Many times have I passed the cement yard and concrete loft building on Romaine at LaBrea, never stopping or walking around the remnants of 1930s industrialism still present in present-day Los Angeles.
This past Saturday, I did stop, and parked on Romaine at Sycamore, behind the cement yard, in front of the Producer’s Film Library, housed in two story 1930s streamline building. Bold letters along the side announce CLIMATE CONTROLLED FILM AND TAPE STORAGE, already an industry preserving archival, not current media.
Without fanfare or specialness, there is a march of architectural glory along Romaine, a grouping of white structures; grand and confident, living, eternally young and confident, glistening and glorious against the blue sky, standing mutely on treeless streets and sidewalks.
To your right, you will pass a one story curved building, gracefully and slickly embellished with rounded lines, rhythmic and functional steel windows.
On the east side of Highland at Willoughby, the magnificent white soap bubbles of the two story tall ALSCO factory speak of industrial architecture unafraid of plain spoken ornament.
No signs or guidance, no official sanction seems to value this district. Only the intelligence and intuition of the individual can detect the beauty, the drive, the fire and the dreams of old Los Angeles, the place that built for beauty 80 years ago atop bean fields and lettuce farms.
Get out and walk. Get out of the car. A city awaits.
From the LA Conservancy (words are quoted):
“ACTION ALERT UPDATE:
Century Plaza Hotel Project in Final Environmental Review
Planning Commission Hearing Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
Century Plaza Hotel (1966).
As you may know, the 1966 Century Plaza Hotel in Century City was threatened with demolition in 2008 to make way for a proposed mixed-use project. If you were one of the many people who supported its preservation, thank you!
Through intensive advocacy, strong local leadership, vocal public support, and collaboration with the developer, the hotel was saved and incorporated as the centerpiece of the mixed-use development plan.
The plan has entered the final stage of environmental review, with the preservation option as the preferred project. This preferred plan will preserve the hotel building while allowing for new construction of two 46-story towers at the rear of the site.
This plan has the input and support of the Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as neighborhood groups in the immediate area surrounding the hotel.
We are not asking for letters or e-mails in support of the preservation project, but we wanted to keep you informed on the process and let you know that if you would like to comment as a member of the public, there will be several more opportunities to do so.
The first is this Thursday, August 23, at a meeting of the Los Angeles Planning Commission at Van Nuys City Hall.
Planning Commission Hearing
Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
On Monday I attended an LA Conservancy meeting at the Craig House in Chatsworth. It was designed by Paul R. Williams in 1939 on many acres of then rural land.
The house, sheathed in flagstone, is a diagonally shaped ranch with an outdoor covered veranda whose arms swing around a pool. One enters through an outdoor entrance opening into a courtyard.
Idyllic and cozy, grand and understated, it reaches back into the old San Fernando Valley of gracious living and modern convenience for a lucky few.
Trolling around the internet today, I discovered a San Antonio, TX architecture firm, Lake/Flato, which is designing and building modular type green houses for lower cost. These type of houses could be the next wave for LA in such areas as Van Nuys.
Description below comes from Lake/Flato:
“Porch House, with a uniquely adaptable design and construction process, enables its inhabitants to be a partner with the environment, in a house shaped by the climate and place, where the landscape and rooms are a unified whole. Like many of our firm’s celebrated designs, the Porch House is born from the simplicity of vernacular architecture and leverages what Lake|Flato has learned over the years in terms of good design, quality, sustainability, and practicality. The factory built rooms are arranged on the site to take advantage of views, breeze, solar orientation, and outdoor spaces. The custom designed site built “porch elements”, such as breezeways, porches, overhangs, and carports are the “connecting tissue” which holds the rooms together while allowing the overall design to adapt to the unique characteristics of the site, the weather and the client’s program.Expected time from design approval to move in is 6-9 months. A Porch House uses considerably less energy than a typical house and can be designed for”net zero energy consumption” with the addition of photovoltaic panels. Current projections for hard building cost range around $150-225 per square foot.”
Large expanses of asphalt and black tar bake in sun day after day. These are the parking lots behind retail stores, many untenanted, forgotten and forlorn on the west side of Halbrent,north of Erwin, east of Sepulveda.
