The city of Cleveland, which has lost half its population since 1970, once known as “the mistake by the lake” and the famed location of Ten Cent Beer Night has hired branding experts to promote its virtues to the outside world, New Urbanist style. The sales pitch they arrived at was “World-class experiences without the world-class ego”.
Well, hell. We could do that right here. If any place could use a re-brand, it is our lovely working-class Brigadoon in The Nuys. It makes for a good drinking game.
The first slogan which came to mind was: Van Nuys, not a damn thing wrong with it! which had the irascible defensiveness of a man defending his love for a forgotten brand of cheap beer.
Alternately, there is always the appeal to Low Expectations: Van Nuys: Affordable, not cheap. You know what you’re getting. Van Nuys: Good enough! Or passive-aggressive aspiration: You’ll feel prettier here. Half the house, half the commute. Do more with less.
Ironic: Who said Hollywood doesn’t have a stepsister?
Futurist: Back to the streetcar.
Bitter: Skid Row without the juice bars.
Sardonic: Millennial prices without the gentrification.
Obscure: Free yourself of memory sickness. (Mrs. U didn’t get it either)
Misdirection: Fifty food trucks can’t be wrong.
Convenience: Here, be comfortable with yourself. Bold: The next Highland Park! (I stand by this, btw) Alliterative: Dollar stores and Dialysis, Payday Lending and Palm Trees Comparative: Cleveland, without the weather.
A call to action: Look beyond the hedge.
Simplicity: That’s right. Van Nuys, motherf@$#%*r.
What if someone suspended a cluster of Case Study houses in the airspace above a working-class community in the Valley? Improbable though it may sound, this is coming soon to a ghost building not far from me.
Who would buy there and how would you market it? I can’t improve upon this pithy analysis from a noted New Urbanist:
“Soooooo. Let’s say you are a reasonably solvent individual who wants 1) a mint condition glass box home that 2) hovers above the Blade Runner view of LA and 3) is a manageable Lyft to the perks of civilization. But you also 4) fancy yourself a bit of an iconoclast who 5) savors the grittiness of said landscape – so long as you personally never have to touch it. What better location than the White Favela of Panorama?”
“You get convenience, street cred, and an ironic address all at once.Two options. Each apartment will be huge and very expensive, designed to appeal to empty nester Boomers who don’t want to mow the lawn anymore. Or, these will be tiny personal cubbies and large common areas to facilitate Millennial bonding. There’s more than one way to cash flow a dead office tower.”
The Stahl House above (Case Study House#22, Pierre Koenig) was built in 1960, Panorama Tower, a modernist filing cabinet of offices, in 1962. Neither structure served its purpose for very long. The tower was designed by none other than Welton Becket, the king of jet age Los Angeles architecture: Capitol Records, the Cinerama Dome, Pauley Pavilion, to name a few.
Stahl, the most iconic private residence in the city has been unoccupied for years (also, has only two bedrooms). You could fit four on each floor of this building, and every window would a have a comparable view to the horizon, making the re-imagined Panorama Tower the case study of Case Studies: a luxury Bento Box embedded in the exoskeleton of a mid-century icon, the only one its kind in the Valley.
Takacs Architecture is handling the adaptation. Izek Shomof is the developer. A little sleuthing reveals he has chosen the Millennial option: 194 live/work units. Fifteen per floor, with ground floor retail extending into the adjoining lot.
As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys. The granny flat on a trailer. Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen. It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.
When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this. On second thought, I’ll make it my Man Cave.
Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved. We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue? The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People. The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.
If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability. We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law. If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away. Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.
There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another. There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.
After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.
After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.
As a failure of civic will, the Los Angeles River is a thing of wonder.
Fifty-one miles of contiguous watercourse snaking through the one of the world’s great cities…linking mountains, canyons, the Valley, the Narrows, the Basin, with the Port of Long Beach…and pretty much all of it, with some notable exceptions, off-limits to the public. For a progressive city, Los Angeles has few developed public spaces. No greater resource is more undeveloped than the River itself.
There are scattershot plans to redevelop industrial fields near downtown. Artist renderings have been on the books for decades. Should they come to fruition, there might be -yes, for half a mile!- a fully realized greenway, with enough eco-restoration and bio-swales to bring the NewUrbanists to a state of ecstasy. Conveniently tucked away in the least populated, most inaccessible location, cut off from the surrounding city by both railroad tracks and San Fernando Road, an Omaha Beach-like kill zone for bicyclists. If the Taylor Yards Restoration happens it will, like most things which get done in Los Angeles, arrive through the pathway of least resistance. Meaning few people were opposed to it in the first place. Because we’re speaking of orphaned ground, permanently disconnected from any other part of the river or any path network.
Fortunately, up in the Valley, we have miles and miles of shaded, landscaped river frontage, lined on both banks with walking and bike paths. A suburban Champs Elysees where one communes with nature in the purple evening air….oh, wait.
We sort of, kind of, have something like that.
Except no one is allowed to go there.
We can take its measure through the chain link fence, as we drive past on the boulevard.
We can imagine it. Not difficult to do, when it’s 80% built already.
Or we can be scofflaws. In the name of civilization we can hop the fence (Giles and I have done this many times. Only in the interest of blogging of course) and prowl about and think: wouldn’t it be cool? And the corollary: what the hell is wrong with liberals in LA?
Somehow cities with far fewer resources than Los Angeles, and I’ll just say it aloud, conservative politics, have managed to not only develop their urban rivers and abandoned railways but put them front and center. Let’s take a tour:
This one really annoys me. Even the narco-state of Nuevo Leon, the Bagdad-on-the-Border, headless torsos stacked by the on-ramp, modern-day Dodge City that is Monterrey, Mexico, has managed to offer the Little People something which looks suspiciously like a pleasant place to walk.
Not for the first time, I feel obliged to say it doesn’t have to be this way. Particularly in a city as geographically blessed as LA. Few us know today in 1930 the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead drew up a master plan for Los Angeles County designed entirely around creeks, rivers and greenways, connecting neighborhoods from Palmdale to Palos Verdes.
The redesigned Ralph’s on Hazeltine debuted last month, cool, bright and modernist. Gone is the asphalt parking lot, banished from view below stairs. The front doors are pushed right up the sidewalk, the better to scoop up the foot traffic in a manner befitting….West Hollywood. Will it? The jury is still out. Despite a take-out cafe and on-site Starbucks and a cluster of shaded tables and benches out front which all but announce: hang out here, oh ye walkers of the neighborhood, oh yecool people of Sherman Oaks, no one appeared to be taking the store up on its offer. Begging the question, do the yentas walk in Sherman Oaks?Do the grandkids? Does anyone? Is it that kind of neighborhood?