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Sam Hall Kaplan

The Design for Living in Los Angeles

October 04, 1986|Sam Hall Kaplan | Kaplan writes a column in the Real Estate section on Sundays. and

Los Angeles' diverse and diverting design seems to glisten and glimmer, beckon and beguile, and fascinate and infuriate just a little bit more on weekends.

With most people putting work aside for the two days and the traffic easing, it is a time when one can explore with relative ease the shifting shape of the cityscape and its architecture, the persevering historic landmarks and the purposeful new ones, and generally the scenes that lend Los Angeles its verve.

Of course, for me as a design critic, it is work, albeit engrossing work--for one of the wonderful things about Los Angeles is its propensity for change. A problem is trying to keep up with it.

Sometimes it appears to me as I wander across the landscape that every day a new Los Angeles is born; a city of constant surprises and paradoxes, a brash, energetic, eccentric conglomeration.

Though historians may take exception, I am convinced it was not accidental that the automobile culture, the movie and aerospace industries, and Disneyland took root in and around Los Angeles, and that almost every conceivable, and a few inconceivable, fads and fashions have at some time or other sprouted in its consenting climate and spirit.

Certainly its architecture reflects this spirit. On select blocks in the Los Angeles region one can see everything from simple adobes, overwrought bungalows and stylized ranch houses to florid Victorians, sprawling Spanish Colonials, contentious French chateaux, curious Georgians, sleek moderns, and all sorts of eclectic and neo-eclectic experiments.

Such an encyclopedic range of structures can be found, among other places, north of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, where on weekend mornings I usually take my 1 1/2-year-old son, Josef, and my faithful English bull terrier, Max, for long walks.

While I try to decipher the architectural styles, Max tends to be more interested in the landscaping, and Josef the battered toys in the scattered garage sales.

Another area good for sales and architecture on weekends is West Hollywood, in particular Havenhurst Drive between Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards. Among the varying apartment buildings, there are the striking courtyard complexes designed in a flamboyant Spanish Colonial Revival style by Arthur Zwebell in the 1920s, and still attractive today.

And then a few blocks south is Melrose Avenue and its marvelous mix of punk, modern and Moderne-styled stores and shops, pulsating.

But walking along the serendipitous street, one wonders how much nicer it would be if the city and county did not narrow the sidewalk as was done a few years ago, and there was more room to stroll, for sidewalk cafes, and for landscaping. It certainly would have made it easier to push a stroller there.

We left the stroller outside and had to carry Josef into the landmark Storer House a few weekends ago for a reception there to benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy. Though it was obvious that when Frank Lloyd Wright designed the textile block structure in 1923 he did not have children in mind, the tour of the house tucked away in the Hollywood Hills was fascinating. Wright's rich Los Angeles legacy perseveres.

But this Saturday morning we will be walking south of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, where we live, collecting signatures on a petition for the 20th Street Alley Safety Committee to get the city to do something about the cars that use the alley as a through street.

The alley also is used by children for skateboarding and by adults to wash cars, walk dogs and exchange greetings and gossip. Indeed, it is the alley and not the traditional sidewalk that has become a focus of the neighborhood, and is now threatened by careening cars.

Once the ink dries on the petition, it is off to another spirited neighborhood, this one in Manhattan Beach for the annual arts and crafts fair there, to eat lunch, browse and perhaps take a peek at some of the new beach houses.

Maybe there also will be time to drive a few miles south to Torrance to tour a new Tower Records store there designed by a New York-based architectural firm, Buttrick White & Burtis. From the photographs of the plans of the building sent to me it looks as if the flashy, freestyle structure might be fun.

I want to get there soon, before the store and the style fades, as some designs do when basking in the sun too long. One must move quickly in Los Angeles to keep up with change, if not perhaps stay ahead of it.

Having a child in a stroller, and having a weekend to push it, helps.

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