Changes in Latitude

This officey-looking building in Marina del Rey was once known as Pier Pointe.  It was an office building that was converted to condos several years ago.  According to the sales literature I received from them at the height of the recession,  the condos were quite pricey, starting at about $900,000, as I recall.  This unfortunate timing led not to a fully occupied building, but to a reported bankruptcy in 2009.

Now the building is back as Latitude 33.  The condos are being marketed once again.  However, take a look at their logo in the pics here and on their website.   Do you see anything unusual about the logo, given the name of the property?

I do wish these folks the best of luck.

Santa Monica Place Perfects the Shopping Mall as Public Space

This may be one of the few times in history where people say “good riddance!” to the gutting and rebuilding of a Frank Gehry building, and the architect himself agrees.  As Gehry explains in the fascinating documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” the Santa Monica Place shopping mall was one of Gehry’s first commercial projects, and he hated it.  However, Gehry, who needed the gig, delivered what the client wanted.  When Gehry later complained to a colleague about the mall, his friend suggested that Gehry strike out on his own and design the kind of buildings that were true to his own vision.  And that’s exactly what Gehry did.

View to Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Mountains

I don’t know what Frank Gehry thinks about the newly redesigned Santa Monica Place, but, after two visits there with out-of-town visitors during the past week, I’m thoroughly impressed.   Whereas the old mall was an unattractive appendage at the foot of the Third Street Promenade, the new mall is a natural extension.  Feminine in feel, it invites with rounded shapes and a dizzying yet tasteful array of sleek surfaces, such as wood, glass, and steel, that somehow fit together perfectly.  It draws visitors down a long straight corridor, then opens up into a beautiful curved open atrium.  Let’s face it — the new Place is sexy.

Gazebo-like dining booths are almost too nice for a mall

When I first starting walking around and photographing the new Santa Monica Place, I was struck by the high-quality materials and the variety of eateries on the top level.  These eateries include the prettiest glass-walled food court I have seen, the Sonoma Wine Garden (we ate there twice last week, sitting outside on sofas overlooking their herb garden — delicious), Pizza Antica, Ozumo Japanese cuisine, and more. Then I was drawn to the view of the Ocean and the Ferris wheel at the Pier that can be seen from the west end.  But within minutes, I became captivated by the amount of seating spaces and how well they were being used.

Inside the food court

The Place is now a a fabulous public space.  Its circular design draws people inside and lets them look at and relate to each other.  Interesting, organically shaped seating fosters both interaction and individual contemplation.  One chap told me that he was receiving a clear free WiFi signal, and, indeed, a number of people on laptops were peppered among the three levels.

View from west (2nd Street) side. Top of Pier Ferris wheel visible between the flowers.

Suddenly, everything else feels old.  When my visitors and I went to the similarly open-air Century City shopping mall a couple of days later, I was struck by how outdated and claustrophobic its winding walkways felt in comparison.  Likewise, the straight shot of the Promenade suddenly seems utterly conventional.

I’m not a shopper, but I can report that Santa Monica Place is anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, as well as a huge Nike store.  I was told by reliable authorities (i.e., a couple of women I know who are black belt shoppers) that the selections in these anchor stores are aimed at a younger, hipper crowd than those at some of their other locations.  In addition, posh boutiques such as Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany and Co. are present.  The stores and their display windows are beautiful.

What do they say in the real estate biz about location? It’s difficult to imagine a better one for Santa Monica Place.  In the new topless version, the sunlight abounds, the sea breeze keeps customers cool, and the area is of course a magnet for both tourists and locals.  Parking also seems to be adequate, both at the Place and at the nearby municipal parking decks on 2nd and 4th streets, at least one of which is just a few steps across Broadway.  There are nearby bus stops, and, if things go as planned, the terminus of the new Expo rail line will be just across Colorado Avenue.  I wonder whether the Place will draw tourist dollars away from the Promenade,  or even from other upscale shopping destinations, such as Beverly Hills.  My guess is that the Place’s eateries will teem with both tourists and local businesspeople, but that, until the economy turns around substantially, most of those upscale stores won’t ring up too many sales.

