Passing through Sunset, near Crescent Heights, early in the evening, I abandoned the idea of crawling over Laurel Canyon to get back into the Valley.
Instead, I stopped and parked, a block east, and walked with Nikon up into the dark, winding, empty lush streets, meandering and mesmerizing roads, where historic houses hide people and lives behind storybook cottages, thatched roofs, and ornate doors.
This city is full of pain and struggle and disappointment.
But as long as the eyes can see, the legs can walk, the lungs can breathe, the scented and bewitching segments of Los Angeles are placed within reach; silent and mordant, mysterious and seductive, within grasp for gapers and wanderers, dreamers and photographers.
One of the stranger and smaller (yet widespread) scams going around is getting one of these notices taped to your front door announcing that somebody will paint your curbside house number unless you instruct them not to.
The “company” placing these calls itself “Curb Service” but offers no license, no registration, no business address, no contact information. They are also asking a homeowner to pay for what is, legally, public property, not maintained by the homeowner, the curb of the street.
It is a form of blackmail. They do a service which they are not hired for. And then ask you to pay for it when it is done.
As an out they say you can tape this notice to your curb to prevent address number painting.
Like public strangers picking through private trash and recyclables, it is illegal.
Imagine Lido’s Restaurant taping a menu to your door and announcing that they were going to deliver a pizza to your house every Sunday night unless you told them not to?
Today was one of those sparkling, clear, windy, sunny days, the days that sometimes blow in and suddenly charge the air, electrifying the atmosphere, opening up vistas stretching in every direction, from the Pacific to downtown, a day I went up to Runyon Canyon and climbed up the dirt paths, over rocks until I got to the top.
Gone are vomit, trash, urine, needles, puddles and foul odors; the alley to the east of Cahuenga Blvd., south of Hollywood Blvd. is now a sparkling, paved and planted oasis of civility, thanks to an $800,000 grant and the initiative and idea of UCLA student Sarah MacPherson’s master thesis on alley transformation.
City Councilman Eric Garcetti worked with the now defunct and defunded LA Community Redevelopment Agency to procure an arrangement that allowed property owners, restaurants, and other businesses to work with the LADOT in repaving and landscaping a back alley which is now lined with cafes, wall art, lanterns and lights.
There are 26 other alleys in Hollywood, and the Hollywood Business Improvement District hopes this project becomes a template to redo other forgotten spaces to help civilize LA.
Last night’s dusk tour was arranged by Design East of Labrea, and it began and ended at St. Felix’s Happy Hour.There are more photos on Facebook’s Here in Van Nuys page.
Another small step towards a more walkable, sociable, urbane city.
The new community growing up around Lankershim and Magnolia is a place of right angles. Lofts and windows, rooflines and balconies: all are straight and horizontal, crisp and clean.
I walked around here today, mid-day, in the white sun, along Chandler, McCormick, Blakeslee and Magnolia, in-between new apartment rental offices, new hair salons, new trees, into new pie and new beer restaurants. UPS and Federal Express trucks, moving trucks, street sweepers, security guards and parking violation officials swarmed everywhere, bringing goods and dropping fines.
It was déjà vu for me, remembering my daytime walks in New York City around Tribeca, Soho and Noho in 1988, selling advertising for the brand new New York Press. The west side of Tribeca was just developing, and people were opening yoga salons, restaurants, and bars and looking at their reflections in the glass, just as they do today. I was in an urban frontier, tamed, not by the lasso and rifle, but Robert DeNiro and JFK, Jr.
Frenetic, and fast, promiscuous and pretentious, I was full of energy and youth, dressing well, working out, caught up in an endless chase for sex and security and a way up. I ate in every good restaurant on my $15,000 a year salary and ended up with anyone who I laid my eyes on.
And I saw that urge today, as I walked past guys pouring out of the gym, and sexy girls on their cellphones, and the eternal sunshine of the spotless streets, a corporate paradise rented out and made up like a real city, but really just another atomized blot on the desert.
A “friend” of mine, who moonlights as an escort and personal trainer, rented an apartment in one of the large complexes near the Red Line and told me many sex workers inhabited his building. But in the bright sun, under the bright signs, on the well-swept sidewalks, all is clean and happy and progressive. And one must remember that one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, Doc Johnson, earning millions and employing hundreds, is headquartered nearby.