This area is chiefly known for two businesses: The Barn, a six-decade-old, red-sided furniture store and Star Restaurant Equipment & Supply advertised for 12 hours every weekend on KNX-1070 by radio fillibusteress Melinda Lee.
The Barn uses its parking lot to store trucks. But next door to the north, lot after lot is empty.
I came here this morning with a camera, lens cap off, a provocative act in the bracero’s hood. In the shadows, undocumented workers hide behind doorways and look away when I aim my digital weapon at asphalt. I mean the Mexicans no harm or ill will.
Blithely walking and lightly thinking, daydreaming, I forgot that I have no business here amidst the enormity of emptiness and unproductivity.
I’m looking for a story, for an angle, for a job.
So many are out of work and so much can be done to employ mind and muscle and money.
There is such a wealth and a waste of land in Los Angeles, and America in general. Imagine what Tokyo or Bangkok would do with all these unused acres!
These empty spaces are within a five-minute walk from public transportation, Costco, LA Fitness, CVS and Staples as well as two grammar schools, three banks and an Asian supermarket.
This is a walkable place.
A well-financed visionary could build a low-rise, dense, green, urban farm upon these entombed soils, plant Oak trees, create a little garden with fresh fruits and vegetables, oranges, lemons, and asparagus.
This is a place of potential.
An architect could design some functional and modern attached houses, artfully shading them with native trees.
But for now, the parking lots suffer in silence; waiting for the day that California fires up its economy, wakes up from its long slumber and pushes progress.
Last year, Money Magazine, in its annual Best Places to Live issue, reported some interesting facts about Beverly Hills, CA, population 33,974.
The median (average) family income was $142,180 and the average home price was $1.5 million.
By reputation, many would imagine that there are far wealthier people living within Beverly Hills’ borders, people who earn in the tens of millions and live in houses worth $5 million or more.
Whatever the case, this wealthy town once allowed children to attend school here even when those children came from outside the town borders. Part of the costs were subsidized by the state of California.
In 2010, when California was in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, and towns across the state were struggling to pay bills, and others were going bankrupt, Beverly Hills tax revenues surpassed state funding. So California no longer needed to send money to Beverly Hills.
Out of 4,600 students in Beverly Hills, 430 or less than 10% live outside of the city. And the school board is voting to expel the outsiders.
Some part-time city employees in Beverly Hills, people who clean the streets, collect garbage and polish parking meters, these people with children also benefited and sometimes enrolled their kids into Beverly Hills schools.
According to KPCC radio writer Tami Abdollah, Beverly Hills Board member Lisa Korbatov was incensed that as many as eight families of part-time workers were enrolled in the district. She said, “This is not charity. This is a school district. We are dealing with taxpayer money. I don’t feel sorry for you. This is not kids on chemotherapy.”
The MTA has been in a contentious battle with Beverly Hills as well, because a proposed subway tunnel would slice right under the vaunted halls of Beverly Hills High School. Signs all over Beverly Hills express opposition to digging under the school.
The idea that civil engineers, scientists, transportation planners and other experts see no danger in digging beneath the ground to build a subway (as has been done safely for over 150 years) is not satisfying to the protective parents of Beverly Hills. They are much more soothed by having their kids walk across the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard, which was named as one of the ten most dangerous intersections in the whole United States.
Subway and school sound ominous when paired. As do: pregnant woman/high voltage power lines or dog park/fresh water reservoir.
Imagination and irrationality, selfishness and self-centeredness, provincialism and pompousness, these dark behaviors are parading across the sunny landscape of Beverly Hills these days, a town of humungous vulgarity and high-class criminality, where fake faces and pretend psychoses afflict a large portion of the pharmasized population and danger lurks behind every hoodie.
In terms of a progressive agenda, one that includes educating the lesser privileged, and building infrastructure to move Angelenos across the Southland, Beverly Hills stands blindly and obstinately, blocking the rest of the region from reaching a brighter sunset.
‘After the Party….’ On Black
On the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank Boulevards, two large commercial buildings are going up simultaneously.
Chipolte (2011 net income was $214.9 million, an increase of 20.1%) is erecting a restaurant on the NE side, with the requisite peel-on bricks and pointy top roof, but commendably, its building comes right up to the sidewalk and will enliven the street with its presence.
