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Seriously, what about a tarp?

Melrose mini-mall is 20 years old -- and waiting for a little appreciation. Its time may never come.

January 29, 2005|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

Boldly '80s buildings, Hess says, stir up bad memories for California's current Democrat-majority culture. "The design proclaimed the shift to a very different, more Republican era, the Reagan revolution and its full-tilt celebration of excess. This building's mere existence criticized the '70s -- an era of limits and constraints -- by saying, 'We can have it all.' That's what today's blue state California mind-set still reacts against."

Jim Heimann, a graphic artist who's just completed editing "All-American Ads of the 80's" for Taschen, points out that design had moved beyond checkerboards, faux-Tuscan marble and classical pillars by 1985. "By that time," he says, "Postmodern Classicism had lost its luster."

The building was dated even when it opened.

And Schwartz thinks 8500 captures the worst elements of the 1980s. "It doesn't welcome you; it's imposing. It says, 'I've got lots of cash and you don't.' And 'I'm not trying to be anyone but myself.' That's very '80s, that narcissism. It doesn't even reference the street."

Despite the derision, some architectural authorities, and many preservationists, think 8500 Melrose could become historically important. Some even have a winking admiration for it.

"A lot of '80s stuff is purely exterior," says John English, a member of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee who helped save the oldest remaining McDonald's, in Downey. "But this was a total statement. It's a singular, ground-up building that exemplifies the era in color, materials and style. I think it will be worthy of preservation at some point."

Tastes change vastly with time, Heimann says. " '50s styles like Case Study houses were considered too severe and unfriendly in the '60s and '70s. There tends to be 20 or 30 years before we can get enough distance."

Sometimes it takes longer: The Victorian homes on Bunker Hill, he points out, were torn down around 1960 to build the Music Center, in part because they were considered ugly.

"There's a segment which says that architecture should be timeless, it will last for eternity," Hess says. "But that isn't what most of Los Angeles is about. It's timely -- most of it is about fashion, about what's popular.

"I'm interested in California continuing to be a generator of remarkable and fantastic architectural ideas. You get things which turn out to be controversial. But Los Angeles absolutely needs to encourage the expression of a variety of tastes."

Even some preservationists have mixed feelings.

Ritz, who went to elementary school across the street from 8500 Melrose when it was going up, says her classmates considered it garish even then.

"The only worthwhile use for it," she says now, "would be as an all-'80s souvenir shop."

Murrin, the architect, today admits he was a young man at the time, looking to make a mark. But he's proud of 8500 nonetheless.

"The client, an Iranian gentleman, basically said, 'I don't care what people say about it, as long as they talk about it,' " says the humble-sounding Murrin, adding with a laugh: "I'm glad that somebody still remembers it."

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