Anyone who comes to LA and says he is not a whore is also a liar. And anyone who attempts to make an honest living here will surely fail.
Los Angeles does not often impress in civic infrastructure, but this corner and pocket NE of Universal City comes close.
Of all the places in the San Fernando Valley, this one has taken off the most, in self-creation and self-realization, in the last five years. It has done it by refuting and rebelling against the old car-centered model of Los Angeles.
You don’t need it here. You can get around on your bike, on foot, via subway, and go see an art movie, drink a craft beer, live in a loft, and attend live theater. You can work out with elliptical trainers, free weights, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and step and dance classes. Live comedy and live readings of short stories are performed at The Federal. You can go to school, study and earn a degree at the Art Institute of Hollywood.
It’s a young place again, a dense, digital and creative section remade in the style of the early 21st Century. A place where hanging out on a coffee shop sofa is sometimes industrious, and working in an office cubicle is often useless.
Everything in Los Angeles starts as an experiment, and has its day in the sun, so to speak. Westwood, the Miracle Mile, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Canoga Park, all were started in a blaze of optimistic boosterism , like a Presidential campaigner, promising a lot and then sputtering and stalling and sometimes falling to pieces.
Along the edges of North Hollywood, the old decay and weedy lots sit, like determined and patient killers, ready to strike back and take down life. And with a deathly silence the ancient Verdugo Mountains, back there in the distance, watch the silly activities and wait…..
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.
When I first heard that the burgeoning “Occupy” movement was moving into Van Nuys, and they were planning on pitching their tents behind the Marvin Braude Center, on the lawn of the Civic Center, under the piercing tower of the Valley Municipal Building, I must admit I got excited.
I imagined hundreds of young, yelling, incensed, angry, articulate, fertile, bearded and long-haired, tattooed men and women carrying protest signs, arguing with the cops and pointing fingers at authority; and then at sunset, when the grounds were closed, an enormous phalanx of armed LAPD officers, moving forward–on tanks, horses and siren-mounted, armor-clad bicycles– pushing and smashing and trampling the sleeping bags; blasting fire hoses full of water, setting loose ferocious and fanged German Shepherds tearing and ripping at running denim derrieres. The helicopters would churn up the air above, while on the dusty ground, cameras from every international news organization, and bloggers from every laptop, would record the brave and terrified OCCUPIERS fighting to stay their ground! To voice up for the voiceless and power up for the powerless and prove to the world…. once and for all…. that our great nation is doing something… something so terribly wrong! Because only one percent have everything and ninety-nine percent have nearly nothing!
But at five o’clock yesterday afternoon, Van Nuys looked as Van Nuys always does: dead under the sun.
There was lots of street parking on Sylvan Street, next to the Civic Center, and it was free (my apologies to Donald C. Shoup).
On the mall, behind the Valley Municipal Building, were gathered a college cameraman, tripod and video, interviewing a man. Perhaps a dozen people with a few signs were standing and chatting.
KTLA and KNBC news trucks were parked far away, their new technology and old reporters, ready to capture the non-event that was about to not happen.
And outnumbering the protesters, or the complainers or whatever or whomever they were; many navy shirted cops, standing on foot and on bike, looking bored and aimless and tired. The cops had been hyped up, no doubt, and sent out, no doubt, to fight and protect these hallowed homeless grounds from the invasive anti-Wall Street crowd whose lament has yet to be fully understood or properly articulated.
I was adjusting my camera when a tiny man carrying a tiny dog walked up. He handed me a sheet of protest music and introduced himself as “Man Goo-Goo”.
Man Goo-Goo is a musician and he will be appearing at Paladino’s next week where he will perform something, possibly musical or perhaps vocal, I could not ascertain.
His name, as he explained, is a derivation of Lady-Gaga.
There was not much to photograph besides Man Goo-Goo, so I left the strangely deflated protest and walked back to my car on quiet and unpeopled Sylvan Avenue.
Occupy Van Nuys has some noble aims, but when it came to Van Nuys, it unfortunately confronted something much larger than the inequity of wealth and the corruption of politics.
For Van Nuys itself has an almost mystical ability to destroy anything worthwhile, be it aesthetic, intellectual, commercial, developmental or progressive.
