Rams 1, POTUS 0

January 19, 2016 § 1 Comment

The first Black president makes his final State of the Union address, and it’s spunky. He vigorously bats down Republican-peddled untruths about the economy, Muslims, national security, and foreign policy. He expresses regret at his inability to defuse the inter-party rancor that’s led to a Congressional logjam. He tells us to take care that our future workforce is well-educated and ready for technological challenges.

And how did our Newspaper of Record, the Los Angeles Times, report the President’s words? With a three-inch headline announcing that a professional football team will take up residence in Los Angeles. A story about the president’s address, meanwhile, was way down the page, below the fold.

LA Times

Granted, the SOTU story carried inside to a two-page spread–news reporting accompanied by an analytical piece—but with more than half the space taken up by photos.

The football franchise, in contrast, got two front page stories occupying two-thirds of that page. These continued inside with more column inches of text than the POTUS received.

Why do I even bother with the outrage?

The LA Times has been flailing about for years and not just because of massive changes in the media world. The decision by third and fourth-generation scions of the Otis-Chandler family, which had controlled the newspaper for 125 years, to sell off the business in a highly leveraged deal sent the paper into bankruptcy. Lay-offs, buy-outs, and other cost-cutting has resulted in far less actual news, fewer features, and enormous headlines and photographs to make up the deficit.

One of the photos placed with the football story exemplifies these dispiriting tendencies. Men decked out in team jackets, jerseys, and hats displaying a team flag, banner and even an enormous cut-out of the new team owner’s disembodied head were identified in the accompanying caption as “jubilant Rams fans.” Maybe some of the guys were locals excited about NFL’s return to L.A. but please don’t tell me they’ve been keeping all that gear in the closet for 20 years, waiting for the Rams to return. It was a pep rally equipped by team marketing managers, a non-event created for the media, which the Times reported as news.

Pretty shabby, no?


Movie mesa

December 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

Never thought I could put Gone with the Wind, nuclear waste, Spanish land grants, and the California red-legged frog together in a sentence without creating a string of non sequiturs.

Then I joined a hike into the Upper Los Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, a 3,000 acre section of the Santa Monica Mountains. Hollywood studios loved this area.


The rolling hills, grasslands, stands of valley oaks, and sycamore-bottomed canyons have stood in for the Crimea (Charge of the Light Brigade), the Great Plains (too many Westerns to name), and, yes, the Georgia ridgeline where Scarlett O’Hara raised her fist to the sky and swore she’d never be poor again.

groupMike Malone, a retired National Park Service ranger, led us up onto Lasky Mesa, named for Jesse Lasky, the early movie mogul who formed the partnership that became Paramount Studios.

LightBrigade  At film sites along the way. Mike augmented his informative briefings with enlarged movie stills and off-camera production candids.


Upper Las Virgenes was one small part of a 1795 land grant of more than 110,000 acres, stolen from the Chumash and Tongva nations who were its first inhabitants. Beginning in the 1960s, a succession of companies attempted to develop the land, meeting decades-long resistance from local environmentalists and open-space advocates.

Ultimately, the land’s proximity to the former-but-still-toxic Santa Susanna Field Laboratory site was the developer’s undoing. The closest extraction well to the proposed 3,000 luxury homes reportedly held traces of the solvent trichloroethylene that were more than 480 times federal limits.

It didn’t help that the area was home to that red-legged frog, the San Fernando Valley spineflower, and Southwestern willow flycatcher, all on state and/or federal threatened species lists.

In 2003, the final private landowner sold the property to the Santa Mountains Conservancy for a below-appraised price of $150 million, mostly paid by funds from California conservation bonds. The preserve was dedicated the following year.

Someday is Now

November 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

Two Ladies of a Certain Age were telling a clerk in the museum gift shop how they had been students at Immaculate Heart College when Sister Mary Corita taught there. “Oh yes,” she says, “we hear that a lot.”

someday is now It was the final day of Someday is Now: the Art of Corita Kent, a massive retrospective of the print-maker’s work at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Scores of visitors moved through the spacious gallery pausing to gaze at the large, colorful silkscreened prints. In one sheltered corner, a biopic of the artist, Primary Colors, played to a rapt, standing-room-only audience.

