Sunday, May 31, 2009

A hidden gem of a neighborhood

Today I revisited Windsor Village, one of L.A.'s most charming neighborhoods. "Don't give us away on your blog!" came the request from one resident, so you're on your own to find this oasis.

Pristine streets, pristine buildings, neighborhood pride

It's residential-only and hence not a true village in the sense of Larchmont or Brentwood, but what it lacks in retail amenities it more than makes up for in style and livability, with a small community park at its center, tree-lined streets, a mix of multi-unit and single-family dwellings, and the almost time-frozen vibe of a much kinder, gentler Los Angeles.

A multi-unit building at the heart of Windsor Village

Single-family homes, mature trees, distinguished architecture

I discovered this area several years ago and try to make a detour through the neighborhood at least once a year to reassure myself that it still exists and flourishes. The many SAVE WINDSOR VILLAGE signs posted in front yards evidently refer to the neighborhood's effort to keep developers from invading with condo buildings; two projects were successfully squelched last year.

The 3-bedroom owner's unit in this apartment house is currently for rent for $2850.

Mumford on loft living

" . . . in throwing open our buildings to the daylight and the outdoors, we forget, at our peril, the co-ordinate need for quiet, for darkness, for inner privacy, for retreat."
Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)

Remarking on the influence of the medieval cloister on the origin of the city in Western civilization, pioneer urban theorist Mumford hit upon exactly the problem I have with contemporary loft design—which is to say, contemporary apartment design: the lack of privacy inherent in these plans.

Concerto in downtown Los Angeles

"Without formal opportunities for isolation and contemplation, opportunities that require enclosed space, free from the prying eyes and extraneous stimuli and secular interruptions, even the most externalized and extraverted [sic] life must eventually suffer. The home without such such cells is but a barracks: the city that does not possess them is but a camp."

Study the following loft floor plans, from three adaptive re-use buildings in Los Angeles reconfigured as living quarters. These spaces permit no opportunity for privacy, with living, dining, cooking, and sleeping areas being contiguous. No partitions, except the ones defining the bathrooms.

Broadway Lofts, Hollywood

Rowan Lofts, downtown L.A.Biscuit Company Lofts, downtown L.A.

Mumford has the last word:

"Today the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

L.A. from space

Los Angeles in a view from space, courtesy of NASA. The city may not quite be ready for its close-up, but from a hundred miles up it looks like somewhere on Earth worth visiting. And it is.

L.A. from space. For the high-resolution version (4.6 megabytes), click the image.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The secret of Patio del Moro

Nina and Arthur Zwebell's Patio del Moro apartment building, at 8225-8237 Fountain Avenue, holds a secret: Two of the units—a studio and a three-bedroom suite that was once home to Charlie Chaplin—are offered for short-term rental by the building's current owner, Kevin McConnell.

Patio del Moro, West Hollywood (photo courtesy Kevin McConnell)

The streetside façcade, with its pink and funky Moorish-fortress stance, gives little indication of what charm and sophistication lie inside the gates of this fabled 1925 West Hollywood building. Former residents include not only Chaplin and his then-mistress, Paulette Goddard (in adjoining apartments separated by a service door), but also the likes of Joan Fontaine, Humphrey Bogart, and, later, Suzanne Pleshette.

The living room of the Chaplin suite (photo courtesy Kevin McConnell)

The sensitive restoration that McConnell has engaged on is, in his word, "an ongoing effort." Effort well-spent, I'd say.

The third bedroom of the Chaplin suite (photo courtesy Kevin McConnell)

Check back here later for an exclusive inside tour and an interview with McConnell about his and his inerior designer wife's five-year project to bring this important building back to the glamor of its heyday.

Meanwhile, if you have friends visiting from out of town, this is the perfect pied-à-terre to recommend for an immersion in old Hollywood. See the Patio del Moro website for more information.

Crime of the Week

This current listing on the Coldwell Banker site speaks for itself.

If anyone is interested in "This Beautiful House" in East L.A., the complete listing can be found here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lovely to look at

Just three doors west of the horror on Holly Mont that I blogged about a few days ago, this 4-bedroom 1928 Mediterranean is the nicest house on the block by far. And it's for sale. The current asking price is $1.687 million and from what I can see from the street, it's worth every penny.

6235 Holly Mont Drive, Hollywood

If the owner of the blighted manse down the street wants a lesson in upkeep, let him unchain his front gate and take a short walk west to study how it's properly done.