Under the hot sun, baked in acidic air, crowded with illegal occupiers; Van Nuys is anti-nature, for it does not abhor a vacuum, it creates one. These protesters, yearning for freedom and fresh air, had unwittingly entered a toxic and sulphurous environment of suffocation. Civic life died long ago in the atrophied heart of the San Fernando Valley. And these young hearted protesters had encamped, near dusk, in a dead twilight zone.
This is the town where a few months ago, dozens of lovely, mature Pepper trees were chopped down in front of the East Valley Animal Shelter so large posters could be seen advertising animal adoptions. New trees have since been planted to replace those inexplicably butchered.
And in a new “Only in Van Nuys” development more nature was killed recently near the intersection of Van Nuys Boulevard and Burbank.
The powers that be have torn out the ornamental grasses and agave that beautified the wide nothingness of the street, and they are now laying down sheets of astro-turf. Yes, the meridian in the middle, the only sign of nature amidst the car dealerships, will now have new artificial grass where living plants once thrived.
For a few months now, it had been broadcast, far and wide, over the airwaves and through airy heads, that Los Angeles would be vehicularly incapacitated by the partial destruction of a tall bridge over a wide freeway occurring on a long weekend.
For surely the closure of THE 405 was truly a great emergency, predicted as cataclysmic by experts who described it in cinematic destructiveness, coined with a biblical neologism, Carmaggedon.
So into action the officials sprang, as politicians, Caltrans, LAPD, LAFD and all the fat men who sit inside the city council chambers, urged the motoring public to forestall leaving home and let the great emergency Passover.
And Saturday, June 16, 2011 was a quiet day, a peaceful day. The deafening roar of 500,000 cars stopped. And one stepped out of the house and into the dry, hot, windy air of Van Nuys and beheld a gentler, kinder, slower, less crowded city.
The skies and sounds reminded me of the days after September 11, 2001. I had been working on Radford Street in Studio City, and came out of an office on Valleyheart Drive, and looked up into the sky and saw or heard not a single jet plane flying above. The serenity of Los Angeles, without aerial assault by plane, was mesmerizing ten years ago. And absent automobiles it mesmerized me yesterday.
Civic spirit, civic pride, civic engagement, Los Angeles has all the collective civic energy of a desert mausoleum. In this town, as some call it, the idea that the greater good matters, that people might come together for a single day, and make a success of it, seemed impossible.
And though some were dubious, they stayed home in Westwood and didn’t drive their SUV to Encino to meet for baklava. Survivors of the purges of the Shah, who know what sacrifice means, took a day off from shopping and driving. And those who didn’t surf on the beach Saturday, or drive to eat sushi in Studio City, those heroic citizens deserve our applause and appreciation.
Yesterday, many stayed home and many didn’t drive, and in those neighborhoods where discarded mattresses sit in front of buildings where homeless people push shopping carts, and earn money recycling plastic, and some defecate on the sidewalk in broad daylight; where millions are undocumented, and thousands are poorly educated, where health care is withheld and violence administered; along those broad, sun-baked, lifeless, treeless, billboard-infested blocks and garbage littered curbs, the people obeyed and the politicians praised, and something so very minor and so very unimportant stood in the historical record as a great culmination of achievement in the City of Angels.
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.
Up on White Oak Place last night: a party for a magazine launch.
The winds were blowing. Buzzing flocks of valet parkers ran to grab cars as partygoers arrived.
A for-sale mansion had been rented, an ornate and preposterously rococo place, elaborate and overdone; sunk under the weight of marble, chandeliers, heavy furniture and cartoon grandeur.
The event celebrated a new publication that will cater to the top one percent of income in the San Fernando Valley and those whose world stretches along Ventura Boulevard and up into these hills.
A Casa de Cadillac Cadillac in red was parked on the driveway. Young and sexy girls in leggy dresses, bartenders carrying trays of wine, and opulent tables of food from various restaurants in the Valley, were sprinkled around the backyard pool.
At one cheese table, I was instructed to eat ginger with a stinky Italian and to place honeycombs atop a goat, and consume silver painted chocolate.
Another table was full of thimble-sized pies whose ingredients were too small for my middle aged eyes to discern.
Big poster boards printed with San Fernando Valley photographs and graphics kept blowing over as the gusts blew across the panoramic backyard and pool.
