“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 becomes the 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….