Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crime of the Week

There are some places where people should not build houses. Especially ugly houses.

472 Thompson "Avenue," Chatsworth

This canker of a house is perched high in the Simi Hills of easternmost Ventura County, just across the L.A. County line and well above the agglomeration of Chatsworth Lake Manor. Its builder probably thought of the isolated dwelling as an idyllic aerie amid the rattlesnakes. Now it's on the market for an asking price of $799,000.

Getting away from it all.

The façade, although naive, is far from the worst example of do-it-yourself design, but the awkward site means that a good portion of the house is below street level, perched clumsily on the hillside rather than integrated into it.

The above-ground hot tub and Flintstones picnic table don't help matters in the twee, tawdry, and ill-considered back yard.

Hot tub with a view.

Here's what the landscape looks like without the disastrous intervention of would-be urban escapees.

Some jurisdictions prohibit building on certain sites. Perhaps Chatsworth and/or Ventura County should consider such legislation . . . or would that be un-American?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Handsome in Hancock Park

This fine house was designed by Webber, Staunton & Spaulding—the architects of Harold Lloyd's Greenaces—and completed in 1927. Beautifully aged like a fine wine, it's currently listed at $5,999,999.

I predict a major price chop before it sells, but had I just won Mega Millions I'd pay the asking price in cash tomorrow for one of the most handsome manses in Hancock Park.
(I wonder if they would take an even 6 mil?)

Ladies and gentlemen . . . architecture.

The three-story mansion has four bedrooms and baths upstairs, plus two maids' rooms downstairs. The third floor has a kitchenette and bath (income unit!!), and there's a guest apartment above the three-car garage (ditto!!!).

Its L shape means that it's significantly larger than the streetside façade implies, almost justifying the listing agent's description of it as a "French Chateau" (her overly exuberant capitalization).

"French Chateau" . . . almost.

The interior, while fine (but not exquisite) architecturally, needs some drastic design consideration, having, it seems, last been decorated in the same era in which Jackie Kennedy fired Sister Parish from the White House re-do for telling Caroline to get her saddle oxfords off the upholstery. The overdone faux-gilding in the living room, for example, has got to go.

Louie the Whoie?

I'd love to turn Michael Smith, Joe Nye or that D.C.-area Wonder Woman Mona Hajj loose on this place and see what they could come up with.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A rare groove indeed

In this post, Curbed.com mentions that architect Barbara Bestor of Bestor Architecture recently spoke to KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad on the air about her work, one example of which is below:

Does anyone else spy an unhappy hipster in the window?

Quoth La Bestor in the interview: "I try to get the rare groove that’s going to last, so that thing will work for like 20 years no matter what people will do to it."

"Like 20 years"??

Is two measly decades the longest we can expect our buildings to last and be serviceable in their originally designed form? Shouldn't architects—and their clients—set their expectations several magnitudes higher than this?

A few older Los Angeles architects seem to have understood the value of designing buildings that would last indefinitely:

Chateau Elysee, 1928: 82 years old and going strong

Mission San Fernando, 1797: 213 years old and still functioning as a church

Why do we settle for throw-away buildings? Why do architecture schools teach that buildings should have a shelf life, like mayonnaise? Just wondering . . .

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The mysterious Villa Carlotta

Having lived within a few blocks of this old pile for more than a decade now, I have developed a fascination with its decrepitude, its history and its unapologetically ungentrified charm.

I have both daytime and oneiric fantasies of living in one of its 50 once-glamorous apartments, which were previously home to such royalty as William Randolph Hearst (he reportedly built the place to be near his paramour, Mrs. Thomas Ince, who later built the Chateau Elysee, now the Scientology Celebrity Centre, across the street), Edward G. Robinson, and George Cukor.

Louella Parsons lived at Villa Carlotta and her Hollywood gossip column was penned from these premises. Celebrated Southern California architect Wallace Neff moved into a studio apartment here after his divorce and had an office across the street, in the building that now houses The Bourgeois Pig coffee shop and Birds.

My great friend Steve Silberman, a contributing editor at Wired magazine, visited L.A. recently and managed, through his usual serendipitous luck, to get a glimpse of the lobby and courtyard of this faded Franklin Avenue dowager.

His photos, below, were taken with an iPhone app that imitates the broad spectrum of HDRI photography.

For more on Steve and his multifarious pursuits—which include the Grateful Dead, Buddhism, psychedelia, neurology, and autism—see his website at www.stevesilberman.com.