Sunday, December 12, 2010

Iconic in Long Beach

I went to the Open House at the Villa Riviera on Sunday.

The event, held twice yearly, benefits the Friends of Villa Riviera, a non-profit organization devoted to maintaining the building and preserving its history. The building's website is here.

Each time I visit Long Beach, I make a point to stop for a while and gander at this stunning tower by architect Richard D. King. When it opened in 1929 as a condominium building (the tallest building in Southern California after Los Angeles City Hall), it was touted in the sales brochure that "this wonderful structure of apartment villas . . . will transcend anything of the kind on the Pacific Coast." It later served as a hotel and as naval housing during WWII; it was reconverted to condos in 1991.

Gargoyles keep watch on the battlements.

Although some of Wilshire Boulevard's modern Condo Canyon buildings may top it in space and amenities, there are few residential structures even today in Southern California that exude the commanding street presence of the Villa Riviera.

800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach.

As can be seen in one of the original sales brochures, the building was originally painted aqua* in keeping with its beachfront location. Although the Pacific no longer laps the building's foundations, as it originally did, residents still have beach access. Fortunately, the color has been toned down to a lovely limestone hue.

Beachy but gaudy.

The interiors are another matter, alas. The hallways come across as dingy and in need of an overhaul, and the cheap furniture that lines them smacks of a Salvation Army thrift store shopping spree.

The HOA rehabbed the exterior two years ago at considerable expense. Its time to consider a major re-do of the interior.

Dingy hallways.

Respecting privacy, I didn't take photos in inhabited apartments (even the three that are currently for sale: listings here, here, and here), but I did come across a couple of horrifically brutalized units that were vacant and will soon be available for rent.

Shag carpeting? Cheap pressed-wood paneling? What were these owners thinking?

A ravaged bedroom in need of emergency TLC.

The views, especially from the higher floors, are stunning, and they must be even better at night. Unfortunately, the tower was not open on this tour, although it may be on some future occasion.

Views galore.

The building has a museum that holds some relics from the past, including a few verdigrised exterior ornaments and even a coat hanger from the building's glory days.

The museum.

On leaving, I had mixed emotions. Many of the residents try, naïvely and somewhat sadly, to make their apartments look as if Norma Talmadge were about to waltz through the front door. Frilly shawls are draped theatrically across uncomfortable-looking mahogany and velvet divans, as if time had stood still since the advent of the talkies.

Other owners have thoroughly modernized to point that their apartments look like any cookie-cutter box in WeHo, with furnishings from CB2. Both approaches, IMHO, are wrong, but, of course, not all the owners' apartments were open on the tour. (By far the best one open was #804; alas, the photos posted with the real estate listing do absolutely nothing to capture the true elegance and taste of this apartment.)

I'm sure the building holds many more secrets as yet unseen. Let's hope that more of the residents have given their apartments a style, polish, and glamor to match the Villa Riviera's stunning image on the Long Beach skyline.

*Update, Feb. 2, 2011:

A reader has corrected my assertion that the building was originally painted aqua (information which was passed on to visitors by the guide at the Open House). Evidently, the aqua color was only used for the sales posters; the original color, as determined by a specialist in historic buildings, was the limestone hue that the building is currently painted.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bold and Beautiful on Carolwood Drive

The January 2011 issue of Architectural Digest is out—the first edited by Margaret Russell—and it's a keeper.

The issue is getting lots of huzzahs on Curbed National, among other places, for Russell's fresh vision for what had become a terminally ossified design publication.

One of the feature stories is on a George Washington Smith–designed house (with sensitive additions by architect and G. W. Smith scholar Marc Appleton) on Carolwood Drive—the same one featured on the cover of real estate agent Jeffrey Hyland's book,
The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.

391 Carolwood Drive, Holmby Hills (photo copyright Appleton Architects).

Although the owners are unidentified in the AD story, it doesn't take Charlie Chan to snoop out that the house is owned by Bradley and Colleen Bell. Bradley Bell was the creator, with his father, William J. Bell, of the soap opera
The Bold and the Beautiful, and also wrote many of the episodes himself. According to Wikipedia, it's "the most-watched soap in the world." In the Czech Republic, it's simply called Fabulous and Rich. Enough said?

While Hyland's book doesn't dwell on the interiors of this house, the
Architectural Digest story, written by Joseph Giovannini and beautifully photographed by Erhard Pfeiffer, does. I noticed that the walls of the garden room—like the others, designed by the always inspiring Windsor Smith—are covered with silver wallpaper decorated with gouache murals by artist Scott Waterman.

Murals by Scott Waterman.