Responsible upkeep in action

I don't know the present owners or the circumstances of the sale (the house last changed hands in February 2007 for $1.547 million), but kudos are due to them for maintaining this piece of old Hollywood with the love and care it deserves.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Park Avenue on Wilshire . . . part II

"MacArthur Park is melting in the dark."

So sang Richard Harris in the highly over-produced but uncannily prescient Jimmy Webb song. Harris was staying at the Sheraton Townhouse on MacArthur Park when he took a walk one morning in 1968 and discovered a cake left out in the rain, "the sweet green icing flowing down." The rest is history.

The Sheraton Townhouse on MacArthur Park

All that was an age and a half ago, but today the Sheraton Townhouse still stands thanks to the preservation efforts of Rob MacLeod. When the Japanese owners of the building wanted to raze it in the mid-1990s and wait for a better economic climate (sound familiar?), MacLeod secured funding and turned the historic apartment house-turned-hotel into low-income housing for families and seniors. It re-opened in 1997.

The building, as stately as they come in Los Angeles or anywhere else, is a 14-story Georgian revival masterpiece designed by Norman Alpaugh. Originally an apartment house in the mold of The Talmadge, just down the street, it was transformed into a hotel in 1937.

Socialite hotelier Conrad Hilton bought it in 1942 for a cool million, and in 1950 his son Conrad Nicholson "Nicky" Hilton (great-uncle of future tabloid fodderettes Paris and Nicky) got married to Elizabeth Taylor there, the first of her seven-some husbands.

The hotel closed in 1993, as MacArthur Park was rife with drugs and crime. ("Someone left the crack out in the rain," as my friend Steve Silberman so eloquently put it.)

Someone left the crack out in the rain
(photo from

I haven't (yet) been inside this place, but sooner or later will do a blog on the wonders to be found therein. Perhaps I can divest myself of all my wordly possessions and plead poverty in order to qualify for residency at the Townhouse in my impending old age.

As for the architecture, Richard Harris puts it best: "I'll never have that recipe again."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crime of the Week

This rambling Spanish Revival house at 6215 Holly Mont Drive in Hollywood is said to be the former home of Barbara Stanwyck. Since Stanwyck's residency, the place has taken quite a tumble.

An old pile on Holly Mont Drive, Hollywood

The house could be quite charming, even spectacular, if brought back to its original standards. Alas, it is currently a shambles, and the present owner—an international concert pianist, former child prodigy, spiritual recluse, and ping pong enthusiast (I'm not joking, folks)—seems bent on even further vulgarization.

Vulgarization in progress

In addition to various masts, flags, aerials, strings of lights, untrimmed palms, grates, chains, padlocks, metal fences, grass windscreens, and makeshift rooftop cabanas, he has recently installed a haphazard hodge-podge of cheap knock-off statues in front of the once-proud house. One expects self-indulgent follies in Hollywood, but this mess is completely without style.

"Sculpture garden"

The owner was also contemplating adding a water feature, requiring the removal of massive amounts of soil from the hillside, thereby potentially threatening the stability of the entire foundation.

A padlocked gate keeps the ghosts in.

Of course, the homeowner may have some excuse, considering that the house was reported to be haunted by a tenant who lived there in the 1970s.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Park Avenue on Wilshire . . . almost

The Talmadge, at 3278 Wilshire (official website), was built in 1924 by producer and United Artists president Joseph Schenck as a gift (read: revenue stream) for his then-wife, silent film star Norma Talmadge. The cost was an eye-popping $1.5 million.

The Talmadge, 1924

There is no evidence that Norma Talmadge actually lived here, but former residents do include
Schenck protégé Buster Keaton, Captain Alan Hancock of Hancock Park fame, and, much later, television star Telly Savalas.

The Talmadge today, pride of Mid-Wilshire

Architects Aleck Curlett and Claude Beelman—designers of the Elks Club (later the Park Plaza Hotel), not far away, and several other large L.A. projects—chose to work in a Georgian revival style unusual for Los Angeles.

The red brickwork in American bond, the Ionic pilasters, the six-over-six sash windows, the neoclassical limestone friezes and roundels set into the façade, and the prominent balconies on the top floor with broken-pediment window surrounds all conspire to bring a healthy dose of East Coast sophistication to this once-glamorous strip of Mid-Wilshire.

