So I encountered this…in North Hollywood, 2am… sprouting majestically from a neighborhood of sad, small houses with attached single car garages…. Trippy. Transcendent. A mothership of American aspiration.
I stopped the car and let it swagger all over me. It was an appreciation.
Two generations of people lived in the Valley and let their houses crumble over their heads. Houses for which they paid less than $100,000.
They let water seep into the floorboards while they complained about busing. They sprayed popcorn foam over cracks on the ceiling but let the termites chew their way through the framing. They put bars over the windows, but kept the linoleum floors. Home improvement meant shag carpeting and flourescent tube lighting.
They left their houses to their adult children who were estranged from hand tools. They let the shrubbery die and replaced it with gravel. But boy did they ever expect to be paid off when it came to sell, and paid off they were. In time, preposterous sums.
California was once so abundant middle class people changed houses the way we change cars today, discarding small brightly colored ranch houses on big lots for larger split-levels on small lots in the exurbs of Ventura County, painted an HOA-defined gradient running from excrement to beige.
The Valley was Adam Carolla-ville. It was one of those places you left and told disparaging anecdotes about when you got to where you were really going.
The carcasses of Los Angeles were left for the dusky hordes and the urban hipsters foolish enough to put down roots and not move to Austin. People so determined to be here they sunk their assets into houses without good bones. Without any bones. Stucco boxes without a redeeming virtue save the ground they sank into a quarter inch a year.
Mrs. UpintheValley and I are Carcass People. We didn’t intend to be. We were going to to park ourselves for a few years in Van Nuys, build some equity into the house and then….trade up in an orderly fashion. Because the world of real estate was rational, if untidy, right? This was to be but a waystation. A five to ten year sentence in minimum security prison, then back to one’s pals in Glamorama, with earned street cred.
Who knew housing mobility in LA would prove to be as starkly defined as the British class structure? The Wealth Effect, when combined with tight land use restrictions, means even if you pay down your mortgage in 15 years, even if you climb to the top quintile of the income ladder, there’s nothing you can afford to buy that would be an improvement over what you already have. Absent a windfall of cash, there’s no trading up anymore.
Marginal differences in down payment ability in 2004 proscribe where and how you can live in LA today. One is obliged to bloom where one is planted. This was a lesson I resisted learning.
So when I see a house built out to the property line, a second floor added, and marble laid into the entryway, lit up like Halloween, I realize I have greater kinship with a family from Yerevan that I do with the kids I grew up with in California. They either inherited property, or they left. All of them.
These are my people.