Vanderpumping the Valley

A new season of Vanderpump Rules is upon us, with a new twist. The cast members (who make $25K per episode) have decamped from their apartments in West Hollywood and purchased homes near each other in…Valley Village and Sherman Oaks and Valley Glen.  Mrs. UpintheValley is in ecstasy.  Practically neighbors.

If you’re a reality star in your eighth season, what do you buy?  What does $2 million get you?   Farmhouse modern, glossy white with black trim, newly constructed.   One of the houses, I noticed, actually abuts a major Valley boulevard. Who would pay seven figures to live next to traffic?  Bravo stars, that’s who.    It’s also possible they chose houses with a generic facade/motif to discourage fans from identifying their location and pestering them with vegan housewarming gifts.

This strikes me as a seachange in how the Valley will be viewed in pop culture terms, going forward. This is not Calabasas. This is the flatlands, north of the 101.  Adam Carolla-ville. Almost Van Nuys adjacent. This is us, albeit on a grander scale.  It’s the inevitable consequence of too much money chasing too few houses.   The little ones go down, and bigger ones take their place, to the limit of the setback.

Then there’s Cleveland, which has been rebranding for two generations in the hope bargain hunters from Californians and New Yorkers will head there in search of a price point too good to refuse.

After my last post, alert reader James noted an earlier Plain Dealer branding campaign from the 80s:  New York may be the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum.  

This sort of civic boosterism inevitably gets trumped by crowdsourced public branding. Healthy cynicism, like cream, rises to the top.   Shame can be a social glue, if not a left-handed expression of pride. It offers consolation without changing facts on the ground.  But in the end, King James will leave you, not once but twice.

In America’s great divergence between the boutique cities on the coasts and Everywhere Else, the New Urbanists keep waiting for people to respond to economic signals. Logic says move to the Rust Belt: big house, tiny price tag, short commute. Be a big fish in a smaller pond.  Locate your start-up here, cut your burn rate in half. California responds by saying, meh, I’d rather just move to my own personal Cleveland called the Valley, and turn that into West Hollywood.

Yes, please. Keep pumping.

The Theater of Disappearance

Remember, we all must die.

Down at the Geffen Contemporary freezers run 24/7 preserving that which cannot be preserved… meat and driftwood and man’s creation, from birthday cakes to tennis shoes to bicycles, the vanity of earthly life arranged like bouquets…a memento mori for the anthropocene.    There is no heaven nor hell depicted by Adrian Villar Rojas, only the opulence of decay, and man’s fruitless quest for immortality. He is coy on the topic of the soul.  He places fish strategically, though perhaps ironically, throughout the exhibit, which is massive, 100 trucks of earthworks and salvaged pieces from prior exhibitions to form a stuffed timepiece, a man-made fossil. I suspect he doesn’t believe in divine judgment, though he trades on it.

What I really wonder is what Rojas would make of the Defenders of Boyle Heights. If they crossed the river to picket his installation, would he hand them bullhorns and cheer them on,  thereby defanging them?  Envaginating them, to employ a more proper metaphor, within his own work:

“Villar Rojas sees each project as an educational opportunity not only for those who visit the exhibition but equally so for himself. The institutions are given an opportunity, in turn, to reconsider the use of their own architectural assets, filtered or focused through the lens of Villar Rojas’s highly attuned sensitivities..this invasive dynamic allows Villar Rojas to develop an almost—in his own words—“parasitic relationship” with the institution; it is in this radical dialogue and exchange where both the artist-parasite and the institution-host explore the limits of what is possible and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, what is negotiable and what is not. Ethics and politics, no less than agency and decision-making, are at stake in the project, opening a series of tough questions: When and where does a project actually begin?”

“Artist-parasite”…Adrian and the picketers are already speaking the same language, separated only by a million dollars in funding.

Remember, our disappearance will be theatrical.

You, and Your Privilege…

Guess it’s a good thing we don’t live in Highland Park. We may have to take our own lives as penance.

Along our secret stair hike...
Things we saw on our secret stair hike…
The world before the return of white people
…the world before the return of white people




We wondered if this was the offending act of gentrification. A traditional bodega putting on airs: gourmet coffee, a juice bar, vegan options, a wine list and spot lighting.


Highland B0wl is pretty rustic on the outside. Unfortunately, the lanes were closed for a private event.  There was a doorman and a velvet rope.  There’s a clue.

