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Contrarians at the Gates Go to Some Heights to Make a Point

An artists group puts up 'viewing platforms' outside exclusive residential enclaves.

April 26, 2005|Bob Pool and Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writers

Ten-foot-tall "viewing platforms" erected outside three gated communities are showcasing one Los Angeles group's social viewpoint.

Guerrilla artists have erected gaudy, orange-painted towers next to the fences of private neighborhoods in Brentwood, the Fairfax district and Los Feliz to protest what they say is a proliferation of private, gate-guarded residential enclaves.

But passersby on Monday were having trouble figuring out what the protest was about.

In Los Feliz, Laughlin Park resident Ilana Martin initially thought the platform outside her gates was something left behind by a tree-trimming crew or oversized trash left at the curb by one of her neighbors. When told what it actually was, she remained puzzled.

"I'm all for liberal ideas and liberal causes," she said. "But I think there are better causes."

Members of Heavy Trash, a group that describes itself as an "anonymous arts organization of architects, designers and urban planners," said they placed the towers Sunday to "provide visual access to parts of the city that have been cut off from the public domain." They said the wood-framed observation posts were meant to be reminiscent of makeshift structures used by Westerners to peer over the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.

The structures are not the group's first social protest. In 2000, a series of official-looking "Future Subway Station Site" signs outlining the fictional route of the "Aqua Line" between Los Angeles and Santa Monica drew attention to inadequate public transit through wealthy areas.

In 1997, the group installed a one-ton stairway into fenced-off Triangle Park at Santa Monica Boulevard and Bundy Drive to ridicule the park's lack of public access.

Those protests met with a certain amount of amused befuddlement -- as did the group's latest effort.

Valerie Milano, another Laughlin Park resident, dismissed the gated-community protest as "silly" and the platform as "an eyesore" that her 86-home neighborhood association will take care of.

Outsiders can easily look into her neighborhood through the wrought-iron, electrically operated gate, Milano said. "We're not doing anything in here that you can't see."

Passerby Karen Heckler, a writer, was puzzled that only the artists' website was stenciled on the tower. "If they're trying to make a statement, why didn't they put up some sort of explanation? How can it be a commentary if you don't know what it is?" she asked.

In Brentwood, residents of the 67-family Brentwood Circle neighborhood beneath the Getty Center condemned the looky-loo aspect of the tower erected at Sunset Boulevard and Gunston Drive.

Anyone climbing its five ladder-like steps could look into one homeowner's leafy backyard and another's frontyard.

At the Brentwood Circle gatehouse, security guard Tony Thompson said complaints had rolled in and action was being taken.

"It's going to be taken down," he promised. "This is crazy. I've worked here eight years and this is a first."

The 3rd Street sidewalk where the third tower stood was filled with shoppers, mothers pushing baby strollers and those headed for the nearby Grove shopping center.

Security guards at the 525-unit Palazzo at Park La Brea apartment complex inspected the tower, from which rental-unit patios and balconies could be viewed.

"It's horrible," said tenant Yasmin Than, an actress. "Isn't that illegal?"

Passerby Wesley Connelly, an artist who lives in North Hollywood, praised the tower's workmanship.

"Look, no slivers. Whoever built it took pains to do it right," he said, rubbing his hand along one of its well-sanded hand grips.

Members of Heavy Trash, who reproduced detailed platform construction plans on their website, said in their statement that gated communities are the fastest-growing form of housing in the United States.

At the minimum, they said, all gated neighborhoods should be open to pedestrians, something that would work "to make neighborhoods safer, friendlier and livelier."

That, at least, is the viewing-platform artists' view.

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