I've been a fan of Waterman's work since discovering it via the Mrs. Blandings blog several weeks ago. A couple of examples:

Waterman also does fine art, as in these examples:

Images courtesy of

As if that's not enough, it also turns out that the artist is an accomplished blogger whose blog, Corbu's Cave, I had visited several times previously without making the connection.

It's a small, circular world, full of wonderment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lake Como above Sunset

This 1940 villa by F. Pierpont Davis, situated just above the Sunset Strip, is having an open house on Tuesday.

8960 St. Ives Drive, West Hollywood

Davis was the architect, with his brother Walter, of the exquisite Villa d'Este apartments (1928) on Laurel Avenue. He died in 1941, the year after this house was completed.

The current owner has taste and a predilection for equine portraiture—both rare commodities in MLS listings. One wants to know this person as eagerly as one wants to shun the owners of McMansions. Official ownership information and assessed values can be found here.

A predilection for equine portraiture.

The architecture, if somewhat quirky, is substantial and stylish throughout.

Substance and style in architecture.

John Woolf, doyen of the Hollywood Regency style, reportedly did some later revamping of this house, which may explain the more contemporary look of the master bedroom.

The outdoor pool area is compact, due to the steeply sloping lot on which the house is situated, but is nevertheless wonderfully articulated and landscaped.

The listing is here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crime of the Week

Some disasters can't be blamed on the Bauhaus.

9824 Yoakum Drive, Beverly Hills.

This ungainly shack in nosebleed Beverly Hills was built in 1923, during Modernism's heyday, but it's about as far from Dessau as it gets.

Perhaps John Barrymore had his handyman cobble the place together as a hunting boozing lodge, as it sits in what was, at the time, a very remote area. It certainly seems better suited to weekends of heavy binging with your pals than to day-to-day living.

An "open" plan.

The interior is no less a mess than the exterior. A spiral staircase leads down to a featureless (and, from what I can tell, windowless) basement room—I'm thinking orgy parlor. A sliding vertical ladder allows access to the loft; sleepwalkers need not apply.

The rear hindquarters.

The rear is a hodgepodge of stucco, shingles and clapboard, with all the backyard charm of a well-maintained favela.

Should you care to indulge your prurient interest further, the listing is here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crime and self-punishment

In retrospect, it seems clear from their degenerate physiognomies that these inherent criminals were up to no good and should never have been let near a drafting table. Too late now.

Interestingly, the perps themselves were—whether subconsciously or downright arrogantly—aware of their crimes against design. In fact, they even built their own detention center.

Bauhaus Dessau

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A big hole in Pasadena

Next year, repertory theater troupe A Noise Within (the name is from a stage direction in Hamlet) will be moving out of the old Masonic temple on Glendale's Brand Boulevard that has served as its home for the past 19 seasons.

Construction site for A Noise Within's new theater in East Pasadena.

Their new state-of-the-art theater is under construction now at 3360 East Foothill Boulevard in East Pasadena, on the site of the Stuart Company Building, the erstwhile live-work-play campus of a major pharmaceutical firm designed in 1956 by Edward Durell Stone, architect of Radio City Music Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Façade of Edward Durell Stone's 1956 Stuart Company Building.

The original building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was converted into Mad Men–worth mid-century apartments, The Stuart at Sierra Madre Villa, a couple of years ago, with additional new units added behind the original building.

Rendering of the new theater exterior.

While the current Glendale theater has a certain decrepit charm, the new space, designed by Los Angeles–based John Berry Architects, will use Stone's original concrete screen but will rise three stories, with new parts being fabricated to match the building's existing façade. The theater will also provide more backstage space, education facilities and a library.

Construction is in the hands of Matt Construction, who have worked on projects such as the Skirball Cultural Center and the most recent renovation of the Hollywood Bowl.

Rendering of the new theater interior.

I recently attended A Noise Within's season opening in Glendale, a stunning production of Shakespeare's "problem play" Measure for Measure, and was blown away. I can only imagine what the new facility will do to enhance their talent and vision.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crime of the Week

Bobolini, of Fahrenheit Studios, who occasionally serves as my west-of-the-405 scout, recently found this gem lurking on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Abode of the 45° people?

As Bobolini reports: "I am most impressed with the position of the antennae." Indeed, the right-hand aerial seems to be pointed unrelentingly in the direction of the great nebula in Orion, perhaps receiving transmissions from the home planet.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More on the Durand mansion

As you may have noticed, landscape planner Mayita Dinos (who did indeed design Arlington Garden), left a nice comment on that thread.

She was kind enough to forward several photos of the Durand mansion, which once stood on that site.

