Panorama of Possibilities.


Down on the streets, LA is a mess, a tent city of encampments, trash, shopping carts, RVs and civic disorder.

But on the way up the trail to Griffith Observatory, the city assumes its old panorama of possibilities.

Filtered out of these photographs are the humans and their rulers who make this city so perplexing.

Here is the white cloud sky, the one lone palm on the hill, the pine tree, the arid and rocky slope descent, the dome of an Art Deco landmark, the white buildings in the distance, the hiking trails, the Hollywood sign, the graceful Grecian frieze on the cylindrical tower of the observatory.

Here is Los Angeles aspiring to a vision of grace, aesthetics, science and civic ennoblement. 

Here is where the young visit vowing to move to start their adulthood. They’ll stand along these vistas and dream of tomorrow. 

“Just wait, you’ll see, I’m going to make it!”

Griffith Park, Griffith Observatory,“Rebel Without a Cause,” James Dean and Natalie Wood, Hollywood Stars; and the stars in the sky: Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Alpha Centauri. 

Look back, look down, look up, look out. 

Griffith Observatory was finished in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression.

Think of that year, 1935: thin in resources, rich in imagination, practical in execution.

That’s why this was all built, not only Griffith Observatory, but the entire project called the City of Los Angeles.

Down on the streets, LA is without leaders, a tent city of encampments, trash, shopping carts, RVs and civic disorder.

But up here are found the better angels of the City of Angels.

Densmore and Stagg, N. of Saticoy.


Drive west on Saticoy St., past the 405 and turn right/north, onto Densmore Avenue. 

You are still, according to Google Maps, in Van Nuys. (all apologies to Lake Balboa, which seems to have some fourteen boundariesaround its neighborhood.)

On Densmore, near Stagg, you’ll find, as I did, a neat, monotonous, hard-working district of small companies; mostly hidden behind bricks and barred windows.

Creative Age Productions at 7628 Densmore is there. They publish beauty magazines. Nailpro, Eyelash and Dayspa are some of their best-known publications. These titles are often competing with mirrors for customer attention.

They are neighbors with: Superior Shipping Supplies, New Rule Productions, Regency Fire Protection; and Kedem Properties, 7752 Densmore, which sounds like a Kosher wine but is actually a commercial property company. 

Black Sheep Enterprises, at 15745 Stagg, manufactures theatrical and stage drapery, a specialty one cannot buy off the shelves of Target.

The Katsu-Ya Group at 15819 Stagg owns nine sushi restaurants around the Southland. They are incongruously housed in a white and brown brick Mexican style building with arched designs.

Katsu-Ya Headquarters at 15819 Stagg St.

And the American Rubber and Supply Co. at 15849 Stagg St. has been in business since 1947 and is a supplier of industrial rubber products. Your car mat, your yoga mat, and your kitchen mat, next to the kitchen sink, might have all come from here.

New Rule FX at 7751 Densmore makes special effects props and supplies for movies, TV and theater. If you need piles of fake US currency, realistic cheeseburgers in rubber, or a room full of exploding balsa wood furniture , then this is the place to shop.  Their free-floating, fantastical, imaginative fantasies are constructed behind a dismal, prisonlike façade of white cinderblocks and steel bars.

Where Stagg St. bisects Densmore Ave is Mission Industrial Park, announced by a two-posted, two-fisted, old Western kind of sign with raised letters on a wide wooden board hung 20’ high over the street.  It welcomes you to a white-walled alley of various buildings presumably under one owner who felt compelled to establish an identity for her vastly unremarkable assemblage.

Mission Industrial Park.

We went all around here, on public sidewalks, a few days ago, to shoot some photos for a mens’ fashion brand called Magill Los Angeles.  

James and Carter were the models.

Along Densmore Av. Carter (L) and James.

James was 19 and had long blonde hair and said he was born in South Los Angeles but had moved with his father to North Dakota. He was now living in New York City and visiting Hollywood to strike up a modeling career. He had the dazed and confused 70s aura from juvenile and stoned Reseda. He works at McDonalds now but may well be famous in 2029.

