Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Having just traveled to Washington, DC and suburban Virginia and Maryland for the weekend, I came back most impressed with one thing: the quality of the highways in the Washington area.

A ribbon of fresh asphalt: The Capital Beltway in Maryland
courtesy Maryland State Highway Administration

From Dulles International Airport in Virginia and northward around the Capital Beltway to the Maryland side, the roadway was a seamless ribbon of fresh black asphalt, in pristine condition the entire way—a boon, considering Enterprise had a single BMW 3 Series to rent, and I got it.

By comparison, I arrived back at LAX and bumped and tossed along northward on the battered, beaten 405 Freeway, a highway fit for a war zone. Surely by now, Baghdad has better roads. The so-called "improvement" project that Governor Arnold instituted for the 405 seems like an endless joke at the expense of Southland motorists, although I suppose the pavement inconsistencies are less apparent in a Hummer.

Just last year, TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that Los Angeles once again topped the list of metropolitan areas with the worst roads—those costing drivers more than $400 annually on average to repair their vehicles from damage caused by poor road conditions—with 65% of L.A. roads and highways in poor condition. (In all fairness, Baltimore and Washington, DC were also on the list, at 42% and 30%, respectively, but this was far from apparent on my trip.)

From what I saw and experienced behind the wheel, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration are to be applauded. Not only were the highway roadways immaculate, but the landscaping and cleanliness of our capital's major highway systems were top-notch as well.

Los Angeles, the center of car culture on planet Earth, should do better. Much better.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Are you ready for Phyllis Morris?

So begins the Phyllis Morris website.

I certainly wasn't ready. Two years ago, when I first walked into the Robertson Avenue showroom of the late queen of high-end kitsch, I admit I was transfixed, as surely as if I were staring into the face of Medusa.

Phyllis Morris (1925-1988) was the inventor of the pink poodle lamp, but we also have her to thank for the over-the-top Hollywood baroque style that was eagerly adopted by Liberace (a close friend), Elvis Presley, and other celebrities from the 1950s through the 1980s. One of her favorite lines: "Minimalism is for those without much to say."

The showroom is now run by Phyllis's daughter Jamie Adler, a talented designer in her own right, who has introduced additional lines to the company's portfolio.

Morris was a Chicago-born L.A. original who defined the term "go large." Ugliness has never been more glamorous. And vice versa.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ficus pumila to the rescue

The dwarf creeping fig, Ficus pumila, is a close relative of Ficus benjamina, a lovely species known as a house plant in most of the country but commonly found as a street tree in Los Angeles. (Ficus benjamina, weeping fig, is now blacklisted by the Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division for the disruptive behavior of its invasive roots, which can destroy sidewalks and sewers. The removal of 54 venerable weeping figs from the streets of Santa Monica created a community ruckus a year ago, proving that practicality matters little when compared with beauty.)

Ficus pumila
photo coutesy of the Master Gardeners of the University of Arizona
Pima County Cooperative Extension

Quite different from its relative in appearance, Ficus pumila is a handsome, neat, and fast-growing climbing vine that can—and should—be used to cover terminally bland or downright offensive walls, including those on blight-ridden buildings such as the one below, a storage facility (still in business, alas) tucked under the Hollywood Freeway at Argyle Avenue.


after (proposed)

This rugged and adaptable vine, which needs no supports as it has clinging rootlets, has already been used successfully to beautify many locations in Los Angeles, including the entry portal of the Getty Center on Sepulveda Boulevard in Brentwood.

Available in most home garden centers, it creates a charming tracery pattern as it grows, and will cover an entire wall eventually. NOTE: Ficus pumila has been known to damage stucco when pulled off a stucco wall, but, really, why would you ever want to take it down?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Supergraphics über Alles

Supergraphics, the multi-story-tall advertisements that are covering an increasing number of buildings in Los Angeles, are considered a blight by many residents, who have complained bitterly (and with at least some degree of success) to the City Council to crack down on the culprits responsible for turning L.A. into one gigantic advertisement.

I wonder how the City's elected officials would feel about turning these Los Angeles cultural icons into adverts?