Box Walk/Santa Monica.


For awhile now, residential modernism has been in charge in Los Angeles.

There was a period, roughly paralleling the 80s and 90s, when ersatz historical structures were the rage. Overdressed, highly embellished and gaudy.

But the stripped down box, the serious architect’s preferred style, is now the only way to build, especially on the west side of Los Angeles, where property is the most expensive, and every single ounce of concrete, glass and steel must pay homage to the gods of inconspicuous consumption.

The Box is King. Long live the Box!

On Memorial Day 2018, I walked from 5thand Pacific in Santa Monica down to Abbot Kinney, observing and photographing select buildings.

2120 4thSt. The West Winds (1959)

Whimsy from a cursive sign that provides a movie title sparkle to an otherwise dull structure.


 

2311 4thSt. Santa Monica (1967)

They charitably called it decorative modernism. It is a cheap way a developer dressed up his building with costume jewelry.


2316 3rdSt. Santa Monica (2017)

These are ultra-serious modernist condos designed by architect Robert Thibodeau. At least one unit sold for $2.6 million last year. They have all the emotionality and personality of a computer processor, but are of this moment in their sanitized, digital perfectionism, one that is scrupulously wired to accommodate residents who might command Alexa to send hot pizza and chilled Riesling by drone.


 

2404 2ndSt. Santa Monica (2006)

Already looking a bit dated with its ultra frozen metallic trim and smooth stucco, it compares awkwardly with its more relaxed and disheveled asphalt roofed neighbor next door.


2501 2ndSt. Santa Monica (circa 1902)

Fear not! This historic house has been under municipal evaluation/debate/conflict/litigation since at least 2010 and there are now plans to demolish only a back garage and guesthouse, and preserve the front structure. An official report by Santa Monica City said this property does not meet standards of preservation accorded to prominent architectural buildings.  A casual observer might disagree.


2520 2ndSt. Santa Monica (1900)

Imagine if Santa Monica were like Martha’s Vineyard, and little beach cottages with front porches were the norm?  2520 sits in exquisite preservation, next to a parking lot, but it is landscaped with wildflowers and drought-savvy plants. In its modesty and kindness, its gentle openness, it serves as an exception, not as the norm.

 


2543 2ndAve. Santa Monica (1915?)

All over Southern California, the courtyard housing of the Early 20thCentury provided modest, enveloping, nurturing neighborhoods for new arrivals to the Golden State.  These archetypes made maximum use of land, but did so with landscaping and interior gardens. Unlike today’s crime paranoid structures, this building has windows and doors around the entire perimeter, inviting and friendly.  It is under renovation, no doubt destined to be something unaffordable.


 

260 2ndSt. Santa Monica, CA (1989)

Now almost 30 years old,  this white, modernist, multi-family structure is best appreciated by observing it through steel security fencing and a parking lot. It has the mark of the late 1980s and early 90s in its square paned windows. Private, secretive, hidden, fortified, yet gleamingly bright and stripped down to essentials, this is what investment bankers, psychiatrists and plastic surgeons consider creative living.


320 Hampton Drive. Venice, CA (2015)

Google, Inc. is worth $600 billion and controls almost every aspect of every person’s life on the Planet Earth. It is more powerful than government, it is wealthier than 90% of all nations. Its infantile interface masks an incredibly complex and manipulative design meant to squeeze dollars out of any enterprise it wishes to.

It enslaves us by promising us ease. It erodes our individuality and uniqueness by herding us into categories assessed and rated by algorithms. It impregnates our dreams and deludes us into waking stupor.

Here is one of the buildings built by the pre-eminent monopoly of our time. It is a box: fortified, secured and undistinguished. Inside, no doubt, young employees bring dogs, tricycles, skateboards to work 18-hour-days, for 24 months, before they scooter over to another company in Silicon Beach.

In another moral riddle for our times, hundreds of homeless men and women sleep on the sidewalks just a few hundred feet away as if no money existed to rescue them from suffering.


“State of the art architectural, new residential compound, right in the heart of Venice.
One block from Gold’s gym, Abbot Kinney Blvd and two blocks to the beach. This three story gem has everything, from the rooftop patio with a jacuzzi to huge walk in showers, built in speaker syste and much more. No expense was spared on the construction of this home, it truly is one of the finest homes that Venice has to offer.
Perfect for a live work space. 2 car garage plus 2 uncovered parking spaces. Available fully furnished at $25,000.00 or unfurnished at $23,500.00
In addition to the space per public records, there is 500 sq/ft roof top patio that includes an outdoor kitchen and a hot-tub. On the second floor there is a 100 sq/ft balcony, on the main level there are also two decks/patios over 400 sq/ft that allow true indoor out door use total of over 1,000 sq/ft of outside use.
LIVE WORK ZONED”

708 Hampton Dr. Venice, CA (2017)

“Perfect for a live work space. 2-car garage plus 2 uncovered parking spaces. Available fully furnished at $25,000.00 [a month] or unfurnished at $23,500.00”

Muscular guy on balcony extra.