Carter, actor, came from North Carolina and was well-read, articulate and sensitive to both words and pollen.

James

The day was sunny, the wind was blowing, the boys were happy and we went to eat tacos later at Tacos Hell Yeah which they said was their best ever meal in LA.

Tacos Hell Yeah
7607 White Oak Ave, Reseda, CA 91335

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Those industrial compounds, like the Stagg/Densmore District, are the hidden places in the San Fernando Valley that nobody knows about. 

Tidy, productive, industrious, they are the old lifeblood of Los Angeles, where your late Uncle Bernie, with the cigar in his mouth and the bad gallbladder, set up shop after the war and bought a three bedroom, rock-roofed ranch up on Zelzah Avenue with a delightful kidney-shaped pool.

He had little patience for tears, or men who didn’t know the difference between a wrench or a pliers, having served up ice cream at Montgomery Ward until he enlisted in ’42 and saw action at Guadalcanal. He was never bored, because he was always busy, and you vowed you would never become Uncle Bernie but you’ve done quite worse, haven’t you? He had work and a family, and a company, and a paid for house and you made fun of it, but now life laughs at you.

Aside from the work that goes on inside these shops, there is nothing to do in this area for someone in search of stimulation. Densmore and Stagg and parts around here are boring, without street life. Yet men and women in these enterprises are engaged in work, absorbed in inventions, and creating products that are, in many respects, quite interesting.

Along Stagg St.

Magill: Target/N. Van Nuys
(Not near the Densmore/Stagg/ Mission Industrial District)
James on the Raymer St. Bridge, Van Nuys, CA.

Speaking of Ruins: The Hollywood Advisor


“The remains of burnt down homes and vechicles resulting from the Woolsey Fire are seen on Busch Drive in Malibu, California on November 13, 2018. – At least 44 deaths have been reported so far from the late-season wildfires and with hundreds of people unaccounted for the toll is likely to rise, as thousands of weary firefighters waged a pitched battle against the deadliest infernos in California’s history. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)”


“The fire was roaring down the canyon. We had already stocked the car with our papers, our family photos.  Carla was so good, so organized, getting the kids into the car. And it was 3:30AM and we were ready to get the hell out in our 2018 Range Rover. The smoke was thick, of course. Then over the hill we saw flames.  Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo ran up to the car.  Carla begged them to leave, mandatory evacuation, but they said they were staying. They would take garden hoses and buckets and fight the fire. So they did. They saved our house. The garage, where they lived, burned, but the main house, thank God, is still standing.”

Jason, The Hollywood Advisor, was sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean, talking to me, weeks after the deadly and horrific fire that consumed Malibu. We were alone, drinking wine. He wore strange little sunglasses shaped like Forever Stamps, rectangular and beady; he wore them even after the sun dropped below the horizon. I guessed to hide his tired, sad eyes.

Carla and the kids, Samantha, 13 and Igor, 11 were in Montserrat waiting out the reconstruction, and Jason was staying in Malibu, at a $6,000 a week AIRBNB, to attend to the repair of his semi-destroyed rustic cabin, worth millions.

The fire was only the latest setback in his life. 

He had spoken of lost projects, stolen ideas, friends who betrayed him, opportunities that evaporated quickly like afternoon rains in the summer desert.

“I had the original script that belonged to Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno. I bought it at auction when I was 18 years old in 1989. It was $400. And it burned too. God I loved that. It was Steve McQueen’s!” he said.

That incinerated script was merely a metaphor for other charred, ruined and once-adored life attachments.

The latest outrage was a friend of 20 years, Dean Meagrer[1], a big deal in the film world, a director and producer who had partnered with Jason, but then went behind Jason’s back to sell the film project to another company, and then denied he had done so.

