Coming soon

July 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

It must be five years since the Coffee Table, a beloved Silverlake eatery and gathering place on Rowena, was closed  and boarded up, victim of a developer’s scheme to install condos in its place. Eventually it was razed along with a ratty board and care facility and several storefronts; the 1.44 acre parcel then sat empty.

I’ve never thought of myself as one to nurse a grudge, yet every time I walked to Trader Joe’s past the lot devoid of all but opportunistic castor plants, I grumbled at how neighborhoods are forever at the mercy of someone with enough cash to rip the heart out of them.

coming soonTwo years ago, a sign appeared behind the property’s chain-link fence: “Coming soon! 29 Twenty, Exciting 2 & 3 Bedrooms, Contemporary Design.” A privately-held investment firm based in Miami, Fifteen Group, had acquired the land and stuck a deal with SoCal developer Van Daele Homes to build 33 townhouses (“townhomes” in real estate-speak).


“Soon” was a relative term; nothing happened at the site until March, IMG_16372014, when the city affixed notices to three mature shade trees–a Chinese flame and two jacarandas–announcing its intent to remove them for sidewalk widening. That got the attention of neighborhood residents, who countered with their own signs. More than a year later, the trees remain, though still under threat. The city has yet to set a hearing regarding their removal.

Earlier this year, construction finally began: workers graded the parcel, poured concrete slabs, and began work on a concrete retaining wall.








I’ve searched for the source of my annoyance with 29 Twenty: it starts with feeling that despite neighborhood councils and talk of civic engagement, in L.A., new developments happen to us, not because we decide what our neighborhood needs.

Silverlake is a desirable place to live. More families want in and those families need a place to live. I get that.

But why should Silverlake be an enclave for only the well-monied? Floor plans for these units show three-level, attached units from 1,356 to 2,275 square feet, two to three bedrooms,  2.5 or 3.5 bathrooms, and roof top decks. No prices have been listed for the Rowena project, but at Van Daele’s Morton Street development in Echo Park, comparable units start in “the low 800s.”

Both developments feature the glitz du jour: quartz counter tops, stainless-steel appliances, master suites, walk-in closets, multiple bathrooms–though no yards, community gathering spaces, or even green spots.

Los Angeles needs less glitz, more affordable housing, and more ways to build community. The Coffee Table at least gave us the latter; 29 Twenty strikes out on all counts.



Unclear on the concept

July 6, 2015 § 1 Comment

Got grass?

The L.A. Department of Water & Power and the Metropolitan Water District will pay you to get rid of it: $3.75 per square foot for the first 1,500 sq. ft, then $2 up to the maximum 3,000 sq. ft. A good deal for home owners and landlords who are tired of paying $4.83 for every hundred cubic feet of water (~750 gallons) to keep lawns green.

The one condition attached to the California Friendly® Landscape Incentive Program (yes, they’ve trademarked the term): Turf should be replaced with “water wise landscaping features.” Examples given are California-friendly plants, mulch, and permeable pathways. I’ve previously featured two exemplary Silverlake sites (here and here), completed when the rebate was a mere $1.50 per sq. ft.

turfNow comes Silverlake’s latest low-water entry: this multi-family dwelling on Armstrong Avenue. Its owner will get the rebate, I suppose, because the new landscaping technically meets the program’s requirements. It’s permeable and a rock lawn doesn’t need to be watered.

But a rock pile hardly adheres to the spirit of  “California Friendly.” Water wise plants not only use little water, they convert the sun’s rays into self-nourishment and exchange CO2 –the dominant greenhouse gas–for oxygen.

Instead of lowering temperatures as plants would, these rocks will absorb summer’s heat and radiate it long into the night, keeping ambient temperatures high. And unless these are very special rocks, they’re not going to supply us with oxygen.

Gentle Reader, let design-impaired neighbors know that if they want to conserve water, they can simply turn off their sprinklers. Tell them you’re okay with a brown lawn, which will, after all, revive during the next rainy season.

Even Ezekiel, however, could not revive this pile of dry rocks.

N.B. For a dry landscape alternative to Ye Olde Rock Pile, read this piece about Japanese kare-sansui by my friend Meher McArthur, Asian art historian/curator and blogger.

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