Day of the Bulldozer


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6500 N. Sepulveda

On N. Sepulveda Blvd., between Victory and Vanowen, three apartment projects are now underway.

At 6500 N. Sepulveda, the former site of the notorious Voyager Motel is completely cleared. It was a crack-y whorehouse of ill repute. But also a patriotically, quadrennially decorated neighborhood-voting place. It burned in a gratifyingly appropriate fire earlier this year.

The 53,382 square foot parcel is now void of anything natural or man-made. It is simply flat, vast and magnificently empty. It emulates Van Nuys, as it might have been in the late 1940s, when tracts of orange and walnut groves were bulldozed to make way for ticky-tacky houses and shopping centers.

An apartment is planned for this site. I don’t remember its design, but if it follows any of the other projects in Van Nuys it will come by way of big and boxy, designed by big and boxy men, near architects who also moonlight as junior builders, and amateur bankers. It will be three or four stories tall and cover every square inch of land. Parking will be provided in excess of what is needed because