But on the NW corner, the CVS Corporation ($7.2 b in net income, 2010) is constructing one of its signature cheapy drug stores, entirely of cinderblock, set back some 30 feet from the sidewalk, without windows and seemingly without any concern or regard for the urban possibilities and architectural imagination which it can surely afford.
It is a small point to discuss this one small drugstore, but one that has larger implications into how Angelenos and our city fail to plan and design commercial architecture to improve our neighborhoods through pedestrian-oriented design.
This area of Van Nuys is full of pleasant apartments and small houses, though much of it recently has seceded and renamed itself “Sherman Oaks”. It’s confusing, but the car dealerships are allowed to call themselves “Van Nuys” but the homes behind them are now in “Sherman Oaks”.
During the day, the street is a blindingly boring stretch of car dealerships that are slowly climbing back to sell us more of what is bankrupting us. Fill ‘er up!
And at night, the whole area is floodlit with acre upon acre of parking lots full of cars, watched over by security guards and security cameras. Dog walkers with plastic bags full of warm shit stroll by quickly. There is nothing to do here other than get out fast.
So the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank cries out for some lively alternative, such as one of those Owl Drugstores that were all over Los Angeles in the 1940s, the ones that had plate glass windows and soda counters. Those are still the best example of what a drug store can aspire to.
And who would not prefer Owl with its old, artful, graceful pharmacy lamps and glass counters, corner awnings and decorative script lettering; against the modern, plastic CVS- a windowless box in a parking lot- which has aisles filled with disposable umbrellas, generic whisky, Halloween costumes and XXL t-shirts, which are stuffed into their ugly, fluorescent-lit emporiums?
In a few months, the new CVS will open and the parking lot will be filled with cars and litter, loud music and asphalt baking in the sun. It will do a certain amount of business, and its numbers will be verified and approved by accountants, lawyers, and the CEOs of CVS.
But Van Nuys will gain nothing.
I was back in Palm Springs yesterday, planted like a palm tree amidst the gorgeous oddness of its windswept spotless streets, sitting at Starbucks amongst groups of people who looked as if they were from an elderly Mid-Western tribe.
On this day I was acting, as I always do when working, as a videographer. A writer friend had invited me along to assist him for an interview with 94-year-old Leland Lee, a photographer, who had shot the concrete space ship Elrod House in 1969.
The Elrod House, designed by John Lautner in 1968, is a home so iconic and so very weird. Like the latter part of the decade in which is what built, The Elrod is unhinged and sybaritic, self-absorbed and spacey, built for joy and sex and parties, featured in a James Bond movie and now on sale for $14 million.
Giant egos surely must have matched horns in the desert, 43 years ago, when architect and client carved and bulldozed the massive circular house onto a high mountain overlooking Palm Springs.
Architect and client are long dead, but living, still very much alive, is short, smart, stylish and self-effacing Leland Lee, who was only born in 1918, and achieved Mid-Century acclaim for assisting Julius Shulman in the photography of Los Angeles at its Post-War acme.
I have always hated the title “assistant”, having worn the dog collar myself, but here was an accomplished individual whose body of work burned up in a fire 10 years ago, but who still carries himself with a noble kindness and generosity.
Brown leather pants, a white linen jacket and printed silk shirt with a purple necklace, this was what he was wearing yesterday, and if clothing can give some indication of character, than Leland must be an eccentric, artistic, self-confident person, and that is how he introduced himself yesterday.
We drove up a long road and passed guards who ushered us into a cave-like driveway, and we entered the dark, soaring, circular living room where Leland’s framed photographs hung on the walls, and where we would film him as he spoke about each image.
What emerged from the interview was his quiet verisimilitude and the dignity of a gentleman who, without exaggeration and with calm exactitude, spoke about his photography and his life; his triumphs and his tragedies, with focus, clarity, deliberation and observation.
I was there, almost to witness and maybe to absorb a moral lesson of life, one that I have to teach myself continually, that non-conformity and truth, the willingness to be honest and to avoid grandiosity, those qualities that I think I have, will not always pay-off monetarily in the end. The 94-year-old cheerfully admitted he had never signed a contract before, and he didn’t seem to live for legal and financial judgment.
