If you wish to avoid falling into a spiral of recrimination about the state of Los Angeles, I don’t advise a trip to Europe. You will return to California like Mary Poppins on her umbrella.
Definitely don’t get on a bike. Or ride the tram. Or order ristretto. Europe is a moveable feast. It stays with you.
I was away, away, away on the mother continent for awhile, doing precisely those things and my life was both more peripatetic and yet slower. To my surprise, it was more affordable. Baskets of blueberries for $2, croissants for 80 cents. I ensconced myself in an AirBnB in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin with 11 foot ceilings and rococo moldings for €50. Slept in a space pod in Vienna. Hiked the Inner Border between the former East and West Germany in the Harz mountains. Biked the Danube and drove a Fiat through the lands of Tintin, €40/day, unlimited miles.
Suffice to say, I didn’t see a single tent encampment, nor did I encounter crazy/aggressive people in the street. Not a one, though I did meet this guy:
Now that I’m home, in trying my best not to add to the measure of America’s collective outrage. I’ve fallen into quietude.
To get back on the horse, I shall start small, with a little something to say about bikes.
Berlin has hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes and paths. You can keep pace with cars. Trams, pedestrians and bikes and autos share the roadway on a proportional basis.
This is easily done in Europe, one might reply. The built world is made for it. The sidewalks are six meters wide. Trams run every three minutes, spotless and welcoming. A car is an anachronism, not a necessity. In Los Angeles, the car is king. Form follows function, and the Red Line is an unpleasant alternative.
All true. But seventy years after abandoning the principle of streetcar neighborhoods for sprawl, L.A. is seeking to return to a hybrid city, re-developing around transportation nodes in the hope of nudging people onto the bus or train. Few do. The people who can afford to live in these Disneyland dorms for young adults are not service workers. Service workers ride the bus because they are to be punished.
But we could have ONE bike lane in the Valley, right? In the name of civilization. Or safety. For the oddballs, like me. Or as an experiment in promise-keeping. Or just to claim bragging rights over Fresno.
The most densely populated district of the Valley is the North Hills-Panorama-Van Nuys nexus, a corridor three miles wide lacking any bike lanes in the choke points on the stroads north of Oxnard. Name another world city where this would be allowed to happen.
For every dollar that is spent in L.A. County, a penny is raked off the top and sent to Metro, in perpetuity. From this giant pot of money bike works are to be paid for. Or not, in our case.
Instead we build trains, slowly. Very slowly. Then we turn them over to people like this:
Traffic flows on Sepulveda, Van Nuys and Kester average 45 mph+ during non-commute hours. To attempt to share a lane with a GMC Yukon is to put oneself at hazard, body and bone.
Yet there are people who make this commute every day, white knuckling it onto sidewalks. I’ve been that guy, until I exhausted God’s distribution of good fortune and couldn’t live on random luck any longer.
What if, like clean water and sewers, a bike lane is the yardstick of civilization?
Hungary has the same population as Los Angeles county and its national economy is a fraction of California. Budapest, only recently emerged from the Soviet yoke, buildings still pockmarked with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising, has a modern river system fully accessible to cyclists and rollerbladers and joggers.
The bikeways are dotted with biergartens and little rest stops with repair stations.
Los Angeles has a perfect climate and an elaborate river system closed to the public except for brief, non-contiguous stretches which serve as private esplanades for privileged neighborhoods.
To travel in Eastern Europe is to both go back in time and visit a future that may not be possible for America. You’d almost think we lost the Cold War.
The delightfully wonkish Doug Sierra from Sun Valley, fresh off an endorsement from the Daily News, joined me for the second in a series of interviews with the candidates vying for the CD 6 Special Election.
Are you in favor of converting the Orange Line to light rail?
It never should have been built as a bus line to begin with. We have a right-of-way on the old Pacific trolley line all the way to the Burbank Metrolink station. The problem with the Valley is everything is islands. Not enough connectivity. If we had these nodes people would use public transportation exponentially more. I don’t understand why they didn’t extend the Red Line all the way to Panorama or North Hills.
I agree. I grew up in Sun Valley and looking at the map you wonder why does it stop there? If you keep going up Lankershim you reach the NoHo West mixed use development… After that it’s all service worker neighborhoods. Public transit people.