Criticisms? The only one I can muster is that the middle level, blocked from above, suffers from too little sunlight.  But when you reap so many of Mother Nature’s benefits, you have to take the bad with the good.  Perhaps a few skylights would solve the problem.

Now, I know that, as successful public spaces go, Santa Monica Place is just a shopping mall.  It’s not a park.  It’s not the Piazza Navona.  But check back with with me and Frank Gehry in two or three hundred years, and we’ll see.

L.A’s Greatest Landmarks: The Hollywood Sign

Photo by Vlasta Juricek, 2005

Photo by Vlasta Juricek, 2005

Perhaps the most recognizable string of letters in the world. A Real Estate Advertising gimmick turned into a Monument and saved by Hugh Hefner, not once but twice. What more fitting tribute to Tinseltown could you ask for? I love The Hollywood Sign.

On Friday the Thirteenth, July 1923, they dedicated The Sign. Thomas Fisk Goff, owner of the Crescent Sign Company, designed it at the behest of real estate developers Woodruff and Shoults. The whole crackpot scheme was the brainchild of H.J Whitley and Harry Chandler, owner of the L.A. Times.

I can almost picture Chandler, with a wild gleam in his eye, exclaiming, “Why, that’s just crazy enough to work!”

The original letters originally read “Hollywoodland,” were five feet taller than the current structure, and festooned with around 4000 light bulbs, plus a giant blinking dot below, 35 foot in diameter, to  “catch the eye.” Because thirteen, fifty foot tall, white, blinking letters are far too subtle on their own.

They put it there to sell land in the hills. And when they were done, they just left it. Bastards! That’s so “ungreen.” Just leaving your garbage on the hill! What are you thinking!

I kid, of course, I love the thing, but that’s kinda what happened. It was never meant to be permanent, at all, let alone to stand up to decades of weather. And I’m sure many, many people felt that way about it as it started to deteriorate over the years. In the early Forties, the signs official caretaker got drunk, drove into the “H” and destroyed it. By 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the City of L.A. parks Department had come to a deal to repair the sign. The eliminated the last four letters and removed the lightbulbs. The Chamber of Commerce would have had to foot the bill for lighting the thing, so, yeah; no.

But it was still the original letters and they continued to deteriorate into a complete eyesore. By the 1970’s it was determined that it needed a complete overhaul, costing a quarter of a million dollars. To raise the money, the band Fleetwood Mac pledged to do a charity concert on the hill in 1977, but local residents put a stop to it. So, the following year, Hugh Hefner stepped in and held a charity auction at the Playboy Mansion, auctioning off individual letters at $27,777 each.

Thus, in August of 1978 they tore down the old sign and put up the one that stands today, this time on purpose. The letters are 45 foot tall and from 31 to 39 feet wide. No light bulbs. Hugh Hefner owns the “Y,” Andy Williams spotted for the “W,” and Alice Cooper bought the third “O” in honor of Groucho Marx. Warner Brothers owns the second “O,” and I suspect they currently keep The Warner Kids trapped in there, instead of in their old water tower.

Recently, a proposal to develop the surrounding land prompted the “Save the Peak” campaign. $12.5 Million dollars was needed to keep 138 acres adjacent to the sign. Donations came from all over, but at the eleventh hour, the Hollywood Sign’s Number One Fan, Hugh Hefner stepped in again, this time donating the final $900,000 dollars to save it.

Thanks, Hef. I really, really appreciate it.

I would respectfully like to dedicate this post to the Memory of Peg Entwistle. Rest in Peace, Star.

This post is part of the L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks series – click here for the rest of the series!

Peg Entwistle

Venice Spring Home Tour – Sunday April 11th

AIA Website

I walk around Venice every day and there are some fabulous homes in the area. On Sunday, April 11th, 11AM – 4PM you can the tour homes designed by up and coming architects such as Barbara Bestor, Trevor Abramson, Douglas Teiger, Patrick Tighe, and Glen Irani.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is selling tickets for $85 at the first house on the tour:

Gelner Residence
3672 Inglewood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

The Architects/Designers and Docents and will be at each house to answer your questions.