“People suck. Carla had nursed him through his relationships. She even sat up all night with Claire Foy talking her out of breaking up with him, and so basically Carla saved their relationship. And of course, Claire will star in their film, so everything was saved, jobs and love and money. And now he just lies to me and betrays me. So fucking unbelievable,” Jason said.

He talked, seemingly with insight, about the world of fakery and insincerity that he once thought he belonged in, lorded over. He never took the circle of lost friends as a sign that perhaps none of these people had ever truly been true friends, but merely transactional relationships that were formed to bring goods and services to Jason and Carla and their kids.

“Best Friends” was how Carla once described Lois and Johann who owned White Now, an ultra expensive tooth whitening process which the owners provided free to Jason, Carla and the kids, a $4,000 value. Every few months, the family got free whitened teeth, brighter and whiter than Dunn-Edwards Precious Pearls, a very white paint.

Arnaldo and Noma, two Beverly Hills landscape architects, became the new best friends for a while, and designed, gratis, a sloping scheme of native plants, water-saving trees, artfully placed rocks and an herb garden. Noma was a set designer in her previous life, and Arnaldo was a Urauguayan film director, so that landscaping couple assumed a free outdoor makeover would lead to other entertainment opportunities, but that, of course, fell out. 

And undocumented Guatemalans Carlos, Esmerelda and Arturo moved in, free, into the back garage, near the creek, and were allowed to stay, in return for light household chores like brush clearance, carpentry, painting, and cooking. That family lived like old plantation workers, grateful for a roof over their heads and enough food to eat, and they earned it by unofficially joining firefighters and risking their lives to fight the massive wildfire last month.

Always Carla spoke of her conquests, her connections, her exploits, as a mother might speak of her children, with care and concern. There was a callousness to the bartering  where Jason and Carla used their positions to promise results which never materialized. “We helped a refugee family and our home was a sanctuary.”  A scrim of kindness masked the manipulations.

But Jason was unaware.

His self-pity was the major event that preoccupied him last week. He imagined that he had gained sad wisdom into the human condition, seeing in his own lost dreams a truly gripping tale of impoverishment, wandering and dazed, a defeated winner walking along Pacific Coast Highway in a smoked, soaked James PerseT-Shirt.

I had not the courage to call him out, to point out his lies, his denials, his false sense of friendship and how temporal and shaky all of his foundations were. At the heart of his life, he had constructed a tale, a story, a narrative of sacrifice, truth, unselfishness and caring. 

His adjectives were indeed something to treasure.


[1]Invented name, privacy protected by anagram.

The Insane Present


“Next week, the South Los Angeles Area Planning Commission will consider an appeal of Buckingham Crossing, a proposed small lot subdivision near the Expo Line.

The proposed development from Charles Yzaguirre, which would replace a single-family home at 4011 Exposition Boulevard, calls for the construction of four small lot homes.  The houses would each stand four stories in height, featuring three bedrooms, two-car garages, and roof decks.

Los Angeles-based architecture firm Formation Association is designing the project, which is portrayed as a collection of boxy low-rise structures in conceptual renderings.

The appeal, which was filed by residents of a neighboring home, argues that the project does not comply with the City of Los Angeles’ Small Lot Subdivision guidelines, and have bolstered their case with a petition signed by nearby residents, as well as a letter of opposition signed by City Council President Herb Wesson, who represents the neighborhood. 

However, a staff response notes that the project was filed with the Planning Department before the new regulations were adopted, and are thus not subject to them.  The staff report also rejects claims that the four proposed homes would increase traffic congestion and create a “‘wind tunnel’ spreading toxins” through the passing of Expo Line trains.”-Urbanize LA

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As this blog has shown, many times, we live in a city of homelessness for those who cannot afford a home, or are too sick to attend to the normalcy of paying rent.

At the same time, the dire need for housing continues to be opposed by vast segments of the city who will take any proposed multi-family dwelling, even one as small as four stories, and attach some fear-mongering lawsuit against it.