Right, and Metro doesn’t even talk about it, and I’m like ‘hey the Red Line is not finished.” If elected that’s something I would like to address. Unfortunately those decisions are made at the county level. What explanations, if any, have been given?
Tunneling being cost-prohibitive. But those were the same issues effecting the Wilshire line, and we’re building that. But again, it’s the same story. The Westside gets priority for these heavy infrastructure projects. In terms of transportation and the sales tax would you reallocate money from the Metro system towards greater roadway capacity?
From my research its more cost effective to build trains than expanding freeways one lane.
The Sepulveda pass is a great example of where we spent billions for very little. I was commuting to UCLA at that time and the marginal utility for an extra lane is not that great.
The one thing I want to emphasize is, and I strongly believe this though I can’t prove it, when it comes to these half cent taxes, the Valley is not getting its fair share. We’re basically subsidizing L.A.’s transportation infrastructure.
Shifting to homelessness, does someone have the right to get off the bus, pitch a tent on the sidewalk, declare residency and begin collecting county benefits?
According to our legal system, yes. That’s one of things I try to explain to people as to why the problem is so bad, it’s because we’re importing this problem from the states. Places like Michigan can just ship em here. They actually brag about it: “we don’t have a homeless problem,” then give them a bus ticket and send them to us. The warm weather and services we provide encourages it. This is a national problem and we are the recipient of a burden. We need federal dollars. There’s been talk of sending them to the Antelope Valley. Obviously they don’t want them. So the question is: does the buck stop with us? If we are taking the brunt of the homeless we need federal and state dollars. We don’t have the capacity at the city council level to contend with it. Then there’s the Homeless Industrial Complex… Thank you for using that expression. It needs to be applied more often.
I’ll give an example, and I’m for building as a solution, but there’s an apartment building they did in Sylmar, $700K per room. I could have bought an entire house for that price and housed five people. This is where my business acumen comes in. I can read a financial statement. I can audit. My opponents can’t. They haven’t worked in the corporate world, except for Isaac. This is where I can bring that voice to City Hall. For the last three or four years people have been living under the assumption the printing presses are going to keep running forever and that worries me. No one is thinking about deficits.
In terms of enforcement, we have a lot of carrots for people living on the street but no sticks. As an example, we built Tiny Home Villages that are not being utilized. Would you compel people to accept shelter and how would you do it?
Right. So I’m more on the caring side. If you want to completely eliminate the problem there has to be a stick side, I’m not sure what it would be but
I would use the example of what Traci Park is doing in district 11. I don’t want to enforce 41.18 unless we are offering housing. In that case all you are doing is playing whack a mole with human life.
My understanding of what they are doing in Venice is mostly carrot based, as you put it. They were able to clear encampments that had been occupied for years. That is a model I want to look at closely to see if it would work for CD6. It has worked in the hundreds. Obviously we are dealing citywide with tens of thousands, but it gives me hope. Do you support a ban on sleeping or drug consumption on the Metro system?
So this goes hand in hand with another program. Passenger fares only account for only 5% of Metro revenues. So it almost makes sense to have free fares for everyone. But if you can’t make Metro attractive and safe for working class people then that’s probably a bigger deterrent than fares. Right now, a lot of our police are doing fare enforcement. If we had social workers on the trains flagging behaviors -a line has to be crossed- if someone is exposing their genitals or defecating, at some point when you do nothing the riders get frustrated and say ‘screw this, I tried it for a month.’ At that point is not about the money. Picture a hypothetical street person, no shoes or shirt, standing in the street screaming at cars, doesn’t have a weapon but has a crowbar, not accosting anyone physically, but clearly deranged, do you send a psychological outreach team or the police?
In that hypothetical with the crowbar its one wrong turn from injuring somebody. If you send CIRCLE teams and they get injured you just sent a message to the social workers and first responders you are not safe and that doesn’t make sense for anyone. I know people have suggested eliminating the police but that doesn’t work in the real world. Back to your hypothetical if there’s no crowbar you can send a psych team in an integrated system where the police are a block away and can be summoned at the press of a button if needed. Moving on to economic development… This is where I can make the most impact. Unfortunately the city gets in the way of businesses. I’ll give you an example:
the al fresco dining program saved a lot of restaurants during the pandemic. There is almost no downside to al fresco and businesses spent $10-20K in infrastructure to be in compliance. Now the City is telling businesses they have to pay $10-50K in fees and they may or may not get permanent approval. If you are a business owner who nets maybe $3K a month after expenses thats super cost prohibitive.
