Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Fast and the Famous

In a new video produced by Motortrend, Jay Leno drives the Mercedes SLS AMG around the Mulholland Drive–Laurel Canyon–Sunset Boulevard–Coldwater Canyon loop. The video showcases not so much this gorgeous automobile but the pathetic condition of L.A.'s streets.

As Leno says as he turns down Laurel Canyon, "I don't think these roads have been resurfaced since, well, probably at least the '80." (My guess would be much earlier, since Laurel Canyon at that point is concrete, which L.A. no longer seems to use.)

Leno's comparison of his backyard loop to Germany's famed Nürburgring is wishful thinking, at best. But in fact, Los Angeles County does have an unofficial race circuit of sorts hidden within its borders: the Angeles Crest Highway—recently reopened after closure due to the 2009 Station Fire. And the surface is in much better condition.

ADDENDUM: According to this recent post from Curbed L.A., which I discovered after logging this entry. The Sunset Strip's concrete (from the 1930s!) will soon be getting a much needed re-surfacing. Leno will be thrilled.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kyoto in Hollywood

In a recent Yelp comment, one Keri C. from South Pas complains of "fake Asian . . . settings" and a "fake looking Pagoda" at Yamashiro restaurant in Hollywood.

Sorry, Keri—the pagoda, while small, is actually very authentic.

Poolside pagoda at Yamashiro (Capitol Records "pagoda" visible in distance).

The Japanese pagoda, imported in pieces and reassembled by department store moguls the Bernheimer brothers when they began construction of their lavish Yamashiro ("Mountain Palace") in 1911, is supposedly around 600 years old, making it by far the oldest structure standing in throw-'em-up-tear-'em-down Los Angeles. In ironic L.A. fashion, it now stands beside an amoeba-shaped 1960's swimming pool on the Yamashiro grounds.

The finial acted as a lightning rod.

The Yamashiro pagoda shortly after installation.

The Bernheimers' shared mansion and museum, now a well-touristed Cal-Asian restaurant whose claim to fame is its view (although I hear the food has improved of late), was completed in 1914 and is a a detailed re-creation of a Japanese temple near Kyoto. (Keri C. sez: "The main entrance is impressive, but clearly 'fake', vaguely resembling a Japanese temple.")

Last week I got a private tour—nothing you couldn't see by showing up for cocktails, however—and a chance to take a couple of snaps while the place was calm and empty (it's not open for lunch).

The courtyard.

Although the views over Hollywood and the entire L.A. basin are spectacular from the outer seating areas at Yamashiro, I think I would opt to dine in the courtyard, where you get a Hollywood-tinged taste of feudal Japan. The Pagoda Bar is open only during the warmer months.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Charlie wuz here?

If I had a dollar for every L.A. structure claiming a connection to Charlie Chaplin, I'd be able to buy at least one of them.

6427 Dix Street, Hollywood.

This new listing for a cozy 1918 bungalow in the Hollywood Dell doesn't exactly boast that the Little Tramp set clumsily-shod foot inside, but Chplin is featured in the photos posted on the Coldwell Banker site, with prominent mention that the place was "commissioned by Cecil B. DeMille in the late teens to accommodate silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow and Dorothy Gish!" (The 1923 apartment building where I live, just a bowler hat toss away, was also supposedly commissioned by DeMille.)

My idea of a kitchen.
Did Charlot bunk here?

The $499k asking price seems to be riding high on the nostalgia factor, but in all fairness it's a sweet place and has been very attractively decorated on the interior, with quality fixtures and attention to detail. I'm still waffling on the Barbados green exterior, but I'm entirely sold on the adorable awnings.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winding streets

Christopher Alexander's essential book, A Pattern Language, defines architectural and town design patterns that have become part of the human canon over thousands of years.

Winding streets constitute part of the grammar of town (and city) design. I find it nearly impossible to articulate the effect of magic and sense of expectation that is created by streets that wind, whether by purposeful design or simply by happy accident of topography.

Here are a couple of examples—unfortunately rare in Los Angeles—from my recent photo outings:

Longwood Avenue (click here for a larger view)

Schumacher Drive, Carthay Circle

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Yard sale of the year

The Hotel Bel-Air is undergoing a massive revamp, and that means all the furnishings are being liquidated.

Here's your chance to pick up some choice items with a Hollywood pedigree. The sale is happening in a 32,000-square-foot former Circuit City store on the corner of 4th and Arizona in Santa Monica, beginning today.

Here's the report from KABC television.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Long Beach–based architect Kelly Sutherlin McLeod specializes in "historic preservation and revitalization of significant structures."

Often, this involves returning an historic building to something closer to its original form and eliminating, or at least downplaying, various unfortunate renovations and modernizations that have been carried out over the years.

