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.



A new heaven; same old earth

July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments


Silverlake living is yours in the height of contemporary tri-level townhomes with a rare sophistication in luxury and style. Lavishly appointed residences offer 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, offices, stunning roof top terraces and square footage ranging from approximately 1,243 to 1,910. You are minutes from downtown and everything that is happening. Follow life’s directions to a new experience . . .

A writer got paid for coming up with this bit of promotional fluff, which, as a member of the National Writers Union, ought to make me happy. To the contrary, my teeth hurt reading such drivel, particularly as it describes a condo development in my neighborhood.

Nebulous, and a more potent signifier for being so, “Silverlake living” hints at more than just “residing in the neighborhood of Silverlake.” “Silverlake living” is now a commodity, a desirable thing that can be bought and sold. “Silverlake” used this way is not a place on Earth, a neighborhood with tangible houses, streets, trees, coyotes, and people but an adjective modifying “living.”

Lacking explicit meaning, “Silverlake living” becomes a repository for whatever potential residents might desire: a residence close to the Meadow and Griffith Park; good schools; relative safety; high resale value because of all the foregoing. Regardless of what ownership might in reality entail, and the high tension lines running across the property are nowhere mentioned, this fill-in-the-blanks ad-speak offers everything and nothing.

More than mere habitation, these condos, the developers suggest, will endow their owners with a certain cachet, a social significance that bestows identity on residents—-but will their lives as actually-lived define what “Silverlake living” consists of?

According to the copywriter, residents will acquire sophistication and style, along with a lavish and luxurious home. They will be close to downtown—which could mean Disney Hall, Bunker Hill offices, or clubs like The Edison, but not, presumably Skid Row—and “everything that is happening,” a promise of cosmic proportions.

I don’t imagine that the “life directions” we’re urged to follow are our moral compass, or urgings of conscience, social concern, or revolutionary zeal, but the lemming flow of perceived hipness and nonconformist conformity. This “new experience,” the website intimates, will elevate us above the hoi polloi, or, failing that, at least be new, the true marker for American exceptionalism.

And what have the site’s developers christened their project? The perfect ad-speak appellation: Latitudes, a word suggesting “scope for freedom of action or thought.” The designation insinuates that wherever you live now, you are constrained, prevented from reaching  heights you know you deserve to inhabit. Move to Latitudes and an expansive life awaits you.

Back in the day, only religions offered these kinds of pie-in-the-sky inducements. Tri-level townhomes, it appears, are the new Paradise.

Unclear if pearly gates are part of the package.

Under the sign of the dove

May 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Eat. Meet. Shop. Do Good.

It’s the motto of  Mercado La Paloma, where you can, well, do all those things.

Eat food from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Thailand or have a  good ol’ American burger.

Meet friends, pull a few tables together, and have a leisurely meal or rent the mercado’s community room.

Shop for gifts from Oaxaca or the Yucatan, get a garment altered, buy insurance or groceries.

Do good because the mercado is a project of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation and serves an incubator for new businesses and a bit of economic development for the Figueroa Corridor south of downtown.

The second floor of the building is home to half-a-dozen nonprofits, including the Program for Torture Victims, which produced We Are Here.

Esperanza was founded by one of those remarkable women drawn to Roman Catholic religious orders who do so much good work: Diane Donoghue, MSW, a Sister of Social Services.

IMG_2863But you don’t need to know all this to enjoy the wonderful food at Chichen Itza, the mercado’s Yucatan restaurant where we ate recently. My mouth waters as I remember the pollo pibil, chicken marinated in achiote, sour orange juice and spices, then cooked in banana leaves.

“Honey, let’s eat at Mercado La Paloma tonight. I’m hungry.”


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