The condition of Los Angeles in 2018 is comedic in its insanity, with ostriches of all sorts screaming about “overdevelopment” inside the second largest city in the United States, a spread out sprawl of parking lots and shopping centers where residents complain about lack of space, lack of parking, and too much traffic. Yet lack the political and moral will to remedy an ongoing tragedy.

These same NIMBYs oppose even the tiniest increase in density, along light rail lines and public transport, refusing to allow the city to progress economically and logistically, and also, quite cruelly and callously, perpetuating the expensiveness of all housing, by limiting its supply.

One-hundred years ago, Los Angeles was a much more modern and progressive city than today, a place where tall apartments were welcomed, possibly because they looked aristocratic, well-proportioned, and they brought economic growth and well regarded architecture to a growing city starved for development.  They wore their best European tailoring, even if they were overdressed, because they had pride and self-worth and a city which respected those qualities.

By contrast, many of today’s multi-family dwellings are self-effacing, timid, obsequious, broken up into many little pieces to ward off attackers, erased of any individuality or identity.  So even when the architects surrender to the bullies, that cannot mollify the attackers. The NIMBY mob wants the city to stay exactly as it is, even if that means that 100,000 people sleep on the sidewalk every single night.

Imagine the screaming in Encino or Palms or West Adams if anybody proposed the old styles seen below next to any existing single family homes. (source: LAPL)

Chateau Elysee


One Day, Soon.


 

One day, soon, there will be a revitalization of Van Nuys Boulevard.

Gone forever will be the hopeless days when people laughed to mock it, or ran away in revulsion.

All the central gathering places that should be occupied by civilized things, all the lots that hold parking, all the empty buildings along Van Nuys Boulevard, will be replaced with vibrant, happy, upbeat, successful businesses and residents.

It will take nothing more than $5 billion dollars to invest in new transit, new apartments, new multi-family housing, new police officers, a new police station, an army of street cleaners, and law enforcement people who will ticket illegally parked cars, handicap placard abusers, unregulated street sellers, unlicensed signs, and unpermitted businesses.

The narrowing of Victory Boulevard, the planting of 200 oak trees from Kester to Van Nuys Boulevard, will bring about a revitalization of the formerly crappy strip of low rent mini-malls, slum apartments and empty stores. The LAPD Victory Precinct at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, and its drop-in center there will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

150 new LAPD officers, out of a police force of some 10,000 will be specifially assigned to the area.

Some 50 new apartment buildings, from Sherman Way to Oxnard, with 10,000 new apartments, will be built and 20% of them will rent for under market value.

Security cameras will enforce the law to prevent speeding, red light running, assault, vandalism, burglaries of properties and hold-ups on the street.

There will be decorative streetlights, three new parks, new benches, and thousands of shade trees planted along the boulevard to protect against temperatures that get hotter every year.

Bike lanes, light rail, automobiles and pedestrians will share a new Van Nuys Boulevard divided between all types of transport, from foot to motor to public.

And the architecture will be inventive, modern, and integrate environmentally such necessities as solar energy and district wide free wi-fi.

In a nod to the old Van Nuys, the first orange grove planted in the Valley in 90 years will be manned by formerly homeless men and women who will guard the orchards as they would their own children. There will be 10 houses planted around the grove to ensure the safety and security of the new urban agriculturalists.

The low industrial buildings in the neighborhood around Kester and Oxnard, all 33 acres, were preserved in 2018, and later became an incubator for creatives who settled in the area and built narrow houses near the Orange Line, and worked and lived next to artisans, musicians, brewers, car restorers and craftspeople of every skill.

All of this is possible.

The people who will decide whether this is fantasy or reality are reading this post.


All photos courtesy of Architizer.

Architecture by Graham Baba.

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Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967)


 

Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967)

I previously wrote about this topic in 2014, but bring it up again as Los Angeles, and the State of California, are now in a furious debate about housing, cars, homelessness and how best to build.

All B&W photographs below are by Ed Ruscha. 


Ed Ruscha’s “Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” was published 51 years ago.

The artist, born in Nebraska in 1937, came to this city in 1956 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute. He also had an apprenticeship in typesetting.