A good example is this 1920s Spanish Revival house in Sierra Madre, which some previous owner had bastardized into a Mid-Century Modern.

Although she has worked on such important properties as the Gamble House in Pasadena and Harold Lloyd's former Greenacres estate in Beverly Hills (now owned, and reportedly hocked, by supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle), the architect is from being stuck on pre-WWII buildings. In fact, her offices are in an International Style building designed by Edward Killingsworth in 1955 for his own architecture firm. That's appropriate: Like Killingworth, McLeod is a graduate of the USC School of Architecture.

For more on both Sutherlin McLeod and Killingsworth, see this USC Trojan Family Magazine article.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beauty, extracted

In a comment on yesterday's post, I was asked to "lay off the SCI-Arc bashing."

The request came from VOITURE12
, who is evidently associated in some way with that Downtown hothouse of design speculation and self-gratification, and who reminds me that "some of us are actually decent human beings and [adding his or her intended emphasis] architects!"

In all fairness to VOITURE12
, I went back to the SCI-Arc website and took an extended look at all the images posted there under "Faculty Work." I was sure I could find something charming, delightful, amusing, pleasing to the eye, historically attuned, beautiful or even—could it be?—sublime to post here, and make myself look less a curmudgeon.

Of the 23 listed faculty members (of which one seems to be a collaborative and several seem to be visual artists rather than architects), only a small handful elected to submit photographs of
finished work, either because their snazzy computer-aided renderings and swoopy scale models are so much more engaging than their finished buildings . . . or, as I rather strongly suspect, there are no finished buildings to photograph.

Of the finished structures I
did manage to find photographs of, here's the cream of the crop (obviusly, the copyrights belong to whomever they belong):

But surely the prize find was this study in SCI-Arc's triumphant poetics of negation:

VOITURE12, I don't doubt that SCI-Arc students and faculty are decent human beings. In fact, I'll have a beer with you any time ( But the work, alas, speaks for itself.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crime of the Week

Not guilty, your honor.

Just a couple of weeks after posted a mention of Matt Schrader's video report about the City of Los Angeles issuing street cleaning parking tickets on streets where no actual street sweeping was taking place, I came home from work to find this on the windshield of my car:

L.A.'s new money-maker?

This seems to be a new variation on the tactic mentioned in Schrader's report: TICKETING CARS AFTER THE STREET SWEEPER HAS ALREADY PASSED BY.

I moved my BMW (an old beater, not a new 7er, BTW) into that parking spot at 9:10 am . . . ten minutes after the street sweeper had come by.

Not only did I hear the sweeper go by (I live right upstairs and the sweeper has been on the dot at 9 am for the past 5 years or more), but I also saw the wet tracks from the sweeper brushes as I parked my car in that spot and noticed the nice clean curbside.

Evidently parking officer Franklin (badge no. 2192) doesn't seem to understand that if the street sweeper has already gone by, there's no reason to issue a ticket. Franklin seems to be late on the uptake, or got a late start this morning and decided to ticket cars anyway to make up for lost time.

Note the time the citation was issued: 9:42 am, near the end of the two-hour time slot for street sweeping . . . and
in my experience, the street sweeper has never come by twice on the same day.

On average, I get three to four tickets a year, legitimately, and I pay every citation right away. This one I'm going to fight.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pavilions and beyond

A shout-out to masterful Los Angeles interior designer Timothy Corrigan, who in an interview in the October issue of California Homes had some book recommendations—all of which I purchased immediately.

The first to arrive was Les Pavillons: French Pavilions of the Eighteenth Century, by English man of letters Cyril Connolly and photographer Jerome Zerbe (Macmillan, 1962). Long out of print, it's still available on the used book market.

Les Pavillons transports one back not only to 18th century France, but also to an era when books smelled of rich oil-based ink, coarse buckram binding, and hide glue.

Inside, its treasures are even richer.

Elevation, section, and plan of the Hôtel de Jarnac, Paris (1784-1787).

Since I am in the midst of designing a pavilion house of my own, this book was a wonderful bit of serendipity.

Le Pavillon de la Lanterne by Le Vau, in Versailles.

For those who may be unaware, Timothy Corrigan is a former Satchi and Satchi advertising executive turned designer who owns the former Chandler mansion in Hancock Park. He also recently purchased and restored the Château du Grand-Lucé—something more than a pavilion—in the Loire Valley.

Château du Grand Lucé.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crime of the Week

$308,900 will get you this Montecito Heights remodel, originally built in 1922 and since hideously disfigured, perhaps more than once. The listing is (or was) here.

2721 Commodore, Montecito Heights

There are so many things wrong with this disaster that not even extended Photoshopping would help. The awkward, styleless, and completely unrelated two-story addition was evidently built without recourse to an architect, substituting instead a cash-and-carry plan from The Home Depot.