After my second or third glass of wine, my tongue was unhitched from head, and anything that came to mind I spoke.
An ad salesman told me that his typical reader lived in a mansion “just like this” and that his Facebook page already had “4,000 fans without any publicity”.
I talked with a sharp Italian born professor who teaches languages at CSUN. Tragically, she was imported from Milan to Porter Ranch where she has lived for half a century.
I went back into the house, detective and decorator, attempting to relate to the exotic style of furnishing inside.
In the dining room, a wide and tall glass fronted cabinet was filled and packed-like a rush-hour Tokyo subway- with Judaica: silver menorahs and tea sets, picture frames, glasses, engraved plates, silver Etrog holders, Kiddush cups, wine goblets. Three enormous black chandeliers danced satanically along the ceiling above onyx tinted granite countertops.
Near the center hallway, a heavy carved wooden desk presented the owner’s business cards for inspection, as if it were a hotel concierge conducting business. Multiple mezuzahs bedecked every interior door, bestowing blessings on bathrooms and bedrooms.
An enormous bathtub was surrounded by plastic bottles of Lubiderm which opened, without shame, to a stadium-sized bedroom where a leonine carved king-sized bed sat under a photographic portrait of a white-bearded Lubovitcher rebbe.
The house swung crazily between devoutness and decadence, minyan and orgy. Sadaam Hussein, Khaddafi, LL Cool J, Angelyne, Donald Trump: if they had collectively hired an architect, this is how it might have looked.
A small red room in the front was crammed full of more gold painted velvet baroque couches and chairs, pushed against the walls-like a Syrian police interrogation room- with a ghastly autographed, NBA orange basketball placed atop a pedestal for admiration….. or possibly worship.
The long wagon train of Jewish history had made its stops in Jerusalem, Tashkent, Tehran, Warsaw, Vienna, Tel Aviv; and finally stopped and unloaded 2,000 years of wares here on White Oak Place in Encino.
Back in the backyard, I struck up a conversation with a quiet tanned gentleman dressed in an exquisitely tailored Italian blazer.
He had removed himself from the crowd, and sat alone on a lower level of the patio, where he and his wine surveyed the San Fernando Valley.
He told me he had just purchased the jacket that day, in a Goodwill store in Sherman Oaks. He worked as a caregiver to his 93-year-old mother and in his spare time took photos. One of his nighttime photographs of Ventura Boulevard was published in the premiere issue.
I knew then and there that he was like me, a real person in a fake environment, an honest loser at a party celebrating winners, an unemployed man, like many, who had lived in California his whole life and dreamed of escape from the Golden State.
I challenged him to arm wrestle but he said he wouldn’t because he might beat me. He warned me about driving intoxicated. And then he got up and said good-bye.
I waited and sat alone, around the floodlit pool, as sobriety slowly returned. Below me were miles of twinkling lights. And the wind was strong, the air bracing and refreshing. And I was lost in my thoughts, cleansed, relaxed and free of worry, somewhere atop White Oak Place.
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.
If you were to bullet point Mike Hewson’s biography, the list would sound sad:
• Grew up gay in the 1950s
• Drafted into Vietnam as a medic
• Returned to Los Angeles and worked in a hospital
• Cared for his mother during her 4-year ordeal and death from cancer
• Watched his good friends, all young men, die from AIDS.
But it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” He might have been speaking about Mike, who was born on July 18, 1945, and moved to 16724 Morrison St. in Encino five years later.
He had an ideal childhood, with a stay-at-home mother and a father who worked as printing company salesman, and a younger sister, Deawn.
In those days, Encino was like a small town, with block parties and vast ranches and newly built houses. The 101 and 405 didn’t come through the Valley until the early 1960s.
He went to Encino Elementary and Birmingham High School. His family lineage, including many veterans of many wars, stretched back some 200 years.
He attended Valley and Pierce Colleges for two years and then studied to become an Operating Room Technician.
In 1967, he went into the Navy and later joined the Marines and went off to Vietnam for 27 Months. His nickname was “Flash”.
In his field hospital, 30 miles outside of Dan Nang, near China Beach, he assisted in neurological operations on wounded soldiers. Blood, suffering, the horrors of war, death and truncated and destroyed young men: all of these violent and horrific human tragedies marched before his young eyes.