For more information on this tour and others in Los Angeles, head over to the AIA website.

What do Howard Hughes, James Ellroy, and James Cameron Have in Common?

Apparently,  a lot.  I was making my way through James Ellroy‘s “The Big Nowhere,” and, not too far in, Howard Hughes appears, along with his head of security, a crooked retired cop named Turner “Buzz” Meeks.  Meeks works at Hughes Aircraft, and it takes him an hour to drive to Studio City for some dirty work in pre-405 1950.  Trying to do the math, I recalled the giant Playa Vista residential development just a few miles from my house.

A couple of years ago, I took some dogs walking down the Westchester Bluffs on the South side of the Playa Vista property.  There were a couple of long drab buildings at the base of the bluffs, as well as a narrow service road.  Someone told me the buildings were film studios.  Another person told me they were part of Hughes Aircraft.

So I did some research and found this amazing website.  The gist of it is, this property was not only the headquarters for Hughes Aircraft, it was also Howard Hughes’ private airport. Howard Hughes buys our backyard, after the jump

Hollywood Signamorphosis Begins, I Think

It’s a crappy obstructed low-res view of the Hollywood sign on a crappy weather day from a window of the second floor of our Silver Lake house through the palms atop the Micheltorena ridgeline, but I pointed and zoomed my webcam at the landmark in hopes of ultimately timelapsing the progress of its cover-up announced earlier this week to be done to promote the Trust for Public Land’s planned acquisition of the private parcel near it that’s been for sale for awhile.

Anyway, I checked in on the latest image and it’s looking like work has commenced. Maybe.

The latest available image (updated once a minute) can be seen here.

UPDATE: Yep. She’s a-changing. And there’s a much better gopher’s eye-view of the action available here: http://hollywoodsign.org/247.html

Pasadena Playhouse to Close

More bad news on the Arts front: The Pasadena Playhouse, an L.A. landmark and institution, California’s only State Theatre, will be closing its doors, possibly for good, due to financial woes.

With 2 million owed to creditors and no way to pay, the current production of Camelot looks to be its last. Thirty seven employees will be out of work after the final curtain February 7th.

Stephen Eich, executive director of the Pasadena Playhouse, has said he is looking for ways to fulfill his obligation to current subscribers amidst massive financial restructuring and possible bankruptcy.

Attempts to find a donor to name the main auditorium after have thus far proved fruitless, as corporate donations have dwindled.

The company was founded in 1917, and the building itself built in the twenties, this is a huge loss for the arts, and a huge loss for theatre. I truly hope they find a way to re-open their doors soon.

Housing Market WTF

IMG_1498A friend of mine was all psyched a couple of weeks ago when she signed a contract for a condo in the Culver City area.  She had been shopping at or near the “low end” of the Los Angeles area housing market — $300k or less.   I have heard from more than one prospective buyer that, at this price level, there has been a bit of a buying frenzy.  Sellers are listing the homes for lowball prices in order to attract interest, and then buyers are bidding up the prices, offering cash, avoiding contingencies in their contracts, etc.  And the federal $8k tax credit is bringing in a lot of first time home buyers, such as my friend, at this level.

But my friend’s excitement turned to frustration and heartache as her lender’s appraisal came in many thousands below her contract price. Continue reading “Housing Market WTF”

