The Cranky Preservationist: Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon The Wheel (episode 18)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters. Episode Eighteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 800 block of South Mariposa, where he is horrified to discover that the row of endangered early 20th century apartments that he came to celebrate are at this very moment being reduced to rubble by a guy driving an excavator. Nathan laments his failure to properly document a lost slice of classic Los Angeles and urges concerned Angelenos to hop to it when they see those green demolition fences go up, whether it’s with their camera, a pry-bar or by protesting, landmarking and electing better public servants so our beautiful city stays that way.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

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The Cranky Preservationist: The Battle of Normandie (episode 17)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.  

Episode Seventeen finds Nathan in the Byzantine-Latino District, aka Pico Heights, deeply troubled to find half a long block of early 20th Century bungalows and apartments boarded up behind razor wire, pending demolition for an upzoned Transit Oriented Communities project. Nathan laments the loss of green space, setbacks and neighborhood character, fails to charm a doggie, snickers at the disingenuous claim of developer-funded Sacramento pol Scott Wiener that single family homes are somehow “racist,” and reminds his fans to put on a sweater already.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned! 

1517-23 W. 8th St.

They won’t be happy until every shingled building in Los Angeles is gone. I mean, they’re kind of obsessed with them. They who? Everybody. Both sides of the political spectrum. Social engineers on their path of well-intentioned apocalypse in concert with the developers who play them for useful idiots, that’s who. I honestly don’t care who. Just stop tearing down all the wooden houses already.

The surface lot next to the Adelphia (Leonard A. Cook, 1913), and two adjoining single family homes, is to be built upon with a TOC project developed by the Nemans.

1521; 1523, left, behind the tree
Poor Adelphia, tallest thing on the block for 107 years, now to have a seven-story building gleefully five-foot side yard all jammed up against your windows

It’s unclear when these two were built; the Assessor doesn’t list build dates and they’re not on DBS, which places them pre-1905. 1521 West 8th is listed as a fine six-room house for rent “to responsible party with references” in November 1902; it is soon occupied by Edward A. Geissler, Vice President of the George J. Bickel Company, who stays through 1906.

Also in the early years of the century, its neighbor 1523 was taking in boarders, and by 1906 you could go to an auction of all their nifty stuff:

Same old story: developers replace two large houses with a piddly few low-income units, and’re therefore given carte blanche to build tall and dense with no open space, and God forbid you have a car

Some will argue, but these aren’t that good. Or important. But I want you to remember them. Because soon there won’t be any of them. There will be nothing but eighty-foot boxes with no open space—just like this project—because that’s what y’all voted for with your Measure JJJ, bless your little hearts.

4201 S. Crenshaw/3600 W. Stocker

Down on Crenshaw there’s The Liquor Bank, which is my kind of place to make a withdrawal. And appropriately named because it is, in fact, an old bank. Look closely, see the ship on the sign pylon?—that’s the USS Portsmouth, erstwhile symbol of Bank of America. (San Francisco B of A founder Amadeo Giannini was enamored of the Portsmouth, as it had secured his city-by-the-bay for America during the Mexican War.)

This Bank of America was built in 1949 and designed by Raymond Raleigh Shaw AIA, with William D. Coffey, Consulting Structural Engineer. Raymond Shaw is best known for his 1920s designs, like the Pacific Southwest Building and San Joaquin Light & Power, both in Fresno.

Shaw did some number of Bank of America branches; he altered the exterior of the B of A in Beverly Hills on Wilshire in 1948 (although that was subsequently redesigned again in 1963 in New Formalist/Brutalist style by Sidney Eisenshtat—which after being deemed eligible for listing on the National Register, was dutifuly torn down by Metro as part of the subway extension). Here is a 1951 example of a Shaw B of A at 8501 Pico—

Still standing, and still a Bank of America, but do yourself a favor and don’t go on Google Streetview to see what’s become of her
Getty

Shaw designed banks across the southland through the 1950s, but received his largest commission when he was hired, again using Coffey as engineer, to produce the Corporate Modern Banco Hipotecario in San Salvador in 1958. He retired soon after and died in 1967.

In any event, back to our pal at Crenshaw and Stocker: it’s 1949, and 1949 was smack in the thick of the Great Age of the Late Moderne. Late Moderne was born to Southern California and defines Southern California as well as—no, better than—any other architectural style. What is this Late Moderne, you ask? The sleekness of Streamline, and the ribbon-window rectangularity of International style, melded in the late 30s, and flowered in the mid-40s, to produce a new vernacular. You know it when you see it: warm materials form large simple volumes locked in asymmetrical sculptural compositions, with irregular angles and curves, punctuated by certain ornamental motifs—egg crate sun shades, grills, bezeled windows, tapered and punctured fins, canopies, and of course large sign pylons with bold neon. Well, that’s a lot of words; it’s those buildings what look like this.

The style was short-lived, though, as Modernism went another way and the likes of Lautner and Eames and Armét & Davis began to explore the structural expressionism of trusses and cantilevers. Thus every Late Moderne is a treasure, and some are preserved, like Wayne McAllister’s Bob’s Big Boy, while some just hang on, like Stiles Clements’s Windsor Hills Shopping Center, yet some are criminally demolished, like Clements’s Mullen & Bluett.

In any event, Shaw’s bank is not long for this world. Or at least what’s left of it; in all honesty, half of it has already been removed. As you can see, the structure once ran all the way to the corner, but had a chunk of its front removed in September 1976 when it became a liquor store, and Liquor Bank hired Van Nuys architect Andrew F. Gutt to design a new facade.

via USC Digital Archives

What I find additionally sad about losing this cool pylon-sign is that it’s just down the street from one of the great pylon-signs in all Los Angeles, the 1947 Albert B. Gardner/Edward W. Carter-designed Broadway Department Store, which has the greatest Moderne façade that ever was. Read more about the Crenshaw Broadway here and here. Fortunately, the Broadway and A. C. Martin’s May Company are being worked into the mall’s current redevelopment (ten-story office tower; eight-story, 400-room hotel; thousand condos and apartments; the whole bit). If Capri Capital can work those historic buildings into their mall redevelopment, maybe developer Axiom will incorporate the Liquor Bank!

Uh, probably not. Let’s take a look at another one of Axiom’s projects, just up the road at 3831 Stocker. This was a hospital built by Lester M. Morrison in 1953, using architects Riener C. Nielsen and Gene E. Moffatt. Axiom has razed everything and it’s to be 127 market rate units (or so says their website; according to this, though, they’re only allowed 74 units even with the density bonus).

The firm of Nielsen & Moffatt designed all over the southland and opened an Oakland office in 1959. They specialized in hospitals, medical-clinical buildings, homes for the aged, and similar institutions
Ooo, check out the concrete sunscreen
Gosh, didn’t even leave a tree
I suppose we can expect something vaguely like this for the Liquor Bank site

Postscript—if you dig Late Moderne and want to learn more, no, there isn’t a book about it, and yes, there should be. Best I can do is point you to here where you may read about Late Moderne in general (pp. 36-37) and the great Rowland Crawford in particular (pp. 43-46; see accompanying images on pp. 70-81.) More importantly, there is a book that discusses Late Moderne, and better yet, in relationship to its rarely-studied expression in residential construction. I can’t recommend it enough, and you should buy it now.