The Bird Scooter

All over Venice, these motorized scooters, unlocked by app, rented by hour, provide another means of transportation which speeds one along without aerobic effort.


Motor Home Home

This RV is parked at Brooks and Electric. The California Flag flies behind it, fittingly, salutingly. No housing type has grown as fast as the parked recreational vehicle.


1201 Cabrillo Ave. Venice (2008)

This home sits partly on a street and partly in an alley, both of which help solidify its sculptural presence. Dark, with variegated steel panels, and zig-zag cut outs, it is somewhat softened by vines. Lest it forget its bohemian surroundings, a reminder of drug dealers and gangs is provided by shoes hung on electrical wires nearby; as well as a tagged refuse container in the back alley.


249 Rennie Ave. Venice, CA (2013)

This is just the back guesthouse, but sparkles with a Teutonic crispness, like 1920s Bauhaus. And if this were Japan, there would be many houses just like this one, built along fastidiously maintained alleys.


 

420 Marine St. Santa Monica (1969)

Only 50 years ago they were knocking down quaint neighborhoods in Santa Monica and erecting cheapo, stacked, shoe-boxed units like 420 Marine St. Almost mid-century modern, this late 60s dwelling shoves cars into the back alley, and squeezes one or two under the cantilevered second floor. An overgrown pepper tree grows like a beard to obscure a homely façade.


2709 4thSt. Santa Monica (1967)

Still a rental, a recent ad offered a two-bedroom for $3,100 a month. Well-maintained from the exterior, it looks to have been upgraded with steel security gate, garage doors and energy-efficient windows. Considering its date of construction, it’s surprisingly un-ugly.

 

 

 

 

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The Capriciousness of Life.


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I was down in Venice yesterday on a foggy Saturday morning, down there to attend a training video for a new food processor I’ve been hired to test.

I parked on Sunset near 4th Avenue, not far from Gjusta, where I went to eat. They sell loaves of bread for ten dollars there.

And along Sunset I passed a man and a woman and a tent, their home I assumed. I ignored them and went to the restaurant and ordered eggs, toast and coffee for $16.

On the way back, the man and the woman had moved, and set up their tent on 4th Avenue.

Camera in hand, I went over to introduce myself.

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The man, Alexander, said he was from Pomona and was 22-years-old. The woman, Dina, said she was 44 and from Egypt. They both said they met in Israel.

They said they were artists. And they had ended up here and had no means of supporting themselves, so they were living in the tent, on the sidewalk, chased away by residents and police.

Alexander was smart, funny, articulate and intelligent. He said he was Jewish, an anomaly in Catholic and Hispanic Pomona. Dina said she grew up in Egypt, a Muslim, and her father was blacklisted for writing against the regime. She said she had children in Israel.

Alexander told me that the hardest part of being homeless was how exhausting it was. They had to be constantly moving, like Bedouins, and forage for food. Cleaning up was not easy, they washed their hands along the curb. Yet they seemed clean.

“Capitalism can be cruel. Even in poorer countries, people seem to look out for each other, to help. In America, the indifference is noticeable,” Alexander said.

“All of my family live in the same compound,” Dina said, thinking of her kin back home. And what would they think of her now?

Dina had the flinty, tough, tenacious soul of a woman from the Middle-East. She was genuinely touched that I cared enough to stop and speak with her, and discuss her plight and struggle.

They both said they needed a backyard to stay in. That would help them feel settled. I wondered why there was not a place in Venice or Santa Monica, in a community full of backyards, where one couple could camp out temporarily.

Their goal was to save $3,000 and return to Israel.

I don’t exactly understand how they got into this position, but I am sure that life doesn’t always reward the moral and punish the immoral.

Sometimes it is capricious, and good people end up in bad places, and if they are lucky enough, can dig out and get back on their feet.

But why is it that nobody can lend them a backyard and few bucks?

A few blocks from Dina and Alexander, Google is building a new office. And a friend of my brother rents a small apartment on Rose for $4,500 a month.

And Dina and Alexander sleep in a tent on the sidewalk while all around them humanity passes by.

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Denial.


“She was screaming at night about her arm, her chest, her leg,” Anisha, a caregiver, said.

“She hardly slept.”