He got down in the trenches and did anything he needed to do to help his fellow Marines. He was “Doc” but he was GI Joe too, never allowing his higher position to interfere in lending a helping hand.
He told me that everyone knew he was gay, but that he never heard one hateful remark. He believed that a lot of homosexuality went on in the armed forces, but that it was not an issue because survival and fighting mattered most.
Only politicians make an issue of it.
When he came back to the San Fernando Valley, in 1971, he was overjoyed to be back in the USA. He was still only 26 years old, and he went to work at Encino Hospital and lived as a single gay man in the Brady Bunch era.
Active in the Metropolitan Community Church, he also hung out with a group of friends who all died from AIDS. He and another buddy survived the lethal scourge of the 1980s.
Unlike many people who remember so fondly the San Fernando Valley and talk badly about its present condition, he finds that some things have gotten better. He misses the horse farms and orange groves, but he loves all the trees and greenery that has come up in the last 60 years. He remembers the view of the mountains that was so clear in the early 1950s, and now those views are returning as cars burn cleaner.
His last job was at Barnes and Noble in Encino, and he does regret the loss of the store, which was closed by greedy billionaire owner Rick Caruso and will be replaced with another CVS.
Mike is retiring to Puerto Vallarta. And at age 65, he will take his optimism down to Mexico, which is also a place where people have hard lives but smile frequently.
One of the most exciting developments in San Fernando Valley urban planning is nearing completion in North Hollywood near the Red Line Terminus. Walkville is a 5,000 unit housing development which is entirely green. Landscaped bike and walking trails wend their way alongside apartment buildings where children, seniors and families live. The goal is to encourage walking, which explains the wonderful name: evocative of health, fresh air and friendliness.
Locally-produced and sustainable materials, from Burbank, Sylmar and Pasadena were given priority during sustainable housing construction; roofs are commonly equipped with solar and photovoltaic panels, and make Walkville one of the largest home solar energy districts in Southern California. To encourage carbon reduction, a program supports tree conversation and planting. As far as water is concerned, a system for rainwater infiltration into the ground covers 80% of the residential area. A new ecological sewage system has been invented too, that reuses organic household waste and generates energy. The LADWP offers Walkville residents a 35% discount on their water and electric rates.
Councilman Tony Cardenas, builder Eli Broad, architect Frank Gehry as well as architecture supporters Brad Pitt, Robert Redford (who grew up in Van Nuys and feels a strong connection to the town), Nancy Reagan, Michael Eisner, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Anniston (who grew up in Sherman Oaks), Comedian Jay Leno (“If it’s made in Burbank I’m for it!”) and Maria Shriver all contributed both financial and public support to the $250 million dollar undertaking.
A five-acre orange grove, the first such agricultural planting in the San Fernando Valley since 1939, will produce over 500,000 oranges a year. Herbs, walnuts, organic milk and free-range chickens may be introduced to produce locally grown foods for consumption and sale. 1300 Valley Oak trees, native to Southern California, will shade the development. Small stores, selling everything from coffee to groceries to housewares, are planned on the Vineland Avenue side. The best news is that 70% of the people who have moved to Walkville have given up their cars. They will ride the Red Line train to Hollywood, downtown LA and Pasadena and take the Orange Line bus to Woodland Hills.
The article you have just read is a satire. None of it is true, at least for the City of Angels.
Minus the celebrities, it actually and accurately describes a real town, called Vauban, in Southern Germany.
Here is the way things really are in LA, a city where the NIMBY needs of Brentwood and Beverly Hills outweigh the greater good for all.
From the USC Digital Archives.
1952 Floods in Los Angeles.
Studio City, CA.
The young actor with the pompadour walked into North Hollywood’s Pit Fire the other night. We sat at a table, under the counter, near the open pizza oven. I had bought us both a large brown bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Short, compact, muscular, self-confident, courteous and boyish, The Shoe is a practicing marital artist, aspiring actor, and currently a bagger and cashier at Trader Joe’s.
He took a sip of the beer. “This is my first legal drink!” he said. He had been 21 for only 10 days.
“Oh, man I have so much energy,” he said. He had been down with his posse in Orange County, dancing up fights and performing in front of the camera. He wore a black and white striped knit hat and brand new Led Zepplin t-shirt.