So someone may have taken a loan for the al fresco program and now you are telling them it sucks to be you. This is where I feel people in city hall have never worked outside of government and it shows. There’s a taco restaurant in Panorama where someone has placed a taco cart in front of his establishment and when the owner asked him to move he was told he couldn’t because rival vendors have claimed the other spots, and he will be harassed and there is this mafia thing going on. So now the business owner wants a wine permit because he can’t compete in the taco market anymore. He’s drafted plans, he ready to invest $20K and the city is very draconian about that. He has to pay $10K just for them to look at it and there’s no guarantee of a yes or no. You want to invest in a business but you can’t because you are not sure how the city reacts. Do I have to curry favors with politician? Thats one thing I want to address immediately. Creating transparent processes. No one jumps the line. We want to encourage innovation and investment. Looking at the shape of the race, you have six fairly liberal people, Antoinette being the DSA lane, the three establishment candidates being in the middle. Where do you place yourself in this arrangement?
I think a linear left-to-right axis doesn’t cover enough. I consider myself a progressive capitalist. But too much progressiveness gets in the way of common sense.
Bigger than the difference between how progressive or un-progressive we are, is the difference between Imelda, Marco and Marisa, the three establishment candidates, and the non-establishment ones. Those are the lanes. Establishment and non-establishment.
Isaac, Antoinette, and I are not politicians. I see that as a much bigger difference. So you would be opposed to de-funding the police?
Oh, yeah. I’ve said this publicly. Totally opposed to defunding. In Sun Valley, where I grew up, historically a bad neighborhood, when you hear the police sirens you know the cavalry is coming. They are welcome. I’m not in favor of lowering staffing.
You’re very much the immigrant success story, parents coming from El Salvador, and you making it to UCLA and Berkeley in one generation…
Yeah, so my parents lost their house in the mid-90s and then they split up and both remarried, 11 children in all. Fortunately my mother was able to buy a new house in 2000 despite working a low wage job, which is where I live now, with my wife and three kids. That’s one of the frustrations of Millennials and Gen Z. Home ownership is way out of reach. My mom was able to buy working two dollars over minimum wage. No one can do that now. She built an ADU and she lives there and my wife and I and our kids live in the house. My b-school classmates all live in Playa Vista. I’m at Deloitte, and I can work virtual out of anywhere. If elected I would be the first Councilmember of Salvadorean lineage. Imelda worked for Nury and Marisa has been endorsed by Nury’s old rival Cindy Montanez. Are they representing two different factions in the political machine?
Imelda is definitely inheriting Nury’s place. Marisa place is more of a bilateral one. She works for Curren Price, so she’s part of the Los Angeles political machine, mixed with the remnants of the old Richard Alarcon Valley machine. I’m part of no machine, so I’m not sure who’s who, but I know there are rival factions. Should voters look at Imelda as Nury’s mini-me, or is that unfair?
That’s up to the voters to decide. If the tape never leaked and Nury were to serve her term, I would bet my house that Nury would be supporting her in the next election. Thats a very diplomatic answer. In a couple weeks we are all going to be buried alive in mailers. What is your plan for counteracting that as a non-establishment candidate?
Yeah, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take canvassing. Here I’ll lump myself in with Isaac and Antoinette. The challenge we have with resources, and I’ve been quoted in the Times on this,
L.A. has become a modern day Tammany Hall. What I’m asking voters is: ‘here are your three establishment candidates, now take a look at the three people not connected to any machine’.
People are tired of business as usual. If you keep voting for the same type of politician, don’t be surprised you get a different result. Look past the mailers. Look for someone who isn’t part of the Homeless Industrial Complex, look for someone who hasn’t been affiliated with someone who has been (indicted vs. investigate) by the FBI [as part of the Huizar scandal]. When you have a multi-headed monster and you hack off one head and the others are still there, the best way to get rid of it is to pull it root and stem. I offer that opportunity. It’s a one and half year term. Give me a chance. If it doesn’t work out, you can get rid of me.
