Monday, November 14, 2011

Trolley Patrón

Yesterday's post on Curbed L.A. got me thinking . . .

Perhaps the name "Dolly Patron" was in fact a scary Freudian typo on the part of
WeHo Confidential, but why shouldn't a major spirits brand like Patrón Tequila sponsor free nighttime trolleys in WeHo and downtown Hollywood, where bar and clubland action is the main draw after dark?

Trolley Patrón (proposed).

Patrón already commands a sizeable chunk of the Hollywood skyline with its snazzy white neon sign atop the Equitable Building (see previous post). Why shouldn't this brand expand its clout in Hollywood and/or WeHo with free bar-hopping jitneys? Can we say "tax write-off"?

My admittedly tacky day-for-night Photoshop rendering aside, this is seriously worth considering. (Are you listening, WeHo? Garcetti?)

Given Patrón owner John Paul DeJoria's other business interests, perhaps riders could be offered Paul Mitchell hair treatments on-board. For a fee, of course.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A little night musing

I'm not a bar-hound, but I do love bars.

I should be thankful, then, for living in downtown Hollywood, which has always had—and now more than ever—a plethora of engaging watering holes. (One irascible local activist, a caustic Diogenes who roams around these parts in a dirty seersucker jacket instead of a barrel, sarcastically refers to the town as Alcohollywood . . . but I suspect he's just someone who can't hold his liquor.)

"Alcohollywood" (from Curbed LA)

Unlike the under-30 crowd that fills most of these places, I don't do velvet ropes, preening queues, walkie-talkie-equipped doorman, or cover charges, which effectively eliminates 85 percent of Hollywood nightlife from my consideration, making the choices that are left all the more attractive.

Favorite haunts include the remarkably attitude-free public house with the overly understated name The Bar, newish Harvard & Stone (a contender that needs to work on its anemic single malt collection), and the simply indispensable Boardner's, which can always be counted on for people-watching
sans the scene.

Last night I visited Wood & Vine, a 150-seat restaurant-
cum-saloon on Hollywood Boulevard that opened earlier this year. Taking over the Taft Building space formerly occupied by the leasing office for the ill-fated W Hollywood Residences next door (of which, per a recent Curbed post, only a measly 15 of 143 have sold), it's a welcome addition to the world's most famous intersection. (Whoever thought this town revolved around the corner of Hollywood and Highland was sorely deceived.)

Restaurant specialty firm Kelly Architects redid the space as a lofted two-story room. Interior designer Kenneth Brown used a lumber yard's worth of reclaimed and faux-reclaimed wood to created a toweringly dramatic bar, stylishly accoutered and fetchingly lit with a couple of fabu
Mad Men–worthy midcentury sconces and other fixtures using bare-filament Edison-style bulbs. The mood is dark, sexy, and ripe for romance—over retro cocktails, natch.

A spacious patio in the rear has a fireplace, bare-bulb string lights, and a view of the looming posterior of the Taft Building (not the old girl's best side) and its fluorescent office lights that gives the entire place a kind of noirish
Naked City vibe. Eventually, I'm told, movies will be projected against the side of the adjacent building.

The upstairs sports windows overlooking the boulevard but shaded from the glare of the Kliegs and passers-by by slatted wooden blinds, making it the perfect place for Jake Gittes to take a meeting with Evelyn Mulwray without being counter-detected.

And check out those floors.

Pull up a stool, doll. Drinks are on me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Flying saucers over Hollywood!

YouTube video by GrimlyForming PW. Music: "We've Come To Take The Earth Away" by The Driving Stupid (1966)

I'm sure this wasn't the first time aliens invaded Hollywood to wreak havoc on humanity and architecture, and it won't be the last. But it may well be the cheesiest.

The KFWB radio antennae on the Warner Cinerama (later the Pacific Hollywood Theatre)
never looked more useful: Maybe these avant-garde creatures, hell-bent on leveling all that is human, can be contacted, reasoned with, and talked out of destroying Los Angeles?

Not a chance.

The preservationists following them drive right by my street on the then brand new Hollywood Freeway at 0:47. Castle Argyle is in the background.
How many other Hollywood locations—long gone or still standing—can you find?
Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food for thought

Like many of us, I live in an enclave of NIMBYism (mine is in a neighborhood of downtown Hollywood), where "development" categorically equals "anti-environmental," "anti-ecological," "anti-green," "anti-community," and perhaps just downright "evil."

Why should this be so?

I've often wondered why the same people who oooh and aaah at the glittering Manhattan or Chicago skylines, with their towering skyscrapers, begin to polish up the pitchforks when a developer like Millennium Partners even suggests putting two skyscrapers in downtown Hollywood. (The tallest of the two, at 48 stories, would still be less than half the height of Chicago's 100-story mixed-use John Hancock Center.)

One rendering of the project (below) seems intentionally to disguise the height of the towers, probably to quell local phobia about their dwarfing of the "iconic" Capitol Records Building
which nonetheless shows up for the squat little runt it is in this drawing.

Millennium Hollywood (proposed).