Every tight-assed young girl who walked past us elicited his stares and then he would turn back and continue our conversation.
The Shoe had only been in LA for a few months, and lived with his girl in an apartment on Riverside in Valley Village. She was working as a stunt actor.
“Hey, have you ever been to Catalina?” he asked me.
“No,” I said.
“Man, we have to go! You, me, and my girl. They have a haunted house there!” he said with those lit up eyes and gravity-defying hair. I felt like I was Sal Mineo to his James Dean.
The Shoe devoured a small salad. I ate a large pumpkin pizza. He told me to go ahead and enjoy myself. “You have to eat!” he said. I envied his optimism and ability to stare into 2000 calories without fear.
He was sighing after the meal, thinking of everything he wanted to accomplish in life, now temporarily postponed getting up at 4am to work at T. Joes.
We finished our meal and he walked me to my car. The night was windy and cold and I was bundled up in a down jacket and wool crew-neck. He gave me a big dude hug and I thanked him for meeting me. “No. Thank you for inviting me,” he said.
The Shoe jaywalked and skipped and ran across Magnolia, cutting a sharp diagonal across the street, disappearing into the night.
Photo by Richard Renaldi
Photographer Richard Renaldi does LA’s Clifton’s Cafeteria.
For the past four days, I served on a jury for a civil trial held in the Los Angeles Superior Court downtown.
I am always nervous about anything to do with courts, or cops, or the law.
I made my usual, environmentally correct decision to take the Orange Line to the Red Line train and enter downtown Los Angeles the way most inhabitants of any other city around the world go into the center.
LA, by train reminds me of those days, long ago, when I rode the IRT and BMT and IND around New York, and sat next to, and stood next to, urbanites of all ages, races, and incomes.
The trains are much less crowded in this city, but they are also browner, poorer and younger than the lines that run underneath the Big Apple. Our riders are often students, or medical workers, or immigrants with babies, shopping bags and wired ears. We don’t have many Wall Street types riding down to work.
The Superior Court Building, where I reported to, is a block long structure of appalling monotony and unimaginative design with hallways of mausoleum tinted marble illuminated by unending straight strips of ceiling fluorescence. Built in 1958, it seems to have been designed by a somnambulistic Stalin.
Potential jurors wait in a long line outside, then pass through the usual metal detectors and into a large, second-floor, blue seat upholstered waiting room where a woman explains the glories, the duties and the obligations of service.
Before long, I was taken out of the room and led into a courtroom where two attorneys interviewed potential jurors and then spit out those who were not deemed useful. I was picked, and then sent out on an hour and a half lunch.
I love downtown, or should I say, I am exhilarated walking around the city streets.
I ran down to the Grand Central Market and soon struck up a conversation with a fellow juror who became a bud for the next few days.
My case involved a woman and her three adult children who live in an income qualified apartment building where the management certifies tenant finances annually. She was being evicted, on the grounds that she had violated her lease by lying and doing other things that disqualified her from renting there.
I was ready to see the witnesses as clichés but there they were, humans, caught up in stupid system of management and tenant, worker and unemployed, rule maker and rule breaker.
The defendants were an immigrant 52-year-old single mother with a 21-year-old daughter who already had two children, one 7, another newly born. A teenage boy, testified, admitting that he used drugs. Another son worked for a restaurant. And they were given a thirty-day notice to quit, to get out of their apartment of the last ten years.
I learned that there are apartments, numbering in the tens of thousands in Los Angeles, where private companies are subsidized by the Federal Government to offer low cost housing for families. And these companies employ, mostly women, often poor, overweight and Spanish speaking managers, who must account to their bosses for every private and financial dealings of their tenants. Nothing is proprietary when one is recertifying to the management. If you are pregnant, if you go to school, if you are moving out, if you work, you must tell the building manager.
And this family: struggling, fatherless, low-income; was in court, to protect and fight for their place of residence and to refute the management company’s claim that they had failed to play by the rules of their lease agreement.
The prosecuting attorney was sharp, organized and well-armed with the facts. The defendant’s attorney was young, slickly dressed and stammering.
Yet we jurors, disparate, unalike, strangers; we gathered in the windowless room around the rectangular table and discussed with humor, civility and curiosity, the facts of the case and concluded that they did not warrant an eviction. The family could stay.
