Striped Buildings.


A developer presented a plan for senior housing, on a site at Vose and Van Nuys Boulevard, at last night’s Van Nuys Planning and Land Use (PLUM) meeting.

This is along that very wide part of Van Nuys Boulevard where the blight of downtown Van Nuys gives way to an airy nothingness of expanse into the Valley moonscape. Eight lanes of roadway go north and go south, past McDonalds, Aamco Transmissions and Earl Scheib’s Paint and Body.

The proposed four-story complex is on land now occupied by Baires Auto Market. Baires is housed in what looks like an old pancake house, white framed and peaked roof, in a mid-century Protestant style, where blueberries and syrup were poured after Sunday services.

Renderings of the new four-story age and memory challenged facility show broken blocks of verticality, indented and tinted, dressed up with trees and vines.

An architect and a corporate spokeswoman described the frailty of the intended residents, ideally desiccated and disabled, unable to drive, and therefore not capable of making more traffic. Kitchenless units will be occupied by dwellers who will dine in communal dining rooms, monitored and managed by round-the-clock workers, arriving in shifts, parking in one of 61 underground spaces.

Over 80, weak, needing assistance, losing their memory, infirm; the suffering of age was advertised as an attribute. For here would come those who would not need schooling or parking spaces, but just a temporary place to live before death.

And there was the illustration of the new building, broken up in colors and pieces, a collection of cliches, impossibly inoffensive.

All over Los Angeles, along the new condos on LaBrea in West Hollywood, over in Santa Monica, and here in Van Nuys, we live in-between newly erected stripes and corrugated boxes.

The new buildings have mass. But it is presented not in grandeur, but shame; fractured, divided, sliced, multi-tinted. It is a style meant to soothe communities, and to disguise big projects by making them seem small and insignificant.

It almost makes one long for the arrogance of brutalism.

The new architecture is poll-tested and market-driven, without balls or bravado.

The Virtual World


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Yesterday was a beautiful day up on the sixth floor of UCLA’s Santa Monica Oncology Center as we brought my mom up into a sun-filled room with dozens of reclining leather chairs and she was connected by vein into chemo.

The wall of glass windows looked west to the shimmering ocean as the 80-degree sun blew hot and the palms swayed in the wind.

Instead of needles, blood, screams and suffering, there were copies of Martha Stewart Living, November 2010: beautiful show dogs photographed in sepia, apple pies set on wood tables, silver and purple leaves pressed onto canvas for a do-it-yourself art project. I saw Calvados and potatoes au gratin, buttery grilled beans on 18th Century Limoges china, tulip bulbs laid into the soil on a Connecticut farm.

In my hands were two bags from FLOR, full of colored carpet samples I had gathered for a client, purple and brown, green and yellow squares, laid out on the wall ledge so my mom could tell me which ones she liked.

My brother was listening to a podcast, partly; answering emails, talking to his wife, and texting his business partner as the medical anti-cancer fluid dripped and dripped, into my mother’s bloodstream, and he talked of idiot entertainment execs and the virtues of a new calendar app.

The nurse, an Asian-Californian woman, in a tan Levi’s corduroy jacket over dark brown scrubs, came to change the tube; her long, straight black hair shining in the bright sunlight, her smile warm and genuine, caring, here in the chemo spa; where all voices were subdued, all expressions were smiles, and all expectations were high.

To combat nausea, the doctor prescribed the Martian sounding Onandestron.

After the tube came out, my mother said, “That’s it?”

And the caregiver, the nurse, and the two sons wheeled her out of the sun, and into the dark elevator, down to the red Ford Focus waiting in the garage.

Califa Between Kester and Natick.


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A block south of Oxnard, between Kester and Natick Avenues, four residential streets dead end at Califa.

A time capsule of a neighborhood; neat, tidy, middle-class, without trash, graffiti, mattresses and old sofas; this section of Posoville (Part of Sherman Oaks) is either Van Nuys or Sherman Oaks depending upon your biases.

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The sunny aura along these streets, a dependable and somnolent monotony of the middle 1950s, is of people working and keeping up their homes, raising their kids and taking pride in their community. This could be Culver City or Burbank, so absent are those markers of decay that afflict Van Nuys only two blocks north of here.

Enormous landscaped parking lots, far too big for the modest amount of workers who work here, sit behind the white cinderblock boxes lining Oxnard.

In any European nation, or Japan, such decadent defacement of land would be unacceptable and put to denser use.

But in Los Angeles, the old American Way holds forth, but for how long?

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In the future, an architect might imagine that the asphalt would be ripped up to grow local fruits and vegetables, and the acres of pavement would sprout little villages of modular homes, five or ten or twenty houses arranged around xeriscaped gardens. Residents would ride bikes, walk to the corner market and board the Orange Line to ride out to Woodland Hills, or east into North Hollywood and downtown. Shady spaces between buildings would provide great outdoor seating for cafes, benches and even fountains.

For now, the houses and the white cinderblock industries meet in oversized parking lots in an average place stripped of personality, but grateful for its fragile place on the social ladder.

6100 N. Cedros Ave.


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A corrugated metal building with pitched roof, concrete floor and whirlybird ventilation, one of three structures in a row, stands at the corner of Cedros and Calvert.

The neighborhood is a mix of immigrants living in old houses and apartments, as well as light industrial companies: air conditioning, auto repair and body shops, marble and stone wholesalers, pest control and towing companies. There are many children nearby mixing moms with guns and gangs, the toxic air of auto paint, the rumbling beats of mariachi, the sounds of shopping carts and glass making their way to the recycler, dogs barking behind iron fences in concrete-paved front yards.

But a few doors down, at 14741 Calvert, later this year, MacLeod’s Ale Brewing Company will open and serve home brews in the British style, an exotic addition to a neighborhood where gasoline and tequila are the liquids of choice.

Presentando El Palacio Kester.


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Back in 1965, a forward thinking developer built a two-story apartment building at 6345 Kester in Van Nuys.

He called it “Le Magnifique”,perhaps the last time the French language was used to name a building in our area.

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So advanced, it was awarded a “Total Electric” plaque proudly affixed to the exterior.

With deep, wide, shaded balconies, underground parking and a convenient location in the heart of bustling, clean, prosperous Van Nuys, it provided a nice starter residence for young couples, recent arrivals to Los Angeles, and perhaps a few retired people.

Now the Mid-Century modern apartment has been transformed.

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Back from a long, intoxicated weekend down in Tijuana, it has been knocked-up with twin pregnant cornices, painted in bands of Salsa Red and Cheez-Whiz Gold, and wears a large pair of decorative lions on two sides of its newly engorged and expanded bulk. Pasted on the ends of the building are decorative stone pieces to dress it up even more, while adding the appearance of more weight, causing the obese trollop to seemingly dance in platform heels atop her vaginal garage entrance.

This is Van Nuys when things are looking up.

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Posture Contest, Van Nuys, 1958


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It is hard to imagine that there were once posture contests and posture winners in Van Nuys.
Leaders, like President/General Eisenhower, stood straight.

On May 5, 1958, The L.A. Examiner wrote: “Loretta Fountain, 17, of Van Nuys High School, brushes away tears of joy as she holds trophy for best posture in senior girls division of posture contest.” Ms. Fountain was joined by Barbara Hinze, 14, Van Nuys Junior High, junior girl winner; Harold Lindsey, 18, Banning High, senior boy winner; Paul MacGregor, 14, Sutter Junior High, junior boy winner.

Today youthful good posture has been replaced by the slouching, texting teen.

(Photos: USC Digital Library)