I have been battling, for many years now, between self-destruction and self-creation, wondering whether my own self-expression, in print and photo, was endangering my future. For surely Googling “Andy Hurvitz” might reveal the truth of who I was.
And then I met Leland Lee yesterday, and saw a man who had got on and survived, and did it in his own way, not always triumphantly, but truthfully.
A photo I took, along with others, from a Thanksgiving weekend spent in the Palm Springs area.
Some people hate Palm Springs, saying it is too hot, too sterile, too artificial.
Perhaps it is, but at twilight, when the sun is setting behind the mountains, there is nowhere I’ve been that feels so calming, so warm, so otherworldly.
There is something special about the desert, even the irrigated desert, and along with the green golf courses and the stucco clone houses, there are also special and completely original neighborhoods, dating from the 1950s, where the fine art of strange architecture and sculpted plants transports one into a reverie of light and form, which I have tried to capture photographically.
The Almighty was merciful in creating only one place like Southern California. For better or worse….
And we who inhabit this imperfect, flawed and destructive region, we occasionally are seduced and awed by a light and a moment to realize that we are also blessed to live here amongst human creativity, human imagination and nature’s nature.
This was Palm Springs yesterday and this is the way it was and will always be.
I recently came across these 50-year-old photographs by Allan Grant that were published in the November 23, 1962 Life Magazine.
They show a brand new supermarket, Piggly Wiggly,that had recently opened at 15821 Ventura Blvd. in Encino. The structure is now gone, replaced by a long, white office building.
What surprised me most was seeing the blend of modernity and kitsch, an architectural and marketing precursor to present day Gelson’s.
There is a view of the exterior, decorative concrete canopies, very 1962. But in front are also 19th Century street lamps, an old wagon, and even trees.
Signs are in decorative fonts.
Inside there is the astonishing sight of butchers in straw hats and bow ties; in another photo is a large sign: “Foods of the World”; and in one image… diagonally stacked shelves of barware: highball, martini and wine glasses, ice buckets, long tapered candles and ash-trays.
Female clerks, done up in beehive hairdos and made up faces, sell cosmetics beside a Victorian wood turret front display case. Lady shoppers (were there any other kind?) could stop off here, pick up a bottle of Shalimar and run home to take a dip in the backyard pool, then broil some lamb chops, and have the table set before Leonard or Irv pulled up in the driveway.
And behind a glass counter, a behatted chef shows off pots of soups to women in pearls and old retired gentlemen peering over.
A lineup of cashiers, stand in formation under the watchful eyes of their male bosses, next to carriage lamp lit checkout lanes. The girls wear puffy shouldered, black and white dresses with their names embroidered on lace.
These photos are fine testament that they had perfected, half a century ago, the California ideal, blending kitsch fantasy with cold, hard business acumen.
A development is planned for a big, empty lot on Sepulveda, north of the Galleria, near the intersection of the 101 and 405 freeways.
The developer is selling it as a “walkable” and “green” project which will enhance the area and promote health and urbanity.
The pedestrian oriented apartments will be within walking distance of PF Changs, the Cheesecake Factory, Fuddruckers and Ben and Jerrys.
I’m not sure that a walkable neighborhood promotes fitness. I live in Van Nuys and see many people walking along Kester, Victory, Vanowen and Sepulveda.
And they all seem to be wearing rubber tires under black spandex tops.
But back to the proposed construction…..
My quarrel with it concerns the colors. They are ugly and outdated.
Before WWII, Los Angeles built predominately in white with red-tiled roofs. Since the mid 1980s there has been a trend to break-up large masses of facades with clashing, discordant colors.
But the idea of building dense housing near densely developed Ventura Blvd can be good if public transportation, including bike lanes, buses and trains, eventually carry people around instead of the insanity of the automobile.
West of the 405, the vista opens up.
The skies are big and the mountains vast.
This is the land of beer and jets, trucks and steel; gasoline, fire and the burning sun.
This is the Van Nuys Airport, the Flyaway, the Anheuser-Busch Plant, many warehouses, and an enormous sod farm.