Like the Ladies, I, too, have a connection with Sister Corita, though more tangential and, perhaps, more complicated: From 1992 to 1995, I taught at Immaculate Heart College Center, the graduate-level successor to Immaculate Heart College, which closed in 1981. As a welcoming gift, I was presented with a framed Corita print and came to learn about the artist’s tenure with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic religious order.

Long before I came to Los Angeles, however, I knew Sister Corita’s art from the covers of Daniel Berrigan’s books, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine  among others, and, of course, the 1985 LOVE stamp she created for the U.S. Postal Service (at 700 million impressions, the most reproduced artwork ever).

Born as Frances Kent in Iowa at the end of WW I, she became Sister Mary Corita in 1936 when she joined the IHMs in Los Angeles. She graduated from Immaculate Heart College and began teaching there in 1947, but did not learn the silk screen process until 1951, as she worked on a master’s degree in art history at the University of Southern California.

 Someday is Now was heavily weighted towards Corita’s political serigraphs of Corita_Web_074_1024x1024the late 1950s and 1960s and the playful Alphabet and Circus prints from the period after she left religious life in 1968 until her too-early death in 1986.

Only a few of Corita’s early, distinctly religious works were displayed. This included one of her first prints, “The Lord is With Thee,” which surprised her by winning a first prize in printmaking at a 1952 juried LACMA exhibit. Another, based on the New Testament “wedding at Cana” story (John 2:1-11) reflects Corita’s association with a wide swathe of the artistic avant garde: She depicts First Century wedding guests seated in wire side chairs designed by noted mid-century modernists Charles and Ray Eames.

This lacuna left me wondering what kind of art Sister Mary Corita was making before she found serigraphy. And I thought about her in those pre-Vatican II days working in the college art studios in black habit and veil with stiff white wimple. How did she balance the demands of religious life with college teaching, lecturing, and art making? (With difficulty, apparently; her insomnia was legendary.)

Answers to those questions lie in the plethora of books about Corita and her art published this year: Someday is Now, the exhibition catalogue (already out of print); a biography by April Damman, Corita Kent: Art and Soul; and Corita Kent and the Language of Pop, a more scholarly examination that positions Corita within a wider artistic and social context.

Anothermothersunflowerlogo  This is as good a place as any to clarify that the iconic, Vietnam War era sunflower poster proclaiming, “War is not healthy for children and other living things,” was not the work of Corita Kent but another Los Angeles print maker,  Lorraine Schneider, who was active at the same time.

Both artists, however, donated their work and royalties to nonprofit organizations. Poster-sized reproductions of “War is not healthy . . .  “ can be ordered from Another Mother for Peace. Medallions, stickers, infant t-shirts, bumper stickers and embroidered patches also are available. You can peruse the large catalogue of Corita Kent’s work on the website of the Corita Art Center, maintained by the Immaculate Heart Community.

Stop shopping, start sewing!

October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

FFuniform This is what I knew about the woman calling herself Frau Fiber: She was a former East German garment worker who went around town showing people how to repurpose clothing, like turning an old dress shirt into an apron. At times she used a bicycle-powered sewing machine that she brought to the site by, yes, bicycle. Also that last year, she opened a store front in Long Beach that she called Institute for Labor Generosity Workers and Uniforms, ILGWU for short.* Oh, and that she usually showed up wearing a uniform made of reworked denim that looked not a little like the old Girl Scout leader’s uniform replete with self-designed, embroidered badges.

Though curious, I wasn’t able to catch up with die Frau until last month when I received notice that she would bring her Sewing Rebellion (Stop Shopping, Start Sewing!) to Atwater Village. She promised to show us how to construct a knock-off of an H&M jersey dress.