There is a lot that is wrong with America and sitting here, as I usually do, in front of a computer, in my house, listening to NPR, I tend to forget that there is another world out there, a place of beating hearts, and stamping feet and speeding trains, a place that mailed me a jury notice and demanded my attendance so that I could be an actor in a legal and family drama already cast.
I felt part of something bigger…. and dare I say… proud to be an American.
Here are some stories gathering front page news headlines on the KTLA Website:
50 Ridiculous Celebrity “Duck” Faces
Accused ‘Craigslist’ Killer Found Dead in Cell Photo
Mom, Grandma Accused of Pimping Out Young Girl
2-year old Dead, Sister, 3, Critical After Crawling into Hot Car
2 Teens Die in ‘Choking Game’: Cops Warn Parents
Jet Blue Flight Attendant Caught on Video Leaping Out of Plane
Six Year Old Boy Dies, Detectives Say His Brother Shot Him In The Head
Boy Shot, Killed by 8-year-old Brother
Polite Predator “Thanks” Victims Before Running Away
Donor dies after live liver transplant at CU Hospital
Man Dies After Donating Liver to Sick Brother Photo
Pea Plant Found Growing in Man’s Lung
Cat Rescued After Being Left to “Marinate” in Trunk of Car
Mom Accused of Trading Xbox For Sex With Teenage Boys
Missing Chef’s Body Found Stuffed in Freezer
“At a press conference at City Hall this morning Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced Michael LoGrande, his nominee to success Gail Goldberg as the city’s planning director. At some moments the rhetoric of the mayor and fellow speakers — including LoGrande, City Council Member Ed Reyes, and Planning Commissioner Bill Roschen, and affordable housing activist Jackie DuPont Walker — sounded as if they were building the world’s next great city.
Other times, their emphasis on customer service made the city sound more like a Nordstrom store than the writhing metropolis that it is.
The nomination of LoGrande comes a only three weeks following the announcement of Goldberg’s resignation. Goldberg had been the popular planning director in San Diego before arriving in Los Angeles and ushering what many hoped would be an era of smart growth and progressive planning in the original home of sprawl. Though Villaraigosa said that the department conducted a national search the mayor instead dug deep into the department’s existing talent pool to tap LoGrande, a 13-year department veteran who has most recently served as chief zoning administrator.
If confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council, LoGrande will become one of the only — if not the only — planning director in California not to hold AICP certification. Nevertheless, Villaraigosa said that LoGrande’s name came up continually when stakeholders both in and outside of the department were consulted.
It’s worth noting that while LoGrande had clearly braced himself for his introduction to the spotlight, the mayor has rarely looked more relaxed. Villaraigosa recently suffered a nasty bicycle accident that left his right arm in a cast, so he appeared with shirt untucked and partially unbuttoned as if he was the mayor of Key West. He joked about the need to make the city more bicycle-friendly and offered kisses in lieu of handshakes (no one took him up on that one). Hanging loose is, perhaps, a fitting attitude for a mayor who has endured his share of indiscretions and literally taken his lumps, not the least of which is the replacement of a planning director who had, four years ago, embodied his highest hopes for the city.
Not surprisingly, much of Villaraigosa’s rhetoric about the city’s future has remained consistent. The motto of “do real planning” has been around long enough to have gone from inspiration to albatross. Even so, the mayor today once again presented the city’s challenge as that of walking a “tightrope between boundless ambition of the city’s stakeholders to build a new urban paradigm…..brimming with mixed-use, transit-oriented development to create a more dynamic skyline.”
At the same time, Villaraigosa introduced LoGrande as “the person most qualified to reform the department from the bottom up.”
“Michael will be able to hit the ground running on the first day,” said Villaraigosa. “Nobody knows the inner workings of the department, the different neighborhoods of LA, and city bureaucracy better than he does.”
In brief prepared remarks, LoGrande acknowledged the convergence of architecture, urban design, and outreach but otherwise did not lay out a broad vision for planning in the city. Instead, he emphasized, transparency, collaboration, predictability, and completion of the city’s 35 community plans. He praised the department’s staff and expressed optimism that the department’s crushing budget cuts would not impair their ability to streamline case processing and reach out to stakeholders.