Here men and women are working, a necessary condition.
And the horizon of the San Fernando Valley, the blue skies and the straight wide streets, the planes taking off, the delivery trucks speeding across Van Nuys, and a commuter train blowing its horn; this is work and we are in need of work and we live and work; and hope that work returns to our nation as it did in times past.
The world needs another book on the late photographer Julius Shulman (1910-2009) like it needs another Katherine Heigl movie, but there I was, last night, driving to Woodbury University, to attend a book signing for the new Rizzoli photography book, “Julius Shulman and the Birth of a Modern Metropolis” by Sam Lubell, Douglas Woods, Judy McKee (Shulman’s daughter) and illustrated, of course, with Mr. Shulman’s voluminous and gorgeous architectural images.
In an auditorium, a large screen was set up in front of the audience. At a long table sat Craig Krull, whose gallery sells Shulman’s infinitely reproducible photographs for thousands a piece; a woman from the Getty Research Institute/ Julius Shulman Archive; Judy McKee, Julius Shulman’s only child and the executor of his estate; authors Sam Lubell and Douglas Woods; and architecture critic and author Alan Hess.
Shulman’s photography was the clearest and finest representation of the California dream after WWII. Through his lens, the world saw a state of endless innovation and mass-market modernism where mobility and technology might remake the lives of millions under the glowing sunshine.
Architects Neutra, Eames, Koenig, Lautner and Beckett hired Shulman to promulgate, promote and propagandize modern building and modern design. Through the 1950s and 60s, every freeway, every parking lot, every shopping center replacing every bulldozed orange grove was an opening to a grand and glorious future. The lone skyscraper in a sea of parked cars was held up as a model of how life should look. And Shulman was the master who made the desert of Los Angeles bloom.
The skyscraping of Bunker Hill, the lifeless streets of Century City, triple-decker freeways– they all were shot at the end of the day: shadows, textures and gleaming surface.
Mr. Krull called Mr. Shulman “the most optimistic man I’ve ever met.” Like Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shulman loved the Golden State and kept his company with the most successful and accomplished men of his time.
The speakers last night, acolytes and worshippers, reinforced each other. The academic praised the archivist who saluted the authors who thanked the gallery who paid homage to the photographer.
Like Scientology, that other great religion of this region, Shulmanism demands fealty and loyalty to its founder and his work. To ask why Los Angeles has never lived up to its photographic glory is to risk blasphemy. To ask why Shulman, who lived for almost a century, did not turn his very observant eye, onto the less attractive parts of LA, is to insult the very vision and mythology he produced.
Mr. Krull also said that Mr. Shulman never thought his photographs were worth so much until the checks came in. Photography is reproducible… but oil painting, sculpture and the Hope Diamond are not. No doubt, Mr. Shulman knew that each of his negatives could turn out 3 million photographic prints. But art collectors and art sellers must be smarter than the rest of us. And Shulman’s work is the gift that keeps on giving. Publishers, filmmakers, galleries are going to go on licensing Shulman for as long as they do Warhol, Presley and Monroe.
Projected onto Shulman is the very ideal that modernism was moral. Once upon a time, myth-makers imagine, architecture was about making the world a better place. By omitting broken down and shabby Los Angeles, and posing happy children, well-dressed wives and various home furnishing accents, Shulman decorated and embellished his structural subjects. With biblical fervor and pixelated proof, these photos demonstrate to believers that paradise did indeed exist in post-war Los Angeles County.
At the end of the presentation, one of the authors spoke about his favorite photograph in the book: a 1930s image of a thriving and ornate corner of downtown Los Angeles with streetcars and pedestrians.
“Chautauqua is an Iroquois word, meaning either “two moccasins tied together”, “bag tied at the middle”, “where the fish are taken out” or “jumping fish.”-Wikipedia
Over the weekend, I visited and photographed the 1950 Case Study No. 9/ Entenza House, designed by Charles Eames & Eero Saarinen in Pacific Palisades.
There was a time, just after the Second World War, when the USA borrowed from its just vanquished enemies, the German concept of machine-made modernism and Japanese living within nature, and built model homes in California that pointed to a new future for American domestic living.