Thank You For ComingAt the appointed time and place, Thank You for Coming†, I arrived cradling my venerable Kenmore sewing machine with a cloth bag of bobbins, scissors, tailor’s chalk, etc. over my shoulder. There, in the flesh, was Frau Fiber along with three Faux Fraus, young women aides sporting the same denim cap as the echte Frau. The narrow work space slowly filled to capacity and the crowd was pleasingly diverse (though mostly women).

Frau FiberIn a high, breathy, unaccented voice, Frau Fiber showed us a finished dress, pointed us towards fabric and copies of a brown paper pattern, and set us to work. Amidst a mixed level of skills and multiple projects, die Frau was a calm center, patiently answering questions and, as needed, sitting at a participant’s machine to skillfully solve a problem.

Although required to take Home Economics throughout junior high school and having made a number of blouses, skirts, and dresses, I’m not a confident seamstress. I prefer knitting garments to sewing them. Which perhaps accounts for the fact that after tracing and cutting out the pattern, of the three seams I sewed before quitting time, I had to rip out two because I had sewn the wrong pieces together.

The biggest lesson of the night, however, was learning that Frau Fiber is actually the alter ego of Carole Frances Lung, a fashion activist with a B.F.A. and M.F.A. in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a member of the Fashion and Textiles faculty of CSU-LA’s Art Department. Her c.v. is five pages long, filled with lists of exhibitions, grants, artist residencies, and honors. And she’s from North Dakota, not East Germany.

It’s easiest to let Lung explain. Her artist’s statement says that she created Frau Fiber in 2006 as a former East German Garment worker, whose textile job was lost with the fall of the Berlin Wall. . . . Frau Fiber represents the Lost Generation of workers, who failed to assimilate to the new united Germany and never had the economic success of the communist times. Embodied in the uniforms she wears and context in which she appears, Frau Fiber transformed herself into a textile activist, drawing attention to the labor behind the label of the garments we wear. Her work is grounded in generosity, commemoration, and gestures of work.

Fiber art as cultural criticism and social activism sweetened with sly humor: just my cup of tea!

ILGWULung writes that she designed Frau Fiber’s various projects, such as the ILGWU and Sewing Rebellion, to deliberately expose the time, process, and labor that garment production requires. Using skills sharing and sewing instruction to foster micro-economies and provide an alternative to the global garment industry, asking participants to exchange their leisure time for production and mending of ones own textile and apparel goods. She reveals the collaborative aspects of piecework, and its ability to help create social bonds. These works are firmly connected to historical instances of organized labor, and are a vehicle to think about self-sufficiency, self-empowerment, communal experience and happiness in work, as well as a tool for fighting poverty and oppression.

I haven’t made much progress on the H & M knock-off since that night, but that’s okay. Frau Fiber said she’d be back and in the process I became reacquainted with my sewing machine, wondering for the Nth time, why I don’t get it out and plug it in more often, an inquiry die Frau would no doubt encourage.


*Readers of a certain age will recognize ILGWU as the acronym of the former U.S. needle trades union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, whose label had to be in any clothes my union-supporting parents would buy.

†Thank You For Coming: Yes, that’s the name of the store front restaurant cum art studio (or art studio cum restaurant) on Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village, just west of the railroad tracks. It will get its own blog post, just as soon as I figure out what it’s all about.



Mas amor, no mas dinero

October 1, 2015 § 1 Comment

Pop1For all the times I’ve walked by the exercise studio at Sunset and Golden Gate in Silverlake, I’d never registered that its grey walls resemble a blackboard. Sure, the wall would be tagged occasionally and, just as often, quickly painted over. But those were indecipherable, spray-painted territorial markings.

Then, last week, chalk inscriptions appeared, an unknown individual’s paean to peace, love/amor, and freedom that declared Silver Lake is “always & 4ever free” and “we don’t worship the almighty $.”Pop2

Lovely sentiments, especially given their location on the same block that’s recently undergone Santa Monica-fication.