God is in the details

The Talmadge would provide design cues to the stately Sheraton Townhouse just down the boulevard, built a few years afterwards and designed by Clarence Russell and Norman Alpaugh (blogged here).

The building's marquise—a lovely but incongruous Beaux-Arts element
is still in place but has been rather insulted and made redundant by a later burgundy canvas awning with crude lettering; this should be removed post-haste.

Like it rains in L.A.?

The ten-story Talmadge recalls the classic New York apartments of Park Avenue (which are generally a couple of stories taller but have no groovy palm trees waving outside) and was considered the finest apartment house west of Manhattan at the time.

Park Avenue apartment houses
(coutesy of Carter B. Horsley's excellent City Review)

The interior is perhaps not quite up to New York's finest snuff, but it's still serveral cuts above average, with entry halls in each apartment, delicate two-tiered crown moldings, and maid's quarters in the larger units.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paving news, good and bad

The war-zone-like stretch of Sunset Boulevard asphalt between Highland and La Brea was finally paved last month. Stretches on either side of this mystery strip had been resurfaced for miles in either direction just a few years ago, but this quarter-mile limbo segment was somehow forgotten in the process.

I wrote both Council member Eric Garcetti and Council member Tom LaBonge about this needy stretch in front of Hollywood High two years back, since the Council district map was unclear as to which pol was in charge of this borderline street.

To their credit, I got personal phone calls from both of them. I distinctly remember Tom LaBonge telling me, "We'll get it done." And they did. Two years later. I suppose I should be grateful. Neither Rome nor Los Angeles was built—or repaired—in a day.

Now the bad news. Today's L.A. Times reports that "drastic new budget cuts" will most likely include slashing funds for street resurfacing when approved. The front-end alignment shops are rejoicing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Those beautiful L.A. freeways

" . . . the freeway system in its totality is now a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind, a complete way of life."

That was Reyner Banham in his classic study of Los Angeles,
The Architecture of Four Ecologies (see link to the right), published in 1971. (Can it really be that long ago?) An Englishman by birth and Londoner by adoption, Banham said that he learned to drive so that he could read Los Angeles in the original. "Autopia," or the L.A. freeway system, is one of the four "ecologies" that he felt defined the city.

Recently I ran across a wonderful and wacky video of L.A. freeways, circa 2000, shot and compiled by YouTube user 101not5 (aka Mark Furqueron), with an appropriately electronic 1970s soundtrack featuring Kraftwerk's car-centric anthem "Autobahn."

"Interchanges," posted with permission from YouTube user 101not5

What I love about this video, aside from the sun-bleached L.A. colors, is the consistent pace it induces—the restless and relentless pace of Los Angeles. Banham, who died in 1988, would have wholeheartedly approved. By the way, the engaging 1972 BBC documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles be viewed online here.

One last word from the master: "You can build a city any shape you like, as long as it works."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crime of the Week

There's generic ugly, and then there's very special ugly. Stop-the-car-and-take-a-picture ugly. This house on the Westside is that kind of ugly.

Just what were they thinking?

But am I more aghast at its ugliness or at its pretension to elegance and style? There is much to abhor here: those gigantic, misshapen "eyebrows" that burden the elevation; the paneless (and painful) windows that seem destined never to be opened; the half-round columns that support nothing, added in a vain attempt to lend some authenticity to the proceedings; the garage door that mars an already crudely conceived façade; the blotched (and botched) faux-patina of the paint job; the pathetic garden "bridge to nowhere"; the Beaux Arts lamppost stranded in the midst of a desert xeriscape.

What I most abhor, however, is the utter lack of historical—or, for that matter, futuristic—tradition in this monstrosity. It is a very sad building of breathtaking naïveté.

I can't offer the the architect (if indeed one was involved) an education, but I can at least point the perpetrator to the book What Not To Build (see link to the right), before he or she commits another crime of this nature.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


In Southern California's high desert community of Victorville, they're tearing down recently-built model "homes" (i.e., spec houses) even more quickly than they built them, as reported with glee on YouTube by libertarian website Reportedly, many more are going to meet the same fate soon, both there and in Temecula.

These monstrosites were built (and are now being unbuilt) by Matthews Homes. They exhibit the typical garage-with-house-attached plan that puts automobiles first and people second.

Who gave this designer an architecture degree?

The sight of the invincible metallic jaws of the great Caterpillar (invest now) chewing up these garage-forward McMansions is one of the few gratifying rewards of the current global economic meltdown.