Imagine making lattes for eight hours and coming home to this. Or crawling into the muck to snake a drain. Or changing bedpans, wearing a name tag and a customer service expression all day, subject to Yelp reviews. Hanging asphalt shingles in the Palisades sun, then returning to a penitentiary: rolling gates of steel bars, begrimed stucco and a palimpsest of tagging thinly covered in beige.
It may not be the picture Americans have when the golden phrase Californialifestyle is invoked, but for half a million people in our city this is reality, not the Potemkin village Los Angeles conjured by scripted content and advertising.
This is the California finger hold. The ten year waystation for essential workers, who might be grateful for the bars, their framework by necessity one of resource protection. A tenement with an unhappy face.
In 1964 the Dingbat was very modern, with spacious balconies, aluminum windows and crisp rectangularity stripped of ornamentation, unlike the bungalow courts of Hollywood, with their tiny portions and absence of parking. Cheap and purpose-built, requiring no skilled craftsmen in woodwork or tile. Across SoCal the bedrooms-over-the-carport rent factories spread like kudzu, many of them built on former ranch lots. It was affordable housing before there was a phrase for it. A good dingbat evoked a mood by way of a fanciful name: The Troubadour, La Traviata, the Something-Something Palms. A wink between landlord and tenant.
If you started life in a mud hut in Chiapas, it probably tasted like heaven for awhile. If you started in Riverside you might re-think your life choices. The dingbat fell out of favor as it descended the class structure. The neglected decor peeled away and now the buildings are unnamed and mute to the world but for notices from a management company: Secure parking. Premises under 24 hour surveillance. Section 8 OK.
Then there’s Sherman Oaks, where 1964 looks as timeless and inviting as an episode of Mad Men and one ascends the waterfall staircase like a minor deity. Beyond the double doors awaits a world of good taste and better appliances, and a view.
Most of these domiciles weren’t built as mansions, just larger ranch houses for the professional classes. An ambitious Boomer could climb from Panorama City to here in 20 years. The wealth effect has put paid to such notions now. A house above the tree line is mansion priced, even if only 1600 square feet. You’ll never afford it, but your cardiologist daughter might. She’ll be able to affect modesty. She’ll be sure to let you know she’s not one of those vulgarians in a Persian palace in Encino.
To be wealthy in America is to be exempt from aesthetic depravity. Or noise. Or sweaty people lugging buckets of takeout past your open window while you sweat in front of the box fan. It is to have dignity in egress, always. It is to be far from the locusts. To quote Scott Galloway, it is to be loved.
It’s illegal to build dingbat housing now. Zoning. Earthquake codes. Fire laws. So we gets lots of upscale mixed-used development, four stories of Bento Box matchstick atop a two story concrete pour, with an AmazonFresh at street level, a good fit for the urban core. For the Valley, not so much. The existing dingbat stock will be kept alive with soft story retrofits. In Santa Monica and West Hollywood, where the juice is worth the squeeze, some landlords lean into the mid-century theme and trowel on a modern skin, restore the name, re-dingbatize their buildings.
But the Valley dingbat won’t get the 2.0 treatment. Nor will it age into shabby gentility, like the San Bernardino Arms evoked by Nathaniel West. It’ll look like a penitentiary. In class terms, it kind of is one.
While shopping at Aldi on Sunday, Mrs. UpintheValley was approached by a realtor lady in Kardashian makeup waving a glossy brochure for an open house.
$950K. In Panorama. In a mixture of morbid fascination and crass self-interest we went.
You can learn a bit about the evolution of the Valley from the above two photos. When land was cheap and abundant, houses were spaced well apart, bare bones, without luxuries, priced for accessibility to first time home buyers.
Today you put a second floor on the old starter home footprint, then squeeze three of them onto a 7000 square foot lot, tarted up with glue-on crown moldings, quartz countertops, central air and three bathrooms, then gate it off from Others.
A platypus is a cluster of free standing homes that don’t actually touch so they are technically not condos, but you can stick a broom out the window and scratch your neighbor on the shoulder while he’s sitting on the john. The lots extend mere feet beyond their foundations, there are no yards or common areas, the ground floor is a garage door, and the compound is ringed by a wall. Neither fish nor fowl, to quote a prominent New Urbanist.