Life’s little luxuries

September 8, 2015 § 1 Comment

Cbone sweet boneementing Silverlake’s downward slide into terminal gentrification, the space that once housed a laundromat in the strip mall at Sunset and Parkman is now Bone, Sweet Bone, outpost of a Studio City emporium by the same name. Those among us who lack en suite laundry facilities must look elsewhere, but canine companions need not go without. Daycare, grooming, food, and life’s little luxuries: This doggie boutique has it all.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of chichi on Silverlake’s strip of Sunset near the Junction has spread eastward to the block across from Millie’s. APC 2Summer brought a proliferation of shops of the kind that display one resplendent item per square yard amidst a forest of blonde wood shelving.

Gone are the smoke shop and computer repair guys. In their place, Detroit’s Shinola has brought its odd line-up (bicycles, watches, and pricey leather goods). Next to it, Aesop, from Australia, prossibly the world’s sole skin-care company with its own literary magazine, sells high-end body-pampering lotions and potions.Mollusk

Surf shop Mollusk, its proprietors apparently believing the Silverlake hills must shelter at least a few surfer dudes, rents next to Pop Physique.

APCA.P.C., beloved for its $250 skinny jeans,* displaced Dustmuffin, which was shoved further east to the cluster of small shops near Descanso Street.




In place of the mid-century furniture store, retrofuturesuper [sic] has taken up residence. Lady Gaga and Yoko Ono are known to buy the design firm’s high concept eyeglass frames.

More changes are taking place two blocks away, where Heywood, A Grilled Cheese Shoppe, closed in the spring. (I marvel that it survived four years in that location serving only variations on bread and melted cheese at $10 to 14 a plate.) AYet another coffee bar will open in its place, despite being less than 100 yards from Muddy Paw, Muddy Pawthrowback to an earlier era, with its fair trade brews and and donations to pet rescue charities.


I feel the need to point out that in the block between these stores selling goods no one really needs at top dollar prices lies Micheltorena Elementary School. Micheltorena’s entire student body—roughly 300 pupils—qualifies for free breakfast and lunch.

A bit of relief from this press of hipster chic comes, surprisingly, from Diablo, the bar/eatery that pushed out family-owned La Parrilla. Diablo originally touted itself as an “Urban Taco Fabricator.” DiabloNo, really; it used to say so on the outside of the building, right underneath it’s red-on-black name. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that its pretentious tagline has been quietly painted out.

Sometimes, things do get better.


* To give you a sense of the high regard in which these garments are held, I quote from a Yelp posting by Tyler B. of NYC: These jeans are everything. Seriously, APC makes the best jeans. Never in my life have I had a pair of jeans I’ve adored so much. I’ve been through them all in my life, back in the day I liked Sevens, True Religions and Rock & Republic, you know, jeans that were trendy and loved ONCE UPON A TIME, NOW THEY MAKE ME SICK TO MY STOMACH. I’d rather be a fucking homebody and never show my face in public then wear fucking True Religion, gross. Since then I have tried other designer jeans and I never LOVED them, I never have had a pair of jeans that I truly adored, that truly fit me perfectly and showed my perfect legs…UNTIL A.P.C.

These jeans are so necessary, words really can’t describe. I bought my first pair and the next day went back to the store for more. They mold to your body, you will look amazing as long as you’re not like 300 pounds…actually maybe even then you’ll be okay because these jeans are THAT good.

A modest introduction to an august institution

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

As the result of a recent visit, I can unequivocally state that among the many prestigious cultural institutions in our region, the Museum of Jurassic Technology ranks in the top tier.

Created in 1984 by David Hildebrand Wilson as a series of traveling exhibits, the MJT established a permanent home on Venice Boulevard in Culver City c. 1988, its distinguished collection slowly growing over the years to now encompass multiple galleries on two floors.

Mr. Wilson has modeled his institution on kunstkammeren of by-gone eras: “cabinets of wonder” that learned men created for study and edification. The MJT’s focii, as with those earlier  accumulations, are natural history and technology, though it does not limit its reach to a specialized audience.

