Monday, June 29, 2009

Early gridlock

Broadway and 7th, mid-1920s.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Art Deco abuse

I'm continually struck by how many people (mis)use the term "Art Deco" to refer to any building built between, say, 1920 and 1959. This must be the most overused and misunderstood term in all of architectural design.

Some examples from recent browsing:

"The Brynmoor is a newly renovated Art Deco building . . . "
The Brynmoor (1928) is in the Tudor Revival style, aka Jacobethan, and is quite handsome, thank you.

"Beautiful Art Deco single."
Italian Renaissance Revival. Eat your heart out, Lorenzo de' Medici.

"Original Art Deco lighting fixtures."
Standard ornate 1920s fixtures, right down to the faux-drippy candles . . . but check out that spacious formal dining room!

"Art Deco sensibility."
A 1929 apartment building on Beverly Boulevard, gutted to make "lofts" (note the missing ceiling). The original building was no more Art Deco than this unfortunate reconfiguration.

BTW, I'm hardly defending American Art Deco or its purer and more authentic French counterpart, Art Déco, both of which I've always found to be cold, mechanical, and reductive. But to slap this term on just about any building as a means of increasing its supposed appeal is a pathetic real estate ploy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A tale of two buildings

To judge from its exuberant façade, the new Versailles apartment building in Koreatown (one of at least three apartment houses with this classy-sounding name in Los Angeles) has all the right stuff: a throwback to the great French-inspired postwar buildings of Leland Bryant, complete with turrets, balconies, peaked roofs and, most important, a sense of play and fantasy.

The Versailles, Koreatown

The interior, however, tells a different—and disappointing—story. So-called "bedrooms" in this massive block-long building (S. Oxford between James M. Wood Blvd. and San Marino) are the size of closets.

Good luck opening that bottom drawer!

The dining room doubles as the apartment entryway (of course) and the cool turrets are non-functional paste-ons with blind windows (couldn't they have been closets, at least?).

Dining table in the entryway, useless turrets.

The worst may be the living rooms, which are cramped and miserly in size.

A living room at the Versailles, Koreatown.

Just down the street
, at 900 South Serrano, is the St. Germaine, a thrilling 1929 Leland Bryant building (an obvious model for the Versailles) with generous living spaces, including spacious living rooms, real dining rooms, and full-sized bedrooms. And the turrets are functional interior spaces, with real windows that admit more light into the apartments.

The St. Germaine, Leland Bryant architect (1929).

Interior of the St. Germaine: generous living spaces and a functioning turret room.

A real, adult-size bedroom at the St. Germaine.

There is much to be admired about the projects of Frost/Chaddock, the developers of the Versailles, but they should be ashamed of their avarice in trying to squeeze as many residents as possible into this new building at the expense of quality of life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crime of the Week

Ugly indeed.

"The message is: Stay away from Los Angeles."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The death of the dining room

The apartment dining room is apparently on its way out, or has perhaps already expired in an untimely demise. The "dining area" has replaced the dining room, not only in adaptive-reuse condo conversion projects but in new-construction apartments as well.

Dining as event: a dramatic apartment dining room in Miracle Mile

Dining as after-thought: the "dining area" in a new building in Mid-Wilshire

In the example immediately above, the awkwardly-situated dining area is relegated to an after-thought; it serves not so much as a place to shove down food (preferably as quickly as possible) but rather more prominently as the entryway for the apartment. Alas, this plan is far from uncommon in today's lofts and apartment buildings.

True dining should be an
event, and it deserves a dramatic space dedicated solely to an indulgence in food, wine, and company: the dining room.

A proper dining room at The Talmadge on Wilshire, with a view into the living room

A dining room at The Gothic, Los Feliz (courtesy GLB Properties)

Crime of the Week

This building is just that: building, not architecture. And building of the cheapest possible conception, design, and construction. A street crime on a par with strong-arm robbery, or perhaps worse. since it is being perpetrated not just once but continually for the forseeable future.

A few 2x8s have been glued to the exterior to mimic "style," while the tenants are protected from home invasion by bars on the flimsy pre-fab aluminium windows.

Until we start expecting—or demanding—more from our buildings, developers and landlords will continue to throw up criminal structures such as this. A city that permits buildings like this is equally guilty, perhaps more so.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hollywood Tower redux

The only-semi-fabled Hollywood Tower on Franklin (originally La Belle Tour) is getting a younger sibling nextdoor.

Evidently, the new building will sport a name that harkens back to the original moniker of this Franklin Avenue stalwart, La Belle at Hollywood Tower.
Hollywood Tower, 1929

Info is sketchy, but construction is proceeding at a surprising rate and the few available renderings show the new four-story building to be a sensitive contemporary reflection of its much older forebear. Very nice, in my opinion—but then again, I haven't seen the floor plans.

The pace of construction is brisk.

La Belle at Hollywood Tower

Actor George Raft had a share of the original building and lived there for a while. We assume that thespians of similar skill and ambition will populate the new addition.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bel-Air stunner on the market

This Paul Williams‒designed house at 651 Siena Way in Bel-Air was built by philanthropist George Castera in 1936 and was later the home of actress Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best) and her husband, Edgar Ward. Wyatt died there in her sleep in 2006 at the age of 96.

As good as it gets in Bel-Air

The house is on the market now, presented in a lengthy slide show prepared by the agent.

In a 2007 application by the Los Angeles Conservancy to have the house designated a Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument, the style is listed as "French provincial." Approved L.A. Cultural Monument #893 has nonetheless been "preserved, yet re-envisioned," which may account for the less-than-French-provincial look it has today. The large, multi-paned sash windows (Georgian rather than French) are especially nice.

Multi-paned sash windows are a nice touch.

The listing price of $32 million shows the pathological optimism of Pollyanna, especially in this market (the Assessor's Office lists a combined land and improvements value of under $10M), but by any account this is one of Williams's masterpieces.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Crime of the Week

From a listing I ran across five years ago, but the house undoubtedly still stands, as much an affront to taste as it was then.

This splendidly hideous behemoth in Pasadena shows what happens when the "designer" begins with the placement of the wide-screen television and works outward from there. By the time he or she gets to the front elevation, all is lost. The overblown entry portico is the perfect finishing touch.

"Filled with ambiance"

The following was the description provided by the real estate agent unlucky enough to have been charged with unloading this pile of crap on a (preferably naïve) buyer:
We repeat: Words cannot describe this unique property.