Arguments about such towers "spoiling the view" hold little weight in my book. On the contrary, for urban dwellers towers
are the view, and if anyone is under the illusion that the seemingly sacrosanct Capitol Records Building is an architectural marvel that can't be obscured, just let him or her reflect that someone felt the same way about the existing structures that the Capitol Records Building—at a whopping 13 stories, then the zoning height limit—obscured from view in 1956. It completely obliterates my own view of the Taft Building, a much handsomer structure, for example.

A more honest and circumspect rendering (below) shows that the two towers might provide a vibrant architectural addition to the downtown Hollywood skyline and prove a nexus for further development.

Hollywood Millennium (proposed).

Which brings me to this book:

The Triumph of the City, by Edward Glaeser (Penguin Press, $29.95 hardcover)

Glaeser is an urban economist and he has some very surprising—and, for the NIMBYs, very likely upsetting—things to say about the kinds of buildings that these urban acrophobes detest.

One of his main premises, for example, is that denser, taller cities are actually greener than shorter, more spread out ones—and that they are certainly far, far greener than suburbia, where everyone drives. Being a Harvard academic, Glaeser has plenty of facts and figure to back up his assertions, but the book is hardly dry. Instead, it reads like an engaging conversation with someone you meet at a cocktail party, a well- informed contrarian, who gives you a whole new way of looking at something.

Glaeser has some harsh words for the Bay Area environmentalists, for example, who proudly oppose building in the San Francisco region
—thereby passively encouraging development in previously pristine areas such as the Nevada desert or in highly "brown" regions such as Phoenix, and ultimately contributing to overall carbon emissions. "Think globally"? Hardly.

For Glaeser, development
—and, yes, that means skyscrapers—is a sign of urban health, but also of planetary health. Pointing to the viability of tall metropolises such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, he makes a case for upward rather than outward expansion, and shows how dense, concentrated cities can provide the greenest of all possible worlds.

I love a good contrarian as much as I detest NIMBYs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Come see for yourself."

So reads the slogan for Playa Vista, the planned community on L.A.'s far Westside.

I decided to spend a Sunday afternoon taking them up on the offer. I began where I begin my tour of any city: downtown.

Downtown Playa Vista.

The town doesn't gradually emerge out of the fabric of the surrounding urban landscape, the way, say, Venice does (to take another planned community as an example). Rather, it simply appears: distinctly set off—not hermetically, but emotionally and architecturally—from its environs, just like a movie set. Might it be argued that this makes it a quintessentially Los Angeles phenomenon?

At first glance, downtown is not an unappealing place, with vaguely Spanish Revival and Mediterranean architecture and a clean and genteel, if not particularly refined or polished, air. Like a little chunk of the O.C. hauled north.

Not unappealing at first glance.

But long views down several of Playa Vista's streets show the places where the town—and its movie-set reality—abruptly end.

A place where the town simply ends.

At Playa Vista's center is Concert Park, the town commons (one of several thoughtfully planned parks), where, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a community that, per the official website, boasts "more than 6500 residents," I counted a grand total of 19 humans. Many of the strolling denizens seemed to exude the overly conscious self-importance of those who have committed their lives, and their children's, to founding the first settlement on Mars.

Just as I was wondering whether I had wandered into a sequel to
The Truman Show, to my relief I ran across a group of six or seven unkempt, woolly-looking cigar smokers (screenwriters, surely) who had colonized one set of benches on Pacific Promenade and were having what seemed like a ritual Sunday puff-fest. They, too, were self-conscious, but in that good, old-fashioned L.A. way. Perhaps Playa Vista is not so hermetically sealed after all.

But as far as I could tell, the town has only one restaurant (Piknic), one coffeeshop (a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, rival Starbucks perhaps being unwilling to commit in an area where consumer footfall is sparser than my hair), one dry-cleaner's, and a food market selling purportedly wholesome and probably overpriced comestibles.

Offering dozens of different housing options from various corporate builders, ranging from rental apartments to condos to private houses, Playa Vista has no shortage of building styles to choose from, making it a diachronic theme park of Los Angeles architectural history, where Spanish Revival revival faces the soulless anemia of the late twentieth century without blinking. A few examples:

1920s: The "Villa d'Este" (with nary an apology to Davis and Davis).

1930s: handsome Mid-Wilshire Moderne.
1960s: Rat Pack Palm Springs.

1970s: King's Road condo.

1980s: industrial whimsy à la Westside Pavilion.

1990s: corrugated cool.
No matter the variety on the exterior, most the floorplans for these dwellings exhibit the same lack of imagination that has residents entering their own premises, like delivery boys, through the kitchen, or entertaining dinner guests in their foyers.

Back on the outside, many of the windows are flimsy, ill-fitting prefab units with glaringly fake muntins. If this is a planned community, why was there no planning?

Shameful builder shortcuts galore.

I moved on to another part of town: Icon, a development that includes a number of private residences. Here, the architecture takes a definite turn for the better, and the interior "streets" (read: service alleys) are wider and better paved than most avenues in Hollywood.

A Monterey-style private residence.

The "streets" of Icon are glorified service alleys.

The landscaping is exemplary throughout Playa Vista and is maintained completely with recycled water and, one would assume, battalions of cheap Hispanic labor. The plants, if not the people, seem gloriously happy here.