But lack of access to trained architects has been the norm throughout most of history; builders—local workers, just like the guys who probably built this—have constructed most human habitations, such as these:

Why is this example of contemporary vernacular architecture so visually and spiritually impoverished when compared with the vernacular architecture of our collective European and American past?

Monday, November 16, 2009

A work in progress

I would be disingenuous if I didn't admit that, while criticizing other architects and would-be architects, I am also engaged in the treacherous practice of amateur architecture myself.

Here's the current state of one project, a four-square pavilion house, that I'm working on. The final design, of course, will evolve over time and will eventually be determined by the size and topography of the lot on which the house is built.

For a closer look, click here. Constructive criticism welcome.

As in the case of that other amateur architect from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, this house is meant for me and me alone (no slaves in mine), which explains some of its idiosyncrasies . . . the direct door from bedroom to kitchen for midnight snacks, for example.

Jefferson's masterpiece, Monticello, is also quirky, personal, and as provincial as it is universal. It breaks a lot of rules, as well as creating a few new ones.


I only hope my own essay will be at least a fraction as successful and livable if it ever gets constructed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Here's to recidivism

Like many of you, I've been following the interminable construction of the two rival mansions on Sunset Boulevard between Alpine and Rexford in Beverly Hills. They built the Empire State Building in 13 months (also in a Depression). What gives?

In poking around about the westernmost of these behemoths, the Wehba house, I found this curious press release from SCI-Arc, Downtown L.A's (literally) cutting-edge architecture school:

The future Wehba residence, if he lives long enough.

If there are two words I never imagined seeing in the same sentence, it's "SCI-Arc" and "Versailles." SCI-Arc alums are better noted for their contributions to a makeshift architecture of last resort, like these two structures, by Jennifer Siegal and Armen Hogtanian, respectively:

Deconstructed double-wide, anyone?

"AIA citation."

The latter of these two, I was happy to discover, was slapped with an "AIA citation" . . . oh, wait, I guess that's good thing?

Although his work on Sunset Boulevard has far more in common with the American Beaux Arts tradition of McKim, Mead and White than it does with Versailles, Brian Biglin has returned to the real roots of architecture with the Wehba house.

And I notice from his bio, that he eschews any mention of his SCI-Arc past. Don't blame him much.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Down in the OC

This is a bit off the L.A. path, but I went to the Orange County Philharmonic Society's showcase house, "Casa California," on Sunday. Alas, this was the final day for this event.

The 10,600-square-foot house, at 64 Canyon Creek in Irvine's gated Shady Canyon neighborhood, was designed by John Henderson of Spectrum Architects and constructed by top-notch builders Finton Construction, who have realized houses by Richard Landry in Beverly Park, among many other outstanding Southern California dwellings.

64 Canyon Creek, Irvine, under a waxing gibbous moon.

It's currently listed on the MLS with Parterre Properties for an optimistic $8.65 million.

Regrettably, there are no further photos of the show house available that I can find now, but stay tuned to sponsor California Homes magazine for a possible retrospective of the event.

"Your life or your lupins!"

Frankly, I had lowered expectations for this one, but it turned out to be surprisingly understated, tasteful, and completely engaging. The build quality was superb throughout. The participation for the first time of Los Angeles designers, including Peter Dunham, Timothy Corrigan, et al., was a nice touch.

This house kept true to its promise to embody the spirit of Wallace Neff and George Washington Smith.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crime of the Week

I missed tracking down a Crime of the Week last week, but in my defense, this one more than makes up for it.

No drawbridge? No portcullis?

The L.A. equivalent of Wemmick's castle in Great Expectations—which had, Dickens says, "the queerest gothic windows (by far the greater part of them sham)"—this crenellated hodge-podge would be ridiculous even at Disneyland, but it's preposterously out of place amid the understated houses of Carthay Circle, which, although varied in style, are united by a common regard for taste.

These queer Gothic windows are vinyl pre-fabs, something King Edward II would probably have appreciated on those cold, damp English nights.

For a larger view of this remarkably tacky sham, click here.

Below, a real 14th century castle.

Haughton Castle, Northumberland

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Santa Clarita: The Hypocrite City

The recent news that Disney is planning to develop a new studio "campus" on a section of its 50-year-old, 890-acre Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita has Santa Claritans wetting themselves. According to the Mouse House, the studio would create "about 2854 full- and part-time jobs, 1000 of them on-site" and dump $533 million dollars worth of G-rated revenue into the city.

Disney's proposed Studio at the Ranch, Santa Clarita

Here's the city's Film Office spokesperson, Jessica Freude, gushing about what a boon the Disney development will be to Santa Clarita:

Perhaps coincidentally, KFWB radio has been airing 30-second morning drivetime adverts touting Santa Clarita ("LA County's Most Business Friendly City") as the place to take your business. The website for this gung-ho boosterism is

But hold on . . . there's something wrong with this picture. Santa Clarita wants development??