Such developments are frequently abutted by other platypi, eroding the meaning of private property, or at least privacy, as the decades speak to each other over the fence. Feeling a little smug about how much sleeker, more modern your digs are than the 90s monstrosity next door is part of the pleasure principle.
Also, I’ll say this: the rooms were absurdlyspacious. Made us feel like we still living in a dorm, or an early apartment, which is the idea. High ceilings, cool air flows, a giant flat screen are a nice distraction from the fact you will be indoors all day long. No yard, a hot patio and Nordhoff street, a stroad really, inhospitable to pedestrian traffic, offering few nearby amenities. You enter the platypus on wheels, drive all the way inside the house, press a button and the door rolls down behind you. Like you’re living in Rancho Cucamonga, only with a shorter commute.
Then there is that $950,000 price tag. For perspective…the $10K Kaiser Houses of 1948 would be $119,000 today, perfectly priced for a young couple in their 20s. Nothing is priced for first time buyers anymore, nor for savers and strivers. Starter homes are priced for multi-generational households, five earners under one roof, or for the offspring of the wealthy who are gifted six figure down payments.
But this is where we are now.
A single family ranch house, among the neighborhood’s last, stood where these nine houses are. In 2010 it was purchased for $265,000, then sold for $1.65 million in 2020, merely for the dirt underneath. That profit is baked into the sales price, $155K per unit, paid to the guy who invested cash at the bottom of the mortgage meltdown and waited a decade.
Unjust? Yes. More unjust than one family sitting on that much land in a city in dire need of higher density? That’s a delicate question.
Walking upstairs in one of the unfinished units we noticed the floor sagging several inches in one corner. Back outside one could see the support pillar had been knocked off its foundation at some point, and then a supplemental pier had been placed underneath it, with mixed results.
Los Angeles is poised between greed and precarity, just slightly off its foundation.
For that price, it better be Instagram about to happen. And it is. The long-vacant Panorama Tower has, after 25 years, adaptively re-purposed and will open for leasing next week, Blade Runner views in all directions.
Infrastructure is minimal, in keeping with the live/work loft fiction. At 600 sqft, units are generously sized for a studio, but there is no getting around the one room problem. Two people who aren’t sleeping with each other are going to have trouble sharing it.
Clearly the developer wants white people to move here though I anticipate few will arrive with children. The Era of the Vertical Valley has begun.
As we say in the creative arts, everything is material. Cast a wide net. Freewrite. Be bold in the face of prohibitions. Daring in your approach. Refine your choices later.
Down here, in the Narrows, where no one will bother you. Where you can extract $1.99 of trade goods from two shopping carts of scrog and leave the remainder to the storm drains.
Number 22 in the 23 Lies We Tell About LA™: Only hillbillies throw trash in creeks. Hillbillies are deplorable people who know nobody and nobody knows. They live way out Elsewhere, in the pill eating, strip mining, under-achieving, low information Heritage America. Not like Us. We have a Green New Deal, with pie charts and bar graphs and 2035 targets. We have Environmental Justice. We are beyond self-recrimination.
We want what we want when we want it. Our desires can be fulfilled…up and down the class structure…cheaper, faster. Hyper-efficiency and supply-chain management are the cardinal virtues of our time.
Remember when Wal-Mart was the Death Star of retail? Crusher of towns? Come China, unload your shipping containers of plastic thneeds. We’ll take the whole flotilla. People feared Wal-Mart as much as they once feared Microsoft. They were both just too…dominant, and now not at all.
Now we have Amazon traffic jams on our block in the afternoon, and there is no limit to things we can obtain, overnight. Need an obscure component for your kitchen faucet? If you go to Lowe’s they’ll try to re-sell you a new Kohler for $200. Alternatively, you can order a rubber washer on your phone for $4. Eighteen hours later it’s in your hand. A three-minute crash course at YouTube University and your problem is fixed.