A nice shady street.

Playa Vista is adjacent to the state-owned Ballona Wetlands, which (to the developers' chargin) has prevented the town's further spread toward the west and (to the residents's chagrin) prohibits direct beach access. But, hey, it does have its own branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and its own ZIP code: 90094.

The Ballona Wetlands, with Playa Vista outlined in red.

I wanted to like Playa Vista better than I did.

Maybe in 50 years (if these buildings last that long), Playa Vista will be a vibrant and nicely patinated borough integrated into the rich, complex tessitura of Los Angeles. As it is now, it's a town apart, preternatually triste, and, for me at least, a bit alienating, perhaps attracting those for whom authentic Los Angeles is too dirty, too dangerous, too decrepit. A faux place in a real city.

Go see for yourself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The lady vanishes

In the short 2 weeks of my absence from Hollywood, the former KFWB radio building at 6226-6230 Yucca Street was demolished, leaving a dirt lot and an improved view from the northeast of the Capitol Records building.

Gone without a trace.

The building, although it had a few perfunctory Art Déco touches, especially in the tower (its best only feature), was an unlovable bunker in its most recent incarnation. I was in the former KFWB studios on several occasions on business and it was as unglamorous within as without. I'm afraid it will be very little missed.

Unlovable and unmissed.

A former grocery store (one assumes it had windows at that time, a feature which would have vastly improved its appearance), the 1934 building was later home to
Sound Recorders Studio, scene of the controversial remastering of The Beatles' White Album at the insistence of George Harrison, as reported here by Beatles maven Bruce Spizer.

The White Album, remastered at this location.

Surely its connection with the Fab Four would have qualified this stucco-sheathed masterpiece for historic preservation status, no? Where oh where was the L.A. Conservancy in our hour of need? Alas, too late.

Followers of the ongoing reality soap opera called Hollywood Development will remember this parcel as the site of Second Street Ventures' proposed (and not unattractive) "6230" project, which, after some legal tussles with Capitol Records owner EMI, fell into the black hole of the Great Recession, along with several other ambitious projects in the immediate neighborhood.

The "6230" mixed use project as proposed in 2007.

The prognosis for a turnaround of the economy is, I'm afraid, not optimistic. But a dirt lot is a start.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paris thoughts

I'm leaving today for five days in Roussillon, in southwestern France, and then a (much needed) week in Paris. Rain is predicted in the capital, but that will hardly stop my ramblings in my second-favorite city on Earth.

My second-favorite city.

This reminds me that when visitors comment on the admittedly rampant ugliness of Los Angeles, my first response is inevitably to point out that Los Angeles is just 231 years old—an infant still in diapers, sometimes badly stained.

Architectural democracy in action.

Paris, which most certainly consider one of the world's most beautiful cities, is an order of magnitude older, having been around for nearly 2,300 years and counting.

"Come back when Los Angeles is 2,300 years old and see how beautiful it will be," I tell the doubters.

Of course, what we know as Paris today was very largely the result of the draconian rebuilding of the city by Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the mid-19th century, very late, relatively speaking, in the the city's history.

Paris sous la pluie.

Perhaps what Los Angeles needs is a visionary of the caliber of Haussmann who will rake away all the mini-malls and dingbats, widen (and repave!) the boulevards, and bring some sense of order into the urban free-for-all that is L.A.

Is there a Baron Haussmann in our future?

If only it were this easy.

See you in two weeks.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Revuelta Way

If there were ever a brick-and-mortar example of the dictum that money can't buy taste—well, not good taste—it's this newly listed mansion in lower Bel-Air, which has nearly 26,000 square feet of living space, almost all of it absolutely atrocious.

"The encrusted style" exemplified.

The living room is furnished with seating in what I like to call "the encrusted style"—a perversion of design in which every surface writhes with vermicelli-inspired curlicues and nightmarish arabesques, all of it misproportioned and slathered with a surfeit of gold leaf that would make Midas retch.

Louie the Whoie?

The seating is arranged not for conversation but for staring at one another—or perhaps for a belly-dancing exhibition.

Meanwhile, in the dining room, things are scarcely less gaud-awful.

Seats 50 oil sheiks for dinner.

"More is more."

The sickly icing on this nauseating cake is the pompous master bedroom, which has all the intimacy of Vegas casino, complete with with three hi-def TV screens.

This pile of pretense can be yours for a cool $23.9 million. Any takers?

"I'll take it!"

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Resurrecting a lost neighborhood

. . . one house—and one story—at a time.

The amazingly detailed blog Berkeley Square Los Angeles is slowly but steadily bringing back to life the once-chic Berkeley Square in West Adams. Raise your hand if you've ever heard of it. (I hadn't.)

This gated community, once home to the elite of Los Angeles business and society, was lost in 1972 to the construction of the 10 Freeway.

The relatively anonymous but tirelessly assiduous blogger provides post-by-post information about the houses that formerly graced these streets.

He also goes beyond the façades, to deliver the stories behind the houses.

This being Los Angeles, the tales include murder, adultery, pandering, and . . . well, read and find out.