With a little sleuthing we found a craft cocktail bar tucked away behind the bowling alley.   Enticingly, it offered a dog-friendly courtyard.


We ordered something with fernet. It cost $15.  Frigging delicious.  Strike three. It’s official. We is gentrifying!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I don’t know who this white lady is, but she seemed to be enjoying herself unrepentantly.  Shame!

Formerly the Van Nuys Hotel


Erected in 1896,  before the city was irrigated….one of the last vestiges of the old, old downtown, like the Farmer’s and Merchants Bank and the Bradbury Building.  Pre-Deco, pre-Moderne, pre-Mayan Theater.   Back when Los Angeles was a railway outpost and distant second fiddle to San Francisco.  Before oil. Before Chaplin.  Before the great swindle. Before Chandler, Lankershim, Whitley and Van Nuys, the Four Horsemen of the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company,  purchased Tract 1000.

What was Tract 1000?  Uh, let’s see….everything north of the Santa Monica Mountains and south of Roscoe Blvd, from Lankershim on the east….all  the way to basically Ventura County.

People lived and acted on a Noah Cross-like scale once upon a time.  It wasn’t just a movie.

I used to live here


This is my old apartment in SF’s Mission District from way back when Mrs. UpintheValley and I were just dating.  My waystation before cohabitation and matrimony. I notice the curtains haven’t changed.  Flea market bedspreads and pillowcases were the order of the day then, and apparently still are.  Which means P. has kept the lease on the place and presumably lived in uninterrupted squalor with a revolving cast of characters from Roommate Finders all these years.  At the prices we were paying then, why would you ever leave?  The rest of the neighborhood has…evolved, beginning with the ground floor. Man, has it ever.


For example, the launderia, where I once had a load of jeans stolen, is now a yoga studio…


…and is buttressed by a vegan restaurant.  The corner liquor store beneath my old bedroom is now a supper club with gilt lettering in the window.  The dive bar at the other corner, where day laborers used to drink their wages beneath the deathly pallor of fluorescent tube lighting and stagger out to the alley to relieve themselves against the wall, is now a pretentious cocktail lounge with velvet curtains.


The New Mission:  High end condos where the old $1 dollar movie palace used to be, but the marquee remains to satisfy the historic preservationists.


Dogs and bikes are ubiquitous in the new SF.


Unlike LA, the bike is king in the new social arrangement.  Bike lanes are everywhere.  Bicyclists are entitled to use the full lane if they choose, and they do so. You may not squeeze them to the side as you pass.   There are reasons for this. One of them is: people who write programming code like to ride bikes, and the people who write code are making it rain in San Francisco.


Construction is everywhere….


They’ve just built the two tallest apartment buildings on the West Coast.


Way out in the Avenues, 3BR starter homes sell for $1 million+ sight unseen, all cash, to Chinese investors, the other group making it rain. No one in the neighborhood seems to know who the buyers are, but everything goes in multiple offers.  You see a guy like this at a cake shop on Taraval, yakking away in Mandarin, and you find yourself inordinately interested in someone else’s mundane conversation.   I’ll say this for the Asians: not a spec of trash or tagging to be found West of Twin Peaks and I only saw one house in disrepair in three days of strenuous walking.


Trails, trails, trails, everywhere…with plenty of parking.   For a city drowning in New Money, San Francisco, unlike LA, has managed to retain at least one bedrock principle of the social contract.


But back to the Mission.  One still encounters the old army of derelicts and panhandlers, but you just don’t find as many Latinos there anymore. Its identity as a landing place for working class immigrants to get a toehold in the economy is rapidly being eclipsed by the brute facts of New Money.  If people of the Twitterverse are willing to spend a million dollars to share a block with schizophrenic crack addicts then there is a diminished geography remaining for line cooks and seamstresses to occupy.   Or drywall installers. Or yoga instructors.   Or maintenance men.  The Latino working class is abundant in Van Nuys.  In San Francisco, it is memorialized in murals.




Last image on the way out of town….a concise acknowledgement of the obvious:  the laptop has replaced the pickaxe in the digital Gold Rush.  Unlike their 19th century counterparts, the gold miners are actually making the money.  The dry goods dealers and shopkeepers work for them.  How long can this last? What happens when Apple stops selling 400, 000 iPhones a day?  Social media and gaming and on-line retail are built on code.  Code can be written anywhere. Angry Birds was designed in Finland.  Tell me how this movie ends.