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.