Bicycle Cop Dave Patrols a Gentrifying Downtown

bcd_1019LA Weekly had a cheeky article a few years back titled “The Evidence Room: Five Signs You’re Gentrifying.” At the time, the primary target of gentrification was Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park.  I don’t think there’s a gelato parlor downtown yet, but clearly, for better or worse, downtown is being “revitalized” faster than you can say “doggie day care.”  Enter Gary Phillips, a community activist turned mystery and comic book writer who will debut the first three pages of his webcomic, Bicycle Cop Dave, next week on October 28 on Four StoryBicycle Cop Dave will follow LAPD officer David Richter as he patrols downtown LA and “encounters interesting characters from a lawyer smoking crack in a port-a-potty to a one-armed prophet in a Skid Row bar with his wooden tablet of odd commandments.”  Phillips also promises upside down bodies below the Sixth Street bridge, an inevitable Big Bad Developer villain, and at least a comment or two about the displacement of the poor as result of old gentrifying politics finding a new battleground downtown.  The story will unfold over the course of several weeks, as new pages will be published every other Wednesday until the entire comic is online.  I’m hoping he’ll stray away from hyper liberal tendencies to simply demonize gentrification without providing a more weighty critique; in any case, the comic is worth a bookmark and hopefully some good discussion.

Marina Development Continues Apace

img_1630I took a look at and snapped some photos of the latest construction project in Marina del Rey.  It’s the expansion of the Best Western Jamaica Bay Inn on Admiralty Way near Panay Way.  The old Jamaica Bay Inn was a quaint two-story place with approximately 42 rooms, where people liked to go for breakfast.  Renderings of the expanded four-story 111-room hotel, for which the neighboring Cafe Escobar was bulldozed to make way, can be found here.  The Inn’s PR company describes its project as (warning: get out your air sickness bag) one:

“that will transform the familiar Marina Del Rey property into a lush Caribbean-themed resort befitting its name. The new Jamaica Bay Inn will take advantage of the hotel’s unique location on the only beach inside the marina, an inviting arc of sand and calm water appropriately known as Mother’s Beach. The new hotel will have a colorful porte-cochere that will be a street-side landmark for the property and an elegant lobby with a sophisticated West Indies décor, rattan/wood/leather furniture and a large stone fireplace and chimney as a focal point. Gag on this

The Anti-HOA yard of the day: Gone Fishin’ for mail

anti_hoa1Welcome to the first in what will be a random and sporadic series of posts celebrating the “Anti-HOA yard of the day”.  HOA, as in Home Owner’s Associations that control and dictate how your property looks to maintain that banal cookie cutter sameness.  It stifles the little silliness like this mail box.

The lack of HOA’s in most of LA’s neighborhoods is one of the things I love about this city.  Every neighborhood has its own character yet there is an individuality to each home that makes it special.  It is this freedom that needs to be celebrated.  It certainly better than making sure you have the right Stevenson Ranch Rose or Brookstone Beige when the time comes to repaint your home.  This will be a little celebration of the “yard art” or entire homes that uniquely set themselves apart from their neighbors.

I do need to give a hat tip to our own Lucinda Michele for the inspiration for this series.  Her series “Random yard of the valley” always is charming when they pop up and certainly one I enjoy.

Pic by me from a recent meander and it does get bigger with a clickaroo.

Sleep in Ignacio’s Bed, Walk to Riots

Meet Ignacio, Downtown Los Angeles loft dweller.

Ignacio is likely feeling the pinch of recession. Here we find him pitching his crib as a vacation destination. It’s very nice.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh65viF2Snw[/youtube]

While Iggy has given us a great tour of the place, and while he seems like a swell guy, there are three things that stick out here.

Consider it the Top 3 Vacation Rental Video No-No’s:

1. Take out the Bluetooth before filming. No call is important enough to ruin a good take.

2. Don’t flush the toilet. It conjures up memories of getaway weekends sabotauged by the likes of Jack Daniels.

3. Avoid bouncing on your bed. We’ll have trouble letting go of that image, and wonder what else has bounced there.

Good luck on your summer rentals, Ignacio. The Bonaventure has nothing on you.

A Building Wants to Be My Facebook Friend

solair

From the inbox:

Solair added you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know Solair in order for you to be friends on Facebook.

Actually, I don’t know Solair. In fact, there are very few buildings in Los Angeles that I consider friends. Do I accept the request, or ignore? This is a decision not to be taken lightly, as I do not want to hurt Solair’s feelings.

What would you do?