Yesterday, I drove down a eucalyptus-lined road, passing meadows and grassy fields overlooking the Pacific. Here is where the elite once lived self-effacingly and modestly, making do with one or two bathrooms, and narrow steel kitchens.
No.9 is now behind a tall white wall and electronic gate, having been absorbed and subsumed by a larger house of 10,000 square feet that recently sold for $10 Million.
No.9′s former front garden: a natural forest of trees and overgrown grasses; is now a flat lawn and carved into long right angles of walls, sunken pool, statues and a boxy white mansion that commands a view of the Pacific and Catalina Island in the distance. Enormous and egregious, the muscular mansion and its grid garden are welded onto the delicate old modernist house like a bad face lift.
Though it no longer is the sole structure on its property, No. 9 retains its original architecture and much of its furniture. Which is good, because its survival is critical for not only historians but futurists.
The brilliance of the Case Study Houses, including #9, is not only in their subtle and measured use of proportion; nor is it found only in their judicious and economic materials; nor is it measured in the way light pours into rooms through opaque skylights, steel windows and sliding doors.
What made the Case Study group so fine was its Marshall Plan of post-war architectural renewal. It accomplished and created a vision of melding technical know-how with aesthetic principle, and placing the urban dweller into a natural environment.
Los Angeles has some hidden treasures, which require exploration and research, but when you find them, you realize what brought people west of the west. We are a city of houses, and a city of gardens, and a city of light; and air, and sea and sun……trees and dreams.
It is Christmas on Califonia Terrace today in Pasadena near the Arroyo Seco.
On a slope, under the very large homes along Grand Avenue, the smaller, intimate, picturesque and cosseted grounds of California Terrace contain a collection of domestic dreaminess.
There are picket fence colonials, like the ones on Martha’s Vineyard, but bathed in warm December sunshine.
A ranch house, borrows from Norman France, with a tapered roof of wooden shingles, copper gutters, casement windows and rows of shutters.
In front of a one house are mission lights with hand-painted glass, gnarled oak trees, golden sycamore leaves, landscaped beds of succulents; herbs, lime, lemon, tangerine and orange trees.
A happy, clean-cut gang of young athletes, dressed in soccer uniforms, pours out of a house. They are laughing and pushing, jumping and running and piling into waiting cars.
This is winter in Pasadena because it is Christmas.
This is spring in Pasadena because there is rain in the air and there are green buds on the bushes, daisies, roses, lavender and rosemary.
This is summer– the brilliant blue sky and warm light tell me so.
This is fall because the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves on the ground and the there is much to rake up.
I must be in California because it is all happening at once and none of it is real. Yet I stand here in reality; alive and merry on Christmas Day.
Mid-Century medical modernism on display in Sherman Oaks.
Flagstones, louvered -steel window coverings, over-sized overhang, double-door entrance, welcome mat with embroidered address numerals.
A strange hybrid of suburban luxury, technical mastery and Hollywood artifice. A place of secrecy, discretion, and celebrities in sunglasses.
Mystical, luxurious and redolent of women in high-heels, cars with fins, Chanel No. 5, coral lipstick, teased hair, Kim Novak and pap smears.
David Yoon’s Narrow Streets is a great blog where photographs of LA’s oversized streets are narrowed to see how urban design and use might change.
He has now done his magic on Pacific Coast Highway.
There is a world of old houses on winding streets that wends its way behind Franklin up in Hollywood. I was there yesterday to assist a photographer in styling a shoot with a male model.
I am a photographer myself, but have worked in the fashion industry and love clothing. So my photographer friend and I went shopping on Saturday, down at the Beverly Center, and pulled together handsome wool sweaters, tight plaid pants, exquisitely tailored dress shirts, artful caps, and patterned scarves.
The location was his home: a 1925 Spanish style house with high ceilings, wood beams, and a warren of rooms, balconies, green tiled bathroom; art deco, sunlit and ornate, overlooking the south-facing brightness of Hollywood.
The photographer possessed a fine and expensive array of lights, various strobes, reflectors, electrical voltage devices, screens, flashes, lenses. Expensive illumination I could only dream of.