Anisha was speaking about my mother,now in Stage 4 cancer, confined to a bed for the last eight months.

Later on, when I went into her room, my mother said she had slept well the night before. “There is nothing wrong with me,” she said.

She was breathing on oxygen, then she told us to take it off. She has refused most pain medication, reluctantly asking only for sleeping pills.


 

I took her out on Sunday, in her wheelchair, and we ventured along the Marina. By chance, we happened to come to a dock where a water taxi was taking passengers. I wheeled her down and we rode around the harbor for a dollar.

A hospice nurse visited on Sunday night and found nothing “wrong”, only anxiety.

On Monday, another nurse came and told me later my mother’s feet were showing signs of “mottling” an impending indicator of death.


 

On Tuesday, I was back down at her apartment. A social worker was talking to my mother. Anisha told me that my mother had not slept the night before, and had talked of her future fear and past regret. “You should give her some hope for the afterlife,” Anisha said to me, an atheist.

When the social worker left, I went back into the bedroom. My mother was combative, annoyed. “You and your brother are driving me crazy with this system! How would you like to be under a microscope?”

I asked her if she had slept well. She said of course. She slept fine.

Again we went out to roam around the Marina. It got windy and she asked to go back inside. “I want a steak,” she said. She had not eaten more than liquids for at least a week. I corrected her and said she meant hamburger.

And then after I left the apartment, after I had two glasses of wine at a bar, I walked around Venice, shooting pictures along the canals, and then wandered back to my car.

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The phone rang as I drove east on Washington. It was Anisha. She wanted to assure me that my mother had slept well last night. When she had called out, it was only in a dream.

“I told him,” Anisha said to my mother before she hung up the phone.

Death at the Beach


Yesterday, I was at my mother’s bedside, as I have been many Sundays since January.

My 10-year-old niece Ava was there too, propped up in front of my mom on the rented hospital bed, her violet eyes shaded by a straw hat. And my sister-in-law Pri sat nearby in a white leather chair, resplendent in white crochet shorts, and a fitted denim shirt covering her fit and polished body.

Outside the windows, whose northern view stretches from Hollywood to Santa Monica, the Marina sky blew weird and malformed haze and clouds, the type that indicates rain in any normal city but whose presence in the Southland is always ignored.

We were talking about mean girls, and then we were talking about kitchen renovations, moving a refrigerator to the other side of the door. We were talking about a new couch in the Living Room. And I was invited to do my imitation of my brother at work, which evoked laughter from his daughter.

And then there was a thunderous boom. Followed minutes later by the sirens and the fire trucks speeding down Admiralty Way.

I went onto Twitter and checked Venice 311. I learned lightning had struck 7 people. Every few minutes I looked. Until The Tweats said a body was floating near the shore.

And then they confirmed a man was killed by what we had heard, electrocuted in the Pacific Ocean near Washington Boulevard.

He went into the water and entered eternity on an 8 million to one chance.

Later on, as it always does in Los Angeles, the sun came out. We lifted my mother out of her bed, into her wheelchair, and pushed her along Washington Blvd. past skateboarders, bikers, and runners.

On the beach, near the sand, were parked the trucks from KCAL and KABC and cars from LAPD. Above us helicopters hovered in the sky.

These were the only clues that something tragic and meaningless had recently come out of the sky, weather that blew fast, dark and deathly over the water, taking away 20-year-old Nick Fagnano, a student swimming on a Sunday, a young man loved by family and friends.

The Art World


 

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6/4/14

Yesterday I went, as I have for almost six months, to visit my Mom, ill with cancer, now in hospice, at her apartment in the Marina.

She can’t walk now, so she is either in bed, or lifted onto a chair, wheeled over and pushed out, into the sun, or more often, up to the TV, where many hours of daytime talk shows play without end.

She asked me to sit down, next to her.

She said there was an explosion of news about cancer cures and people whose terminal illness had been cured through “miraculous” immunotherapies. Would I look into this she asked?

Told that she was Stage 4, incurable, sick with bone and lung cancer, she has accepted the news, but fought it through inquiry and denial. She told me she was coughing more because she had caught a cold.

Loretta, her live-in caregiver, brought my mother into the living room, to vacuum the bedroom. The bedside phone rang, and Loretta handed me a call from Direct TV.

I answered in the voice of old gruff Junior Soprano. I told the woman we were retired people, uninterested in her offer, and hung up. My mother laughed, hoarsely, and said that she loved that voice I used.

She is still fully there, her mental capacity undimmed, even as life seeps out and the monstrosity of dying cells takes over.