The Durand mansion.

It was a massive pile—heavy and ornate, would-be casual yet hopelessly ponderous in a late 19th-century way that the Greene brothers and other Craftsman-era architects strove to clear their (and our) heads of.

A carriage ride in Pasadena's year-round summer.

The house looks like a curiosity from a bygone era in the 1961 photo below, in which I assume it must be playing host (somewhat unwillingly, one suspects) to the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts. These ladies seem to be regarding it with the same curious air with which they would have studied a dinosaur skeleton at the Natural History Museum.

The house in 1961.

As Mayita explains, "The Durand house had a planting of Cherokee roses all the way down Arlington Drive. We have planted Cherokee roses along the split rail fence [at Arlington Garden] to commemorate the Durand house."

View of Arlington Drive and other large houses on Orange Grove Boulevard.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A horticultural find

While looky-looing condos (a bad habit I admit I am powerless to resist), I stumbled across Pasadena's very well-hidden Arlington Garden.

Arlington Garden, Pasadena.

The property, on northwest corner of Arlington Drive and Pasadena Avenue, is now owned by CalTrans but was the former site of the 1901 Durand mansion, evidently a victim of the quixotic plan to link the 210 Freeway and the Pasadena Freeway (which has now reverted to its original and much more appropriate monker, the Arroyo Seco Parkway).

If anyone has photos of tnhe Durand mansion, please let me know—I can't seem to unearth any.

As deserted as Gethsemane.

There wasn't a single soul in the place on this late Sunday afternoon, but somebody's corn was high.

An informal planting of truck.

Next time, I will bring a book.

Hidden in plain sight.

More history here. The official website.

Very talented landscape designer Mayita Dinos evidently had something to do with the garden's layout and planting. Visit her website for some photos of other stunning gardens she has created.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hollywood food shopping, then and now

Hollywood seems to have always catered remarkably well, both in the past and in the present, to the human demand for food and, more particularly, to its residents' demand for good foodstuffs.

Hollywood Farmers Market, then.

Hollywood Farmers Market, now.

A Hollywood market at night, then.

A Hollywood market at night, now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A little remodel in Pasadena

This two-bedroom on Madia Street in Pasadena's Linda Vista neighborhood has just hit the listings at an optimistic $829,000.

1204 Madia Street, Pasadena

This little charmer is nothing if not cute and seems to be well laid-out in its plan, but I couldn't resist making it a bit . . . well, less ordinary.

1204 Madia Street, Pasadena (concept)

Funny how a remodel can make the spirit—and the sky—more rosy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Livingstone, I presume?

I got free run today of the open-house condos (including the fabu penthouse) at The Livingstone, the adaptive re-use conversion of the former Livingstone Hotel at 123 S. Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena. I neglected to take an exterior shot, but here's the building before the recent work.

The Livingstone, before the revamp.

This building had piqued my interest since seeing it mentioned on this Curbed post a few weeks ago. For anyone who grew up on the East Coast, it seems red brick buildings exert a natural attraction—earthquake danger be damned—and this one has real wooden sash windows to boot. I was hooked at first sight.

Real wooden sash windows.

A bit of history, courtesy of the flyer I picked up: The Livingstone and its twin building, The Stanley (located immediately to the south) were built in 1926 by long time Pasadena resident Woody Woodworth. Operated as a hotel for almost 80 years and reportedly facing demolition
just a year ago, the building has been saved and converted into 32 residential units.

A generous studio.

Materials and finish are very fine throughout, and the epoxy floors are a nice touch.

Kitchen in a 2-bedroom.

Kudos to RVM Associates and its CEO Doug Huberman for having the vision to see what could happen here. RVM, by the way, stands for Rear View Mirror, indicating Huberman's penchant for historically significant properties.

Iffy hallway carpet is very last week. Oh well . . .

An ambitious Phase II of the project will see a 3-level subterranean garage constructed on the lot just north of the building, with ground floor retail and 3 stories of residential units above. The idea of pending construction only solidifies my opinion that the interior courtyard units (facing The Stanley) are the most desirable, with their charming brick porches and neighborhood-y vibe.

A shady porch on the courtyard.

The development team is amenable to buyer requests such as converting the (already generously-sized) studios to one-bedrooms or combining units into larger apartments. Move-ins are scheduled to start in early September.

Courtyard facing The Stanley next door.

If you make the trek, don't fail to find the secret door and staircase that lead up to the $1.399 million glass-encased penthouse.

The pricy hidden penthouse is worth finding.

Penthouse kitchen.

Penthouse master bath.

The building does indeed have a website, but not under the name The Livingstone. It's at