NoHo, Alexanderplatz

In the beginning of the Valley portion of our lives, we almost bought a house on this street in NoHo, a few blocks from here, but we hesitated because the neighborhood was zoned for apartment buildings, which until recently meant 1960’s dingbat courtyards, two story, eight units. A cluster of tapia palms growing where the pool used to be.  A metal gate in the front.

There were maybe two buildings like that on the block.  That was too much for me. Think of all the people we’d have coming and going!  It wouldn’t be…neighborly.   So, Van Nuys for us.   Little did we know.

Now, NoHo is Berlin Alexanderplatz.  Extruded mid-rise transit oriented development, built to curb,  ground floor retail, six floors of windows and balconies, design schemes running from Bento Box to discount Art Moderne, varied enough to disguise the monotony of identical rooflines.    Low installation cost, high return on rent. Hundreds of people per lot, instead of dozens.

In Los Angeles the height limit on wood framing is four stories, so in the first years coming out of the recession, that’s what you saw in most places. Then the money got so good…the human tide of urban enthusiasts willing to drop the the annual salary of a midwesterner on a two-bedroom apartment so profligate,  the land values so overheated, it made more sense to drop the popsicle stick skeleton onto a two-story concrete podium and fatten the profit margins.  Two plus four is six, and a 50% markup.

An Instagrammable Life is the sales point. Live here, feel Adjacent to Something.    You know you must be part of something because there’s yoga downstairs and a pokè bowl at the corner. Everyone is pretty, near-pretty or pretty good at faking it and busy shedding the skin of their former lives.

People who live in these buildings don’t actually ride public transit. The people who pull shifts at the pokè bowl? They ride the Orange Line and live in squalorous dhimmitude behind metal bars at the Canoga Palms with telenovelas and Call Of Duty blaring from every window, box fans twirling six months a year, hot diapers and curry wafting through the courtyard.  The Valley primitive, loud and intimate.

NoHo Alexanderplatz is Disneyland for millennials. Few millennials can afford it, yet here they are. Someone’s paying their freight, because the math never adds up.   Another civic truth we don’t say out loud.

The most successful actor I knew, a guy who appeared on network television consistently, six figure income, an actual face on a billboard, he lived in NoHo, but it wasn’t in a building like this. He lived -for years- like a mouse on a ground floor unit without A/C, tin foil on the windows to reflect the sun, and saved his per diem until he could buy a condo. He knew how quickly it could end.

Lifestyle Porn may now be LA’s primary industry, since nobody pays for actual porn any more. What happens to NoHo when people stop subsidizing the pretty ones?

4 thoughts on “NoHo, Alexanderplatz”

  1. I know of what you speak.

    I spent a chunk of my growing up years in a ground floor apartment in a ten unit 1960s stucco box in Canoga Park. Multiple family members (grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins) lived together in that two bedroom space with a single window air conditioner in the living room that wispered lukewarm air on 100 plus degree days. What little outdoor space there was had been paved for additional parking and low maintenance. We had one car between all the adults – in the Valley. That meant the bus for us most of the time. That’s what we could afford.

    So… what’s your preferred strategy here? Freeze the 1950s tract homes in amber to preserve the postage stamp front lawns and kidney shaped backyard pools? That’s called Marin County or Pablo Alto where supply has been artificially constrained to preserve the character of the neighborhood, prevent traffic congestion, save open space for future generations, filter out “the wrong element,” keep the local public school to a high standard, and coincidentally keep the value of each starter home in the $2M range. That works for the people who already own property or the folks who can afford to pony up.

    If everyone is to live in such a home at a reasonable price point they’re going to have to be built where land is cheap and plentiful. Palmdale. Fresno. Adelanto. Bakersfield. But that’s not where people long to live. Too hot and dry. Too far from jobs and culture. Too freakin’ bleak.

    For me density isn’t the problem. It’s the quality of the urban environment. The actual Alexanderplatz in Berlin is plenty dense… and amazing. The problem with LA is that it both wants to grow and wants to remain suburban and single story forever. So it fights itself tooth and nail over every new building and hobbles its ability to mature into a proper city like Berlin.

    LA is going to continue its present trajectory of being a collection of half-assed “too dense” suburbs and a collection of half-assed mediocre nodes of bland dull density. Shrug.

    1. I should put my cards on the table here. I am not opposed to urban theme park development. Truthfully, I am at times envious. Even if I would not personally live there I can make use of its amenities.

      Just unsure of the underlying economics of buildings which are heavily subsidized by kinship networks.

      1. Here’s my complaint. If LA is going to become more dense and urban it should at least do it well. Nostalgia for 1957 suburbia isn’t helping the process. If LA is going to remain low density and suburban it needs to understand the consequences of that choice. What LA has now is a mediocre schizophrenic unhappy compromise that serves neither goal well.

        You might want to dig into the history of how early suburban development in LA from 1900-1960 was created. It was all “kinship networks” between developers, bankers, and government officials along with massive state and federal subsidies for water infrastructure and freeway construction. Don’t forget the land your house sits on used to be someone’s orange grove. That orange grove used to be something else before farmers pushed them off the land with the aid of federal forces. The water that flows from your taps comes from denuded landscapes a thousand miles away. There are always winners and losers in these things. So let’s not pretend the Eisenhower era tract home is God’s natural creation. It’s just a reflection of a different version of graft, profiteering, and displacement.

        1. What would Howard Ahmanson do about NoHo?
          Would he underwrite loans if he had a clear picture of the finances of the tenants?

          I like the theme of kinship networks. Not sure if it has been fully explored in policy discussions.

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