I made a lunch of grilled salmon and roasted garlic, rice, fruit salad, plain yogurt, and hot green tea. If healthy eating were enough to insure health this meal might defeat cancer.

After lunch, Loretta wrapped my Mom up. And I pushed Mom in the wheelchair down to vote in the Marina City Club, where more old people manned tables and passed over registration books, which my mother let me sign.

I stood next to her and fed the flimsy two-holed ballot into its plastic holder, and began to read the names of politicians to my mother, who only knew one, Governor Jerry Brown. We read each page: names of candidates and parties running for offices; all enigmas.

Is an ignorant voter more dangerous than an intelligent one who abstains from voting?

We turned the ballot back in, having punched only one hole and we were given stickers that read: “I have voted”.

I took her to the park across Admiralty Way, a running and biking path between the speeding cars and the tall buildings.

Behind the Ralph’s parking lot on Lincoln, there was a small opening in a fence, and I walked down to see if we could get through it. I judged that we could, and I pushed my mother in her chair over the asphalt onto the bark’s decline, through the fence hole and past the dumpster into the parking lot.

She hadn’t been inside a store in six months, and now, where she had once driven herself and walked in, she sat as she was pushed past edibles.

We picked up extra virgin olive oil, aluminum foil and wheeled back to the Marina City Club.

 


 

I seem not to cry much when I visit, acclimated am I to the new grimness.

I became, in the last six months, a high-ranking soldier: inspecting the medicines, giving orders to the homecare workers, pulling in supplies, taking over financial, legal and medical decisions, signing papers, managing staff and bringing drugs to the ill and dying, issuing directives for non-resuscitation and cremation.

I had no training, only a sense of duty, obligation and rightness.


 

When I left yesterday, in the late afternoon, I kissed my mother on the cheek and held her hand, and wandered out into the wind propelled in blank distraction.

From this time afterward I existed in a suspended and stoned state of mind, up on Abbot Kinney drinking wine, and later, intoxicated, walking up alleys and behind buildings camera in hand, anesthetized and numbed.

A woman sitting on the sidewalk, not homeless just sad, stopped me and asked me about my camera. Tina introduced herself. She told me her husband was divorcing her and taking custody of their two children. She asked if, one day, I might want to take photos of her and the children. She told me I should volunteer at Venice Arts and teach kids photography.

I was on wine so I was kind. I listened and gave her my card.

I think I will be like this for a while, even after my mother dies.

Peace will settle on me like a healed burn.

 

 

 

 

 

Anesthetized.


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There were 120 narcotic “Norco” tablets in the prescription bottle on March 31st.

Six days later there were seven.

The medicine was supposed to be administered to an elderly cancer patient, bedridden, in pain.

But the physical therapist probably stole the medications, stuffing 100 or more pills into his pockets.

And yesterday that was the morning news, in my life, at 5:30am. Later I drove down to Marina Del Rey and reported the “burglary” to the sheriff and filed a police report.

A mollusk on a mattress: my mother.

Unable to lift, eat, or wash herself.

A cancer victim.

A crime victim.

Dependent on live-in home care workers, visiting nurses; tethered in fragility to life, eaten away by lung and bone cancer, yet strangely alert and intelligent to her bodily decay and the circumstances around her.

I was angry, nervous, agitated, betrayed. And my mother spoke from her horizontal position and said, “The important thing is to remain calm.”

My command center was my phone, electrified with texts.

Dr. G refilling the L-Dopa.
Dr. H refilled the thyroid.
The handrails were delivered.
How could the PT spend 14 hours in five days on physical therapy?
Who lost the Access Transport card?
We need eggs.
They won’t refill the Norco without a police report.
The premium blue disposable underpads arrived.

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The day was hot and windy and blinding.

And then the sun slipped down and left the last hues of light over Venice.

Calmed by a glass each of beer and wine I walked on Abbot Kinney after 7pm, moving past shop windows, past bored clerks staring into cellphones.

Everything at that hour distracted as I wandered in and out of pretty stores.

Lubricated and intoxicated, I went into Elvino Wine Shop. I tasted a Croatian Red and walked out with a French Bourgueil Cabernet Franc.

I was wandering involuntarily now, sadness sedated, lulled into a dark gray perfume store furnished like a laboratory, lined with clear glass bottles.

Roses
Oranges
Cedar
Vanilla
Violet
Leather

“Spray the Santal on your left hand,” she said.

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And then I was in my car driving in darkness over Beverly Glen.

The love theme from Spellbound played.

I saw Ingrid Bergman holding onto Gregory Peck, wrapping him in love, rescuing him from collapse, guiding him through danger, analyzing his dreams, fighting his delusions, saving his life.