I was in Santa Monica yesterday afternoon. I parked near Pico and Ocean to capture the waning light of day on camera.
The entire “Civic Center” area, surrounding the toxically secretive Rand Corporation, is undergoing massive redevelopment. There is a new park, a new subway line (arriving 2015), new condos and “affordable housing”, plus promised shops, restaurants and hotels.
The City of Santa Monica has a website describing the project.
“The three-acre site is an urban mix of 160 affordable rental residences and 158 luxury condominiums, 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, and walkable plazas and gardens. A walk street was created as a central spine through the site, providing pedestrians with a connection from Main Street to Ocean Avenue through landscaped plazas lined with retail, restaurants and outdoor dining, and public art.”
I went into the walk street yesterday and explored part of the new development.
At 6pm I was the only one.
I walked through angles and shadows past empty balconies shaded in darkness. Trapezoids and bands of glass, rectangles and vertical piers jutted out and sliced in, a silent symphony of architecture performing to an empty house. On Main Street, near a guard station, a sign ominously informed:
THIS AREA UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE
A little while later, I wandered back into an old neighborhood of crummy and cute houses south of Pico, and stopped at the corner of Third at Bicknell.
Atop the hilly street stood a strange, red-domed apartment, The Baron’s Castle. Piled above blocky stucco boxes, the exotic building of unknown origins held my eye. Its finial pointed up: leading, concluding, summarizing.
No great architect built this mess. But it felt honest, uncontrived, alive, accidental, human and organic.
With its cars parked under the first floor overhang, its ridiculously flimsy arched balconies, it was a reminder of how good bad architecture sometimes feels.
I was glad to end my walk here, staring up into spiritually redolent kitsch, irreverent and improvised. It reminded me of the people who live here, in exile, in rented costume, temporarily young, broken-hearted, dreaming, intoxicated, high, sober, scraping by, entertained; seduced by sea and sun.
How many tanned generations fucked and broke up and got together inside the many boxes under the red-tiled dome? What accidents of existence brought people here? And how fitting that they settled into a place imperfect and incomplete.
The great architects who did not build The Baron’s Castle were employed on other places where perfection of form never quite ignited human passion.
Yesterday, I had walked through one perfection of form, a lavishly funded and now completed architectural plan, vetted by the government of Santa Monica, tended to by teams of architects, engineers, landscapers, designers and lawyers.
And found myself hungry.
More is less. Too much is much less.