As a Museum document succinctly states:

Like a coat of two colors, the Museum serves dual functions. On the one hand, the Museum provides the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological quality. On the other hand, the Museum serves the general public with a hands-on experience of ‘life in the Jurassic.” 

Mr. Wilson has revivified the kunstkammer with professional installations and documentation. Displays situate objects in context-setting dioramas with ample and erudite explanations. The Museum even makes use of advanced Anthropocene technology, such as recorded lectures accessed via telephone handsets.

To his credit, Mr. Wilson has avoided excesses of earlier kunstkammeren, which often gave prominence to the disturbingly deformed and freakish. The MJT presents only uplifting phenomena that, while perhaps strange, add to the sum total of human knowledge about the remarkable world in which we live. A hushed atmosphere throughout the galleries indicates the wonderment and appreciation with which visitors regard its treasures.

As one example of how the Museum makes material accessible, consider the diorama detailing the search for Myotis lucifugus, endemic to the Tripsicum Plateau of the circum-Caribbean region of northern South America. It tells the story of how, during a sojourn among the indigenous peoples of the region, the Dozo, an American ethnographer named Bernard Maston in 1872 heard from locals about a tiny creature with the capacity to fly through solid objects (hence, its colloquial name: Deprong Mori, or Piercing Devil).

Decades later, the eminent chiroptologist Prof. Donald R. Griffith would discover Maston’s notes and, working on the hypothesis that the Deprong Mori was most likely a bat, mounted an eight-month expedition to track this hitherto unknown representative of the Order Chiroptera. In a truly brilliant bit of field work, Prof. Griffith determined that Myotis lucifugus, like all bats, relied upon echolocation for maneuvering, but that its sonar used ultraviolet wavelengths! Furthermore, though the Deprong Mori proved elusive, slipping through nets as easily as it did walls of Dozo huts, Griffith and his dedicated team devised the means to capture and preserve what no one had heretofore been able to lay hands on.

These and other fascinating elements of Prof. Griffith’s singular discovery are illuminated, quite literally, in synchronization with the accompanying narrative.

The museum employs this son et lumiere technique to great effect in the Delani/Sonnabend Halls, which explore the serendipitously intertwined lives of Wilhem Sonnabend, his son Geoffrey, and Madalena Delani, child of Rumanian immigrants who became a world-renowned soprano despite being afflicted with Korsokoff Syndrome, which restricted her short-term memory.

The affecting installation presents gripping details of the efforts of Sonnabend père, a German emigre to Argentina and structural engineer, who oversaw an attempt to bridge Iguazu Falls at its widest and most thunderous point, Garganta del Diablo. Weather-wracked and destroyed before completion, via holography the bridge can nonetheless be viewed as if completed, a stunning accomplishment.

There is much more revealed about subsequent engineering accomplishments of the elder Sonnebend, but it is mere prologue to the magisterial work of Sonnabend fils: his three-volume Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter, the formulation of which was triggered by a performance of romantic lieder sung by Madalena Delani!

I will let you discover for yourselves how the serpentine intertwining of personalities and location brought this about; what is important to know is that the museum does a great service by presenting an encapsulation of Geoffrey’s theories, credited to one Valentine Worth–not an easy thing to do! If this alone were the museum’s sole exhibit, visitors would be amply rewarded.

But there is more—much, much more guaranteed to expand one’s worldview, so that by the time visitors make their way through the portrait gallery of canine cosmonauts to the final, sunlit room at the front of the second floor, one is ready for the glass of graciously-offered tea and tray of cookies, both complimentary.

As if that were insufficient, just a few steps away a rooftop cloister and garden awaits, providing visitors with an opportunity to contemplate the extraordinary things just witnessed, soothed by gentle cooing of white doves that nest on the rooftop. If you are fortunate, Mr. Wilson himself may be present playing one of his renaissance instruments.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is open Thursday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $8, unless you are over 60, a student, or unemployed, in which case you pay $5. Children under 12 are free.

