly as many years as it was occupied, despite occupying prime frontage in the hottest real estate market in the country.  How hot? There are two ranch houses for sale in the neighborhood, a 3Br for $1.35 million and a 2BR for $900K.

$900K also happens to be the 1998 assessed value of 7101 Sepulveda, which means the person who buys this house on LeMay will have the same property tax liability. This might explain, in part, why the owners have managed to leave it vacant for so long.  It’s an argument for a split roll adjustment to Prop. 13.  Also for a mandatory development clause on commercial property located on a transit corridor. Three years to file a building permit or you must sell. Can’t believe I’m writing this but here my baseline free market libertarianism collides with civic pride.

Mr. UpintheValley’s prevailing Cancer Theory of Los Angeles posits not overdevelopment but its opposite: deep pocketed speculators who sit on strategic corners for decades waiting for others to buy them out.

Up on Roscoe Blvd the owners of the old Montgomery Wards site have been teasing redevelopment plans since…1995, while leasing the massive asphalt lake that surrounds it to film companies and for Covid testing.

In 2018 a mock-up of The Icon at Panorama, a long promised 600 unit mixed-use retail island, was draped over the old Wards sign, offering the promise of an imminent Culver City-ization.  As the months and years ticked away without breaking ground the mock up slowly disintegrated in the sun, nature declaring a verdict on the unrealized transition from 1964 Asphalt Heaven to Los Angeles 2.0.

Where’s Rick Caruso when you need him? Running for Mayor, promising to expedite the building of homeless shelters. More. Bigger. Faster.

The Valley needs it own Caruso. A street fighter-on-a-budget Armenian Caruso. Mr. UpintheValley is feeling politically homeless about now.

10 thoughts on “Crime Scene on Sepulveda”

  1. A brilliant and well researched essay. Amazing how one building can embody all the promise, decadence and indifference of modern Los Angeles.

    And nobody can do anything here to make this blight disappear and replace it with something of value and purpose?

    1. The California Question Eternal: can the answer be found in my own zip code? Or must I go elsewhere, to higher elevations, to fix my neighborhood?

  2. This is one of those irritating yet slippery slope type situations. What legal mechanism could/should/would force a property owner to do something they don’t want to do? How might that same law afflict others (dear reader) in ways not yet imagined? This is particularly true when all the current incentives encourage the owner to do nothing. Sitting on property for decades is a rational response when the holding cost is low.

    A “Georgist” land value tax would do the trick. Jack up property taxes on the dirt under the ugly husk of a building to present day comps of what – could – be there instead. You can see how that could be a sticky wicket. “That old motel is a blight on the community. Let’s force the owner to do something higher class.”

    I might be in favor of such things if it weren’t for all the other rules, restrictions, zoning parameters, community engagement, legal battles, environmental review boards, and endless hoop jumping that is required to do fuck all these days.

    “New development is gentrifying the neighborhood and driving out hard working locals!”

    “New development will increase density, cause worse traffic congestion, reduce available parking, and attract the wrong element. Think of the children!”

    Dude. I’m on the side of the property owner in this case. Doing nothing is the smart move all other options being unequal.

    1. Smart for him. Exhausting for me. Send in the Armenian Caruso to stave off my bitter tears.

    2. I feel like the issue is Prop 13 and you guys just need to vote it out. I write this from Philadelphia where we have very different problems and opportunities but no shortage of blight and absentee landlordism. However we don’t have any issue with prime land sitting vacant for too long because tax assessments continue apace and if there is growth in a neighborhood the rising tide lifts all boats and carrying a vacant commercial/industrial property can get costly over time.

      1. Josh, this was the idea behind the split roll. Commercial structures get reassessed periodically, homeowners keep their protections.

  3. I see what is now a parking lot next door once held several disbursed buildings. Any idea what they were?

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