Graduating in 1960, only 23 years old, he started working at an advertising agency doing graphic design. Influenced by the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Ruscha was featured in a 1962 survey called “New Painting of Common Objects.”

That year he published “Twentysix gasoline stations” and later “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” (1966)

He was the first, or perhaps the most notable artist, to create a deadpan, earnest, unesthetic photography of built Los Angeles. He looked, without pretense, at the sprawling, cheap, roadside city of billboards, car washes, instant apartments and filling stations and wrapped up his black and white photographs into little, smart, best-sellers.

Ruscha was talented and knew how to sell things, always a winning combination in the city of angles. (intentional)

The 1960s was a dirty flood of bitter reckoning that hit America and threw cold water on its made-up, powdered face.

Assassinations, sexual relations, racial issues, drugs, protests, music, environmental desecration, Vietnam: the entire decade blew up a contented self-image.

A nation, which thought itself a beacon of light onto the world, was forced to reconsider its own grotesque violence and misunderstand it.

Confronting Los Angeles, Ruscha presented a homely city with a picture book full of raw honesty.

State Board of Equalization 14601 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA.

May Co. 6150 Laurel Cyn NH

Inside “Thirty Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” are some aerial shots of ordinary Van Nuys, North Hollywood and LA in 1967, with those enormous oceans of parking lots floating boat-like buildings.

Up in an airplane, looking down, Ruscha captured lines and boxes transposed upon the land, asphalt which looked, on its surface, much like the curtain-walled office buildings of that era.

Goodyear Tires 6630 Laurel Cyn NH

Good Year Tires at 6610 Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood occupies only a dot atop a long “I” shaped land-mass of parking.

Dodger Stadium

Dodger Stadium is buried deep within the hot skins of asphalt, a vaginal shaped structure where men played ball.

7101 Sepulveda, Van Nuys, CA.

And 7101 Sepulveda, a now abandoned office tower near Sherman Way, has trailers and motels on its perimeter, as well as plenty of free parking. Today, this area often hosts large encampments of homeless people, so the peripatetic ways of Van Nuys have historical precedent it seems.

Eileen Feather Salon 14425 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA.

14425 Sherman Way was called the “Eileen Feather Salon” and has but one long building fronting Sherman Way with parking in back.

Today, that corner is a cacophony of grossness and visual pollution including donuts and Denny’s. Signs are everywhere. And the weary eye becomes nostalgic for the simple joy of a lone building and its parking lot set down on arid land in the once less populated San Fernando Valley.

 


 

7128 Van Nuys Bl. 8/5/14

We are now engaged in a great civic debate about housing, and public transportation, and some voices hope (mine included) that denser buildings along bus and train lines will help alleviate high rents and homelessness.

Yet we never quite escape the trap set by the automobile: where to drive it, where to park it, how to best accommodate its needs.

Every single debate about new buildings always begins and ends with parking. Tens of thousands sleep on the street, families cannot afford rents or mortgages, developers are hamstrung providing parking for everyone and their guests, and Los Angeles dies a little each day from auto related illnesses.

Every time we think we are biking or busing more, something sinister comes onto the scene, and we now have 100,000 Ubers and Lyfts clogging the roads, and making our lives more hellish even as we praise their conveniences.

We plan a light rail down Van Nuys Boulevard and the auto dealers like Keyes stop it at Oxnard. They still run things. They destroy the city, and they are congratulated and worshipped for it. Thousands of their new cars are stored at outdoor transit adjacent parking lots built by Metro with taxpayer funds. Ironic.

Every time we imagine we are free of the car, we are forced back into it to chauffeur little white kids to school in better neighborhoods, to commute to $10 an hour jobs, to spend three hours every day in our vehicle so we might live in a house that consumes 50% of our income. Madness.

Ed Ruscha’s simple aerial photographs of parking lots are still a fact-based statement of what this city is. And how we are all swallowed into it.

Goodyear Tires 6630 Laurel Cyn NH