Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crime of the Week

Crime and context.

853 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena

Some crimes would be less heinous in a different context. This disastrous and ill-maintained eyesore is smack dab in the middle of a Pasadena neighborhood of Craftsman and other early 20th-century houses, just north of the 210 Freeway.

The context

Admittedly, the neighboring structures are not necessarily in pristine condition, but at least they are appropriate to the streetscape.

In the same block

Given the context, there's no excuse for the blatant and egregious nature of the crime at hand.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Hollywood Sign Hotel

Best idea for the Hollywood sign, ever.

Danish architectural firm Bayarch has come up with a way to make the Hollywood sign not only accessible but also profitable (and, evidently, not so linearly challenged).

Introducing the Hollywood Sign Hotel.

The Hollywood Sign Hotel.

The concept is appealing on many levels. Not only would the "sign" now be lit and glowing at night, but tourists would be able to get up-close-and-personal with the celebrated icon. A lucky (and monied) few would actually get to stay there.

Revenues generated from paying guests would easily offset the maintenance costs of the storied monument.

How about those views?

Bayarch was founded in 1966 by Christian Bay-Jørgensen, who once appeared in a now-kitschy advert for Prince cigarettes.

He's a modernist, with an impressive international portfolio of built projects. I say let's build this one.

More images of the concept are available on the Bayarch website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pride of Pasadena

I hadn't visited Pasadena City Hall since its restoration and retrofitting, completed in 2007.

In fact, I had
never visited Pasadena City Hall until this week. Shame on me.

From the exterior, it's one of Southern California's most dramatically beautiful structures, a prime example of the West Coast's slightly belated embrace of the City Beautiful movement.

The imposing six-story tower with its arches, dome, lantern, and finial, dominates Pasadena's Civic Center and the city's skyline in general.

The exterior is enhanced with restrained Renaissance-style neoclassical detailing worthy of Inigo Jones or Chris Wren (well,
I call him Chris).

But the full effect of the ingenious design is only fully apparent once you enter the building.

The play of indoor and outdoor spaces—a signature characteristic of Southern California architecture—has perhaps never been better captured than in this "porous" building, designed by San Francisco architects Bakewell and Brown in a style that successfully marries late-Renaissance Palladian influences with the California Mission style.

Interior spaces open onto wide, cool, shaded loggias and open stone staircases, which in turn flow out in to the central courtyard, designed in a relaxed, not-quite-symmetrical pattern centered on a cast-stone fountain surrounded by trees.

The restoration cost was $117 million, while the original cost of the building, completed in 1927, was $1.3 million. The sensitive work, by San Francisco-headquartered Architectural Resources Group, included the installation of 240 seismic isolators to protect the building from earthquakes.

A major shout-out to whoever designed the excellent "facilities." Not only are they attractive, but the dedicated staff keeps them smelling sweeter than a rose garden.

All in all, one of the most rewarding architectural expeditions I've undertaken recently, including my stop in the men's room.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crime of the Week

Where to begin?

This doozie just showed up as a Coldwell Banker listing.

It's even special enough to have its own website, complete with a rheumy, sclerosis-inducing soundtrack fit for a Lifetime miniseries about a teen cancer victim. (I did warn you.)

1412 Oak Crest Ave., South Pasadena

The DIY style could be described as Case-Study-meets-Palladio-at-Home-Depot, but the word garbage also comes to mind.

If you're wondering what's on the inside of that ersatz fan window, wonder no longer: people with kids live here.

Toys are us.

They don't get much uglier than this, people, so drink up.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Abbot Kinney and the Squirrels

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I assumed that Abbot Kinney, namesake of the hippest street in Venice, had been a late 19th-century abbot named Kinney (Francis Xavier Kinney, no doubt), the genial head of a Catholic religious order of some sort—perhaps a not-so-cloistered group of surfer-monks based somewhere within view of present-day Muscle Beach.

But no. Abbot Kinney was very worldly New Jersey–born, European-educated businessman, politician, real estate developer, and—perhaps most importantly—conservationist.

Abbot Kinney, 1850–1920

This urban, urbane answer to John Muir was the mastermind behind Venice of America, a high-minded attempt to re-create Renaissance Venice—the one of John Ruskin's dreams—on the California coast below Santa Monica. The project failed financially and, far from becoming a meeting of great minds, devolved into Coney Island West, complete with nickel freak shows . . . which continue today in public for free.

Never mind all that, however, because Kinney the botanist had already published, in 1895, an enduring, highly readable yet scientific study of the genus
Eucalyptus, which is still available in a facsimile edition.

Click for more information or to order from

A great fan of this multi-purpose Australian import, Kinney, while serving as a superintendent of roads in Santa Monica, planted eucalyptus trees as windbreaks, for erosion protection and shade, and as purely esthetic landscaping elements.

His nemesis was the common ground squirrel. The pesky rodents would gnaw off the young trees at the root crown and leave them for dead. Kinney attributed the behavior to a genetic disposition among ground squirrels to detest forested regions. His vengeance was swift:

It may be interesting to some prospective planter to know how the squirrels were conquered. I poisoned them with strychnine in watermelons for six miles in a strip sixteen hundred feet wide, then had boys cover the [squirrel] holes. All the holes that were reopened within ten days were reclosed, after placing a piece of cotton saturated with bi-sulphide of carbon inside. . . . The trees on these six miles of road are now safe, and make a most pleasing difference in the appearance and comfort of the roads.

One doubts that PETA, much less the EPA, would today approve of Kinney's approach. But I do still love a nice stand of eucalyptus, as much as Kinney did.
The blue gum tree (Eucalpytus globulus)
courtesy of CalPoly's SelecTree

Friday, July 9, 2010

Barchitecture into Architecture

No little plans.

Curbed's recent post about a computer-designed, robotically-constructed bar by design firm Somewhere Something got me thinking.

A bar by Somewhere Something.

Doesn't design this good deserve to be blown up? I don't mean explosively. I mean conceptually.

My first take on this inventive piece of structuralism was that it was the model for an apartment house. So why not?

Why not?

As Daniel Burham said, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood . . . . "

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Crime of the Week

No, the crime is not this charming 1922 bungalow at 135 S. Avenue 54, Highland Park (although one doubts it's really a "4 bedroom," as the listing declares).

The rather recent plantings in the front yard and on the parkway are a laudable effort by the seller to make this place as as appealing as any West Hollywood interior designer's bachelor pad. The effect is completely winning.

West Hollywood charm in Highland Park.

Alas, a quick search on Google Earth reveals the real crime: the squalid multi-family building immediately nextdoor:

Click the image for a larger view of the squalor.

Given the vaguely defined driveway between the two structures, I'm not sure where the actual property line lies, or whether there would be room enough to build a two-story fence (or plant a row of cypresses?) sufficient to mask the ugliness radiating from this hideous tenement.

The bungalow is marked "Sale Pending" on Kudos to the plucky buyer(s).