“We want to show Los Angeles that we’re open for business,” said LoGrande. “So whether you’re doing an addition to your house and need to come across the counter and talk to a planner or you have an issue with maybe a business that needs to be talked about…we’re here to work with you and the other city departments to make them happen.”
Most notably, he will be expected to implement the city’s “12 to 2″ system, by which Planning will serve as a single point of contact, thus enabling developers to avoid trips to multiple city departments. This had been a goal of Goldberg, whose enthusiasm brought new public attention to the formerly low-key department. LoGrande made it clear that his first priorities would center on in-house reform.
LoGrande briefly responded to criticism that his bureaucratic background did not prepare him well for the political tumult and that his desire to create more certainty for developers would equal hasty approvals.
“People may think because of my past title as chief zoning administrator think that I’m somehow really tied into the entitlement process and the status quo, which is really far from the truth,” said LoGrande. “I’m a consensus builder, I like to reach out to people.”
A rough transcript of LoGrande’s prepared remarks:
“I’m looking forward to collaborating with the city and various communities and stakeholders throughout los Angeles to make sure that we have a really vital planning department that looks at architecture, urban design, quality plans, and make sure that there’s a contract with the community and the development community to ensure that when developers come to neighborhods, they know what to expect. They’ve shaped them and actually worked with the departments and the city family to make sure that we have a credible process but also an engaged process where people are informed, can roll up their sleeves and work in collaboration with the department to make sure that we grow the city for the next century.”
“I’m very excited for this position. One thing I’m really, really proud of is the staff we have in the planning department. We have some of the best staff in the nation. That staff is ready to engage with our neighbors and our diverse group of people we have in Los Angeles to move us forward. We have to have dialogs in various communities to see what they want to see in their neighborhoods and we have the tools inside to bring those forward.”
“We’ve got some very, very tough budget years. A lot of the staff is on furloughs. There’s been early retirement program. But we want to show Los Angeles that we’re open for business. So whether you’re doing an addition to your house and need to come across the counter and talk to a planner or you have an issue with maybe a business that needs to be talked about about some of the conditions they have to operate to coexist well within the community. We’re here to work with you and the other city departments to make them happen.”
– Josh Stephens
“The “Dick” Whittington Studio was the largest and finest photography studio in the Los Angeles area from 1924 to 1987. Specializing in commercial photography, the Whittington Studio took photographs for nearly every major business and organization in Los Angeles; in so doing, they documented the growth and commercial development of Los Angeles. Clients included Max Factor, the Broadway, Bullock’s, and May Co. department stores, the California Fruit Growers Association, Signal Oil, Shell Oil, Union Oil, Van de Kamp’s bakeries, Forest Lawn, Sparkletts Water, CBS, Don Lee Television, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, real estate developers, construction companies, automobile, aircraft, and railroad companies, and drive-in theaters. Another notable client was the University of Southern California, which contracted with the Whittington Studios for coverage of athletic and other events. The collection consists primarily of roughly 500,000 negatives; the rest are photoprints.”
A remarkable group of photographs, of old Bunker Hill, 1962, is online. The images were shot by George Mann (1905-1977) an entertainer, vaudevillian and photographer.
The neighborhood, flattened in the 1960s for redevelopment, replaced by corporate skyscrapers, was elegant 100 years ago, then went into a long, bohemian, rooming-house decline. Its eccentric Victorian architecture and oddball residents were no match for the governmental and business power brokers who were determined to obliterate it.
A note: I rented a DVD with the 1961 documentary “The Exiles”, about Native Americans in Los Angeles, and it had a fantastic 1956 USC film about Bunker Hill.
Just NW of downtown Los Angeles, at 100 North Toluca Street Los Angeles, CA 90026, the Vista Hermosa Park is a new, 10 acre park, landscaped with native plants and trees, walking trails, picnic areas and playing fields.
The park also offers unparalleled architectural views: brand new schools, gigantic playing fields, arched concrete bridges, Disney Hall, downtown Los Angeles’ skyline, and historic Victorian houses.
For those who are terrified of downtown and the inner city, I can also attest that the park was one of the most clean, civilized and gracious places I’ve seen in LA. There were no barbecues, graffiti, loud music, litter, mattresses, illegal dumping or the usual markers of urban abuse that infect our city.