These modest prices are yet another indication how eager are Mr. Wilson and the Museum’s patrons that everyone be able to take advantage of the great, arcane knowledge stored within the MJT’s walls.


As an introduction to David Hildebrand Wilson and the Museum of Jurassic Technology, consider perusing a copy of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler. Published in 1995 by Pantheon, the book is out of date yet manages to impart a flavor of what you will find in the actual Museum.

A Song for the Genius Child

August 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

When the Library Foundation’s ALOUD lecture series announced it would present Langston_Hughesexcerpts from Langston Hughes’ Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, I made reservations immediately.

A lengthy and dense work, Ask your Mama is a scream of a poem—Hughes wrote the entire piece with the caps lock on—a phantasmagorical journey through centuries of injustice, brutality, suffering. Sadly, it never received the full multi-media treatment envisioned by Hughes before he died in 1967.

Then, late in the ‘00s, composer Laura Karpman, in collaboration with soprano Jessye Norman and neo-soul/rap group The Roots, created a fully orchestrated production that premiered at Carnegie Hall and later played to sell-out crowds at the Hollywood Bowl and Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

Earlier this month, Avie Records released a studio recording of “Ask Your Mama” featuring soprano Janai Brugger. She joined the composer on stage at the Central Library to reprise sections of the work. Victoria Kirsch accompanied on piano along with bassist David Young; Taura Stinson provided additional vocals as Karpman led the capacity audience on a tour through her production.

I harbor more than a casual interest in Langston Hughes.


Picture the year: 1963.

Picture the place: an insular small town built of red brick and prejudice

Picture me: ninth-grader, recent transplant, outsider.

Hughes came into my life through the grace of older siblings and the nonchalance of liberal parents who encouraged me to read anything, as long as it wasn’t Nancy Drew. In him I found a companion in outsiderness, an otherness that bound us together and, paradoxically, kept us apart. For both, I remain deeply grateful.

With warp and weft of words, Hughes wove magic carpets that didn’t take me away from  the pain of not-belonging but into its belly, transforming distress into art.

This is a song for the genius child.

Sing it softly for the song is wild.

Sing it softly as ever you can—

Lest the song get out of hand.

Abandoned as a child, first by his father and then his mother, Hughes wrote lines that pulsed with loneliness, yet also with hope. He stood in the mire “seeking the stars,” as one of his poems attests. His life and literature abounded with dreams deferred and opportunities seized.

At 19 he left college from the strain of Ivy League racial prejudice. As a 23-year-old bus boy, he shyly, and slyly, slipped his poems to a noted littérateur in a hotel dining room and got his photograph in newspapers across America.

Nobody loves a genius child

Can you love an eagle,/ Tame or wild?/ Wild or tame, 

Can you love a monster / Of frightening name?

I alway knew I was an eavesdropper, an interloper, listening to Hughes across the chasm of America’s racial divide. Harlem rent parties, Parisian jazz bands, dark virgins and red stockings, daybreak in Alabama: This was not my world. I might imagine myself a kindred spirit, but the reality of being “Negro” in America was as far from me as the surface of the moon. Through Hughes, I learned about that reality: the lives of domestics and elevator “boys,” sharecroppers and urban party-goers. He introduced me to the Harlem Renaissance, Crispus Attucks, be-bop, lynching, and Jim Crow laws. He pulled back the curtain on a different world and I marveled, albeit from afar.

Nobody loves a genius child.

Kill him—and let his soul run wild!

Hughes plowed literary ground for me so that, when the time came, I could hear James Baldwin and Richard Wright and, too many years later, Zora Neale Hurston, his one-time friend and collaborator. Because of his conscientious words and phrasing, I would read, admire, and even dare to teach Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, bell hooks, Audre Lorde.

It all goes back to the Hughes, who addressed the alienation of a 14-year-old white girl, separated by race, a half-century in age, and a literary era long since passed. My affection for Langston Hughes was improbable—and yet, there it was and has remained.

Thank you, Mr. Genius Child.

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.