Around 10am, a young, tall, lean, polite blond man with close-cropped hair showed up. He reminded me of Brad Pitt. He had a slight twang. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Springfield, MO, Sir.” And it turned out he was from Pitt’s same town. “My mom and Brad went to high school together,” he said.
The model talked, as many do, about his busy life.
Suddenly, he was actor, not just a model, and getting parts in various shows. No college for him. He just got in his car and drove to LA and stuff started happenin’. He had a girl, also a model, and she was makin’ lots of money. Good stuff.
We two men, photographer and stylist: bruised, jaded, wiser, middle-aged; heard it from him and hoped it was true. The trajectory of success, the dream of making it, the hope of security, the lure of fame, the imagined life ahead: anything can happen at 23.
I had laid out the various looks and set about getting him into the clothes.
There is only one moment in our lives when we are young, and we do our best to rush through it, blithely unaware and carelessly ignorant of its temporal nature.
So with my admiration and envy, the tall, thin, agile man with the smooth face, metal dog tag, shaved chest and icy blue eyes, slipped into a spread-collared Tattersall shirt, wool tie, blue cardigan, driving cap, brown cords. And then he stepped in front of the camera, while 100 flashes of strobe and lens captured his every microsecond of movement.
He feigned facial expressions of aggression, longing, innocence, passion, anger. He danced around a white-walled backdrop: arms flaying, knees bending, chest puffing.
What followed were his transformations into Klub Kid, English School Boy, American Prep Student, and something that looked like gay Berlin with black combat boots and a high-waisted, tummy tucking, black spandex underwear get-up.
A few hours later, I left the house.
It was a Sunday: cool, clear, crisp, with rain-washed air.
High, white, puffy cumulus clouds floated over red-tiled roofs and magenta tinted Bougainvillea.
I had been working in a Bruce Weber/Paul Jasmin photographic fantasy inside the house. And now I was living one outside. (contd.)
Years ago, Paul Jasmin shot some gorgeous photos inside the home of designer Kevin Haley. As I remember it, the house was somewhere in this same neighborhood. A book, Lost Angels, showed a young man on a white rug in the Haley home. There were other photographs in a room of Chinese painted wallpaper, and romanticized young men and women in front of bamboo gardens.
And I had wanted, so badly, to get inside that house, the same way I had imagined that walking up to 1164 Morning Glory Circle might lead me into the Darrin Stephen’s home and into Samantha’s kitchen.
But those are fantasies, illusions– idiotic tricks—which our media and movie saturated minds play on visitors and residents of Los Angeles.
I think I had once sent a card, the kind with a postage stamp, delivered by a postman to a mailbox, addressed to the famed designer on Pinehurst Road. I wrote him that I admired his work. I had hoped to be invited inside. But he never responded.
“Open House, Sunday 1-4” read the sign at the bottom of Pinehurst Road.
Could this be the Haley House? I walked up the road.
And like some wonderful moment from “Miracle on 34th Street”, the one where Chris Kringle left his cane inside a Cape Cod house destined to be the future home of a young Natalie Wood, the cane was left at my door and the Haley House was for sale ($999,000), and the front gate was open.
I walked up the stairs. On my left, the same shaded garden with the bamboo.
There were two levels to the house, and on the lower level, rentable apartments with old-fashioned casement windows, 1940 stoves, painted in bright colors. I walked in and said, “Hello” but nobody answered.
And then I realized that there was a second floor, and up I walked, and entered into the house where a realtor sat, glumly, looking at his laptop and muttering a tired hello to someone who didn’t matter to him.
But I didn’t care. Because there, in front of me, was the dining room with turquoise painted Chinese wallpaper and the blue woodwork. Just like the photograph! The white, fluffy area rug sat in the middle of the living room, just as it had in Paul Jasmin’s picture, absent the shirtless young man.
On the second floor: exotically painted and intriguingly wallpapered bedrooms, in deep, dark, saturated colors set off with various Oriental lamps, black and white photographs and casually strewn pillows on tufted sofas.
I had, maddeningly, left my own camera in the trunk of my car, not knowing that I would soon walk inside a photograph and tour a fantasy that existed for me only inside a book.
It was only one Sunday in Los Angeles, somewhere in Hollywood, up in the hills, but I saw enough beauty yesterday to keep me awake, long into the night.