Framed in this way, Amazon looks heroic. But most days, stuff comes not because we need it, rather because its One Click away. Idle clicking is the empty calories of shopping. In our Cambrian explosion of online vending, any niche start-up, any cottage craftsman can find a willing buyer, in theory, somewhere in America. The sheer scale of options eclipses traditional shipping sources ability to keep up with demand. Packages frequently arrive in cars driven by underemployed, modern-day Pony Express riders hustling a buck in a reprise of an earlier Toquevillian America…except for the economy being run (mostly) through one company.
Los Angeles is becoming a city of high-end boutiques at the top end and dollar stores and street vendors at the other, in a classic barbell formation. The narrow middle, which isn’t actually narrow since it includes most of us, is moving online. This is not the way our city is structured geographically, which is to say horizontal, reflecting an earlier egalitarian class structure. There are architectural showcases on Van Nuys Blvd which have sat vacant for years having no desirability as a boutique. Then there are squat freight structures that once served railroad spurs east of downtown you can’t lease for $50 per square foot today.
As recently as the birth of the iPhone, 75% of American porn was made right here in the Valley. Porn was a lucrative business run on a factory basis like the Warner Brothers of old. It was difficult to obtain, meaning pricy, which was reflected in the remuneration to performers. Now it is ubiquitous and cranked out on webcams in apartments all over the world for electronic tips. An economic theorist might posit this as empowerment for women, who can now bypass the middleman. No service contracts. No suitcase pimps. No one denied employment due to lookism, only gratuities. In practice, thousands of cams are aggregated through a single entity, PornHub, the Amazon of adult entertainment.
The Atlantic has an article this week detailing the cheerful efforts of a high school senior from Stockton to start her cam career. Dripping with condescension toward inland California and its people masquerading as concern for her welfare, (the presumption being no working-class life there is worth having) the first paragraph spells it out for us: the largest private employer is an enormous Amazon fulfillment center.
For the moment, she will step into a zero-gravity orbit in which the laws of hyper-efficiency don’t apply, and for a few days, she will be the NewNew Girl, as gaze arresting as her fellow Stocktonian Jeremy Meeks, peeking out from a screen grid of camgirls grinding for tokens in a debauched race to the bottom. She will quickly become a character of out of Dreiser or Hardy, unneeded as the old Van Nuys Savings and Loan.
Aldi, the estranged cousin of Trader Joe’s, just opened on Roscoe Blvd. It’s about the size of TJs, but with a bigger parking lot. The most successful grocery chain in the world with 8000 locations, and expanding aggressively into southern Cal, this is their first store in the Los Angeles proper, and but a mile from Chez UpintheValley. Let’s check it out.
The product mix consists of a lot of private label brands I’ve never heard of, containing items I’ve seen before in different wrapping. Or at least think I have. Is this not a Kind Bar, with a new label?
Isn’t this Duncan-Hines? That’s what ze Germans want us to think. For all I know it is Duncan-Hines. Is this important? Probably not, in the case of cake mix.
But what about organic? The Whole Foods version is on the right, a dollar fifty more. So is Aldi buying from Horizon and undercutting on price, or are both Horizon and Aldi buying from third-party vendors? Or is the Aldi version deficient in some way? Are they getting the chaff from the first cut of quality control and passing the savings on to you?
The nutritional information is identical. Aldi is opaque in the provenance of their products. Reading the label tells you nothing. Everything is “distributed” from Aldi. Inc., Batavia, Illinois. One can see how semi-familiar packaging flattens the branding distinction, bringing the price point forward in the decision process.
Do I really want to go below 50 cents a pound for pig meat? Five more days of Lent….think it will keep? Tempting…
Here’s where the store goes sideways for me: a surprising quantity of non-food items clogging the aisles. With limited shelf space and a deficit of certain products I was hoping for -better beer selection, more vegan ice cream, Trader Joes-like stuff- why so many steering wheel covers, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide alarms, gun safes, dog crates, bookshelves and garden furniture? Do you really want to sell shovels and bagged soil three blocks from Home Depot? How about a two-ton car jack? Why these products? Were they remaindered? The margins on a square foot basis can’t possibly work. Unless they can.
Aldi has the warehouse feel of Costco but without the scale. Priced to compete with TJ’s, but grey, institutional and cheerless, and lacking the unique gourmet items. I was hoping for Fresh and Easy, which I loved, and this is not it. Fresh and Easy is dead as last weeks mackerel and Aldi is expanding, so what do I know? Then again, so is Harbor Freight.
