Riots of Color

Urbanize LA is a website showing new development around our city. I get updates from them and see what architecture is going up and what it looks like.

In residential multi-family buildings, modernism is triumphant.

Today, every building is uniquely ahistorical, without any reference to past classical styles, which, in a way is good. Los Angeles, especially in the San Fernando Valley, suffered from 20 years of Neo-Mediterranean buildings, a style that still afflicts much of residential, single-family Beverly Hills.

But the modern styles going up are nervous, jittery, full of multi-colored sections of various colors, so that many buildings do not exude calm or confidence but insecurity. Sections of four, five, or eight story apartments are broken up into light/dark/red/green/white/blue/wood/yellow/purple….. sometimes on one building.

I’m not sure how to psychoanalyse the stylistic quirks of mediocre apartment architecture. I think some of it is due to trying to sell buildings to neighborhoods which are hostile to them. By dividing up larger buildings into many colors, the effect is to reduce the apparent total size.

An apartment building with 40 windows on a wall 160 ft. long in one color appears large. 40 windows in 8/20-foot long sections with 8 different colors seems smaller.

Compare these two examples below. The new Expo Line is 7-stories, while the older one is 5-stories.

Sycamore apartments, northwest corner of North Sycamore Avenue and Beverly Boulevard

An Ugly Example at a Prominent Corner

One of the ugliest of the newer buildings is the retail/apartment built on the SE corner of Wilshire/Labrea which is not only multi-colored but cheap looking as well. LA Curbed called it “possibly LA’s most hated” in 2013. “The building’s facade is a jumble of balconies and discordant frontal planes with the northern and eastern faces designed differently, united by a central tower that seems to lack any elegance or even much design,” wrote Julie Grist of Larchmont Buzz. “It’s a shame the design team couldn’t at least try to borrow some of the sleek lines from other streamline or deco architecture still standing along Wilshire Boulevard.”

Tragically, it occupies an important corner of Los Angeles but has an H&M quality where a fine building belongs.

LA architects and builders built one color apartments from roughly the 1920s through the 1960s with no degradation to the aesthetic fabric of the city. How was that possible?

Southwest corner of Pico Boulevard and Union Avenue
Sycamore apartments, northwest corner of North Sycamore Avenue and Beverly Boulevard
Whitsett Av. Studio City, 1964.
Gaylord_Apartment_house_front_view, 1924

Van Nuys Bl. Circa 1940

Van Nuys Blvd. Circa 1940 (courtesy Valley Relics)

Valley Relics posted this circa 1940 color photograph of Van Nuys Blvd. facing south (towards Sherman Oaks) near Victory Blvd.

Two things in the photo stand out that are different from today: the streetcar running up the center of the street and the diagonally parked cars.

For many years, people have spoken about the loss of the streetcar as a viable way of transportation around the Southland.  Many think that the sprawl of this city makes streetcars irrelevant and automobiles the only solution.

But streetcars traversed the sprawl of Los Angeles from the beginning, going across hundreds of miles, even when much of the land was undeveloped. They brought the Pasadenan to Venice and transported the Hollywoodian to Chatsworth.  They were above ground and had open windows.   No city of millions of people can be without a viable public transport. And cars–polluting, crowding, noisy, inefficient, expensive, deathly–are the most self-centered and self-destructive machines ever put inside a city. Los Angeles has been demonstrably more dysfunctional since the Red Car tracks were torn up.

Diagonal parking is a way of making shopping more convenient and serves to slow down traffic and discourage speeding. While current day Councilman Cardenas proposes raising metered parking rates in the midst of the Great Recession, the old photo above shows a thriving and much more appealing Van Nuys, with free diagonal parking,  than exists today.

Vintage LA.

From Neat Stuff Blog