Driving along 3rd Street, east of Vermont, headed towards downtown, I passed by a juncture last week.
Here was a magnificent triangle of two streets, Vendome and Hoover, and a remarkably dignified collection of early 20th Century apartments, homes and hillside multi-family buildings: San Francisco in the City of Angels.
Sometime between the First and Second World Wars, this must have been, I imagine, an upscale, pleasant, elegant, upper- middle class neighborhood.
In the center of the triangle, a three-story white apartment sat between the streets: casement windows, strangely pointed arches of vaguely Venetian origin, and a protruding architectural symmetry of bays and bows.
What captured my admiration was the way the architect had allowed the building to both salute and pay heed to the form of the street. The way the roads were laid out dictated the shape of the structure.
But within the rigidity of the street map, the building undulated and curved, pulled in and pushed out, an enchanting dance of pattern and placement. With outstretched arms, it beckoned the passerby and the pedestrian with affection and grace.
So much of old Los Angeles has been destroyed in the last 60 years. Lost too is the idea that a building has a civic duty to enhance and assist in the making of a neighborhood. Architecture is not just about the arrangement of space within one building, it must take in and acknowledge the entirety of its surroundings.
What one sees at the triangle of Hoover and Vendome is the extinct art of artful residential architecture, the excellence that admits to a sort of humility, in respecting the shape of a lot. Gone too is the classical choreography that architects once practiced and knew intimately, how to create shapes and patterns pleasing to the eye.
Walking around this old new place, I felt sad and exhilarated, sentimental and curious. Who lived here and how did this place come to be and why had it gone downhill? Maybe I could invent a story….
…..A long time ago, some weary Middle-Western family took the train out to Los Angeles and settled on South Hoover Street into a spacious and sunny apartment, open to the breeze, and open to the possibility of progress and happiness…..