“I’ve lived in some crappy places in my life, but I never had to look out my bedroom window at razor wire,” noted Orca in the comments last week. Reading this reminded me just how extensively barbed wire and security gates have become the dominant aesthetic of working-class housing in the Valley to the point one hardly notices anymore.
Chanteclair is a chichi hotel in Cannes. In Panorama City it is the whimsical nom de domicile affixed to a dingbat apartment surrounded by battlements of black spikes defending neglected shrubbery, metal gates shutting off the courtyard from the street and a baleful troll to ward away non-keyholders. And that’s just the front entrance.
Head around back to the carports, the usual ingress point after work, and it gets angrier.
Angry, angry, angry. Or, if you prefer, utilitarian. Or as the residents would say: safe.
The carports of Panorama are especially well-defended, and there’s a reason for that.
Ironically it is the beautifiers of Los Angeles: the gardeners, the maids, the house painters, the granite fabricators, the trowelers of smoothset stucco who live in these buildings. Vehicles double as tool chests, necessitating defenses for every parking space.
These apartment blocks went up in the 1960s when the trend in Southern California architecture was to evoke through detail and design choice the mood of an exotic locale, preferably the South Seas.
If security considerations have displaced aesthetics this is the clear preference of the residents. Steel spikes metal grills razor wire iron bars makes a man feel he has done right by his family, and his hard-earned $1800 a month well spent. Everyone’s safe. I have defended my own. A wanderer in the neighborhood might dismiss all as blight, but beneath the brutalist overlay similarities to buildings one has seen before in West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks abound. The same era, probably same floor plans, perhaps same architectural firm, but different tenants and therefore different upkeep.
The Lofts at NoHo Commons, with its exterior muraling by Thierry Noir, is the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum, or if one prefers, the reassertion of a fanciful past. There are as many security elements in this building as any in Panorama, augmented with key cards and video surveillance, but by design tucked into the background. Here is a building which smiles at you and proclaims Yes. Oh, how I am Instagrammable. Come hither, pose, and spend your parents’ money. Descend the stairs in athleisure wear and have a ten dollar smoothie. You’re an artist now. It says so in the brochure.
Spend they do. They spend spend spend and buy buy buy. White people don’t work with their hands down here. It’s in the bylaws. In the absence of talent, they can aspire to social influence, childless and enviable in 600 square feet of urban perfection. Having others envy you can be a paying job, perhaps the most sought-after gig in LA for a certain species of Millennial. What you consume and where you do it and how charming you can be as you blab about it. Followers. Obtain enough of them, and your apartment pays you. The apartment becomesthe toolbox.
These worlds are separated by a few miles, but getting closer each year. Those miles are otherwise known as Van Nuys. Buildings like this are the halfway point between the Chanticlair and the Noho Commons. No ground floor retail, no Thierry Noir, but no toolbox trucks in the garage either. A bento box pastiche, a short walk to MacLeod, tenants who pay their own rent and willing to pay a premium to stay out of Dingbatville. It takes about three years to develop a 12-unit building like this. At this pace, in another 50 years, we could meet the housing needs of the next generation of kids aging out of their grandparent’s apartments in sweaty, noisy, gloriously fecund Panorama.
Alternately, in the absence of development, we can think about beautification. Paint is cheap and so are succulents and cactus, and they propagate. So also is getting rid of security features. Half the mid-century buildings in the Valley could be turned into this in six months. If I strapped a megaphone to my back like a street preacher do you think I could sell this at the corner of Cedros and Parthenia with my bad Spanglish? Would I win converts with phrases like the “force multiplier of good taste”, flailing my arms over my head, gripping a copy of Jane Jacobs?
Now that’s a reality show I would watch. Follow me….
The Valley the zeitgeist forgot. The remnants. The lost backlot of the 1980s. No quarter given to the aesthetic demands of the age. No fancy countertops. No solar panels. No satellite dish. Landlines and linoleum. Dry rot and mold. Five figure mortgages.
An Appalachia West, where the cars and the houses like married couples after many years begin to look alike…
…only to become landscaping when they cease to function as transportation.
The overlooked nooks and crannies of Arleta and Panorama…
…where they wear the station wagon in the driveway like widows weeds.