Two years ago, on November 13, 2007, the Santa Clarita City Council, under then-mayor Marsha McLean, voted unanimously to oppose the Las Lomas project. Their opposition was based, purportedly, on three factors: traffic congestion, environmental protection, and public safety. Let's see . . .


The press release announcing the council's decision noted that near the proposed site of Las Lomas, at the Interstate 5/State Route 14 interchange "only weeks ago, a big-rig accident closed the interstate and caused massive delays and fires raged in local canyons." I hate to break the news to Santa Clarita, but big-rig accidents, brush fires, and traffic jams are endemic to Southern California. The worst traffic I have to deal with on my frequent trips to San Francisco is usually around Magic Mountain . . . in Santa Clarita.

Las Lomas as proposed would house 15,000 new residents. By comparison, that's only about a quarter of the capacity of Dodger Stadium, the largest baseball stadium on the planet, which holds 56,000 fans at a full game. And it's only a small fraction of the 275,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley area already.

If the Disney project is built, won't that involve significantly more automobile and big-rig trips in and out of Los Angeles?


According the city's opposition statement, Santa Claritans positively bleed for the loss of oak trees, the destruction of "riparian habitat" and the "wildlife corridor" that Las Lomas would represent. Yet did anyone care when Santa Clarita itself sprawled across 47.8 square miles (roughly the size of San Francisco) of the former Mexican rancho that is now a suburban wasteland? A responsible development like Las Lomas prescribes more than half its acreage as open, undeveloped space. Not so Santa Clarita.

Santa Clarita sprawl.


The public safety issue seems to about earthquakes, based on the fact that an interchange bridge collapsed in both the 1972 and 1994 earthquakes, causing "gridlock." Santa Clarita seems to be forgetting that the highways will still be there, and subject to collapse and gridlock, whether or not Las Lomas is built.

And as far as public safety goes, the 260-acre Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, in Santa Clarita, has been responsible for more deaths in the area than both the 1972 and 1994 earthquakes combined (per Wikipedia):
  • On August 30, 2008, a guest was killed by a passing Ninja train as he was trying to retrieve a hat.
  • On April 9, 2004, a woman was struck and killed by one of Scream's trains during the morning test run.
  • In June 2001, a rider on Goliath fell unconscious after the ride and later died. A brain aneurysm was determined to be the cause of death
  • In 1996, a part-time employee was killed while crossing the tracks of the Revolution roller coaster. She was struck by a train full of guests as it returned to the station.
  • In 1978, a woman was ejected from the Colossus ride, and fell to her death.
  • On February 5, 1978, a man was killed after a gondola car of the Eagles Flight (Skybucket ride) slipped from its cable and fell 50 feet to the ground. The man's wife was also seriously injured.
Perhaps Santa Clarita should be declared a public safety hazard . . . and razed.

A map of the region shows exactly why the City of Santa Clarita so vehemently opposes Las Lomas.

A map is worth a thousand words.

Santa Clarita has annexed nearly every square foot of land between Interstate 5 and State Route 14 except the proposed Las Lomas site. Do you think they would let their sophisticated liberal nemesis to the south get its paws on this parcel?

The press release is just as revealing, if you read between the lines: "Though the proposed project lies adjacent to the City of Santa Clarita in an unincorporated area of the County of Los Angeles, the project's developers are currently attempting to have the project annexed to the City of Los Angeles . . . ."

Santa Clarita wants this property, and they want it desperately. It's practically adjacent to the proposed Disney studio. You read it here first: this site will eventually become part of the undesigned and hideous sprawl that is Santa Clarita. And it will be developed. Badly.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Neo-classical gas

This 3-bedroom Carthay Circle bungalow, built in 1923, is for sale according to the sign out front, although the listing does not appear on the MLS. (Bank-owned?) It last sold in 1998 for $370,000, but you can expect to pay significantly more than that now.

815 Schumacher Drive, Carthay Circle.
A lovely rose garden.

The façade is a bit non-descript but leans longingly in the direction of the neo-classical; the hipped roof is a nice touch (but lose those wood shakes) and the pedimented stoop is possibly a remodel—à la Paul Williams—from several decades ago. Those prison bars definitely have to go.

I did a couple of quick Photoshop sketches, pushing the detailing into positive neo-classical territory. Perhaps I've been reading too much Quinlan Terry.
A boulder fell into the yard during the renovation process, so I decided to keep it.

Very West Hollywood.

The (very long) sides of the house, with their irregular fenestration, would be a challenge to translate into a classical idiom.

If you're interested, here's who to call: