Thierry Noir, Gates and Wire

“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….

15 thoughts on “Thierry Noir, Gates and Wire”

  1. Goddamn, I enjoy your words and pictures. I swear I was about to hit the “unsubscribe button” when I saw this email notification, and having failed to succesfully move to the Valley, thought to myself; “What the hell do I need with spending my time observing the urban decay of this much-maligned portion of Los Angeles?”

    And then….you sucked me right in. From the ironic pseudo-fortresses kept by decent laborers and family people….to the tawdy bric-a-brac dwellings of the Millenials… are chronicling the struggle of our times. And doing it well. And classy.

    Good on you, as they say.

    1. Scott, I’m not sure what to say to such flattery, but thank you for sticking around. When you say you failed to move here, was it housing related?

  2. The American aesthetic has always been to have security be invisible, rather than ostentatious. Third World is the opposite.

  3. “Athleisure wear.” I’m stealing that from you. Or did you steal it from someone else?

    A student at FIDM could write a dissertation on the subtle nuances that separate the burgundy velour sweatpants of Walmart, Soviet era polyester “track suits,” and upscale Millennial microfiber Athleisure wear.

    I suspect it’s like the old joke. What’s the different between grits and polenta? $7. And who eats it.

    1. “What’s the different between grits and polenta? $7. And who eats it.”

      Ha! I’m stealing that!

    2. Athleisure is not my phrase, but we can pretend that it is. You’re welcome to it. I like grits and polenta better.

    3. There are entire blogs out there (and some are pretty clever and funny) that feature “Squatting Slavs in Tracksuits”. And they are current era. =) Apparently Adidas still rules the roost over there.

  4. Who knew Dehaene Koulder drove an uber – but doesn’t the methodology make a great field study? So many questions as to aesthetics. The past week there was a double whammy of a rape and a shooting in the North Hollywood Red Line Station. It seems like in an agrarian city evolved into a megalopolis that class structures are quite rigid compared to cities that tied their growth more to factory type industries. An interesting fact is that by installing such visible implements of hard security while having some deterrent impact also signal high crime neighborhoods which discourage a broader array of socio-political inhabitants. In this commenter’s opinion there is a similar issue with public transportation in the land of Angeles. If public transportation is a benefit for the disenfranchised rather than for all inhabitants, doesn’t the mean quality of the experience suffer? Why get out of the car and be exposed to potential liability or trauma be one prey or predatory? Is Mohnism’s strategy an anachronism? When LA works well, it seems, is when by luck there is some sustainable aesthetic and technical prosperity as depicted in the third property’s design and landscaping. The craftsmen houses built by craftsmen on sufficient wages to practice their own craft during the week, improve their own lot during their free time, and enough of a sense of aesthetic duty to voluntarily build their civic institutions on the weekend without being hostile to the police office that lived down the street next door to the teacher. Is this a fair representation within the social justice curriculum and if not, why? What is the current high school graduation rate for LAUSD? In Koreatown it is questionable if it is socially acceptable to paint a mural and in Boyle Heights it is questionable if it is socially acceptable to paint one’s own property. In theory, Leonardo DaVinci had the equivalent of a fourth grade education by modern standards. Yet, though the graduation rate for 4th graders in the Golden State is quite high, it sure doesn’t seem there are a lot of people as able as DaVinci running around and it would be great to ponder why that is the case. Right now it seems like the movie industry is the only one that “gives back” in an organized civic sense, but in this commenters opinion the limitation is that fantasy rarely correlates to harmony or sustainability.

    1. “…by installing such visible implements of hard security while having some deterrent impact also signal high crime neighborhoods which discourage a broader array of socio-political inhabitants.”
      I couldn’t agree more. A penal visual motif puts a hard ceiling on who moves into a neighborhood. There is also a secondary psychological effect on those who live “behind bars”. You perceive yourself differently. You interact with your neighbors differently in a low trust environment. Most of these security measures are not as necessary as they once were. You could scrape the spikes and mesh off the street facing side of these buildings without a significant spike in theft or assault. Says the man who lives in a house.

  5. Thx for the props…..=)

    From above comments……There’s a lot to be “stolen”….let’s say “adapted”….LOL Personally, I’m taking the descriptor “Bento-Box” architecture. I’d had seen it become the rage over the past few years, but couldn’t put a name to it (I don’t read a lot of arch. blogs. More than most, probably, but not as many as some).

    Actually Bento’s become almost mandatory. Virtually every new structure is Bento Box. Commercial, institutional – even new residential SF homes in OC are Bento Box. It’s the flavor of the day.

    —-I’m sorry, but I would feel like an idiot if I lived at NoHo Lofts. Though probably I wouldn’t be there in first place, as I would pull up to the leasing office and get the funny feeling that somehow I’m not overly welcome there. It looks like Small World at Dinneyland with a Daliesque twist. Straight, white, late-middle-age, generally-Republican-voting male who does NOT toil in a “creative” industry is NOT their target demo, I am sure. LOL. Not to the same degree, but not unlike the Black guy who pulls up and sees a lawn jockey.

    —–The last pic is the saddest, if only because it illustrates how an appealing and attractive environment can be had with just some cosmetics and creativity and not a whole lotta dough. The fact that there are so very few apartments that DO look like that is the tragedy. Is it just lack of imagination? I could probably never create that out of whole cloth, but I can recognize good design when I see it, and would happily “adapt” it…

    To be honest, I’m not sure whose photojournalism is better….yours or Johnny GS? (I doubt if he would be upset at my making that comparison).

      1. Well there’s a half hour I’ll never get back!

        LOL….I joke of course. That was fascinating, educational and inspiring. (You can tell the sort of things that animate me). Everything about that was top notch including photography, editing, the whole deal. With over 1100 comments there’s not a lot to add, other than I agree with the first couple dozen or so I read, and really, what’s not to?

        JS has mentioned in one of his blogs that he looks at it as his eventual “retirement” home. I’d a thousand times more prefer that set up than a condo in Del Boca Vista Phase II. =) If I could replicate that…..put a fork in me.

        Why doesn’t JS link to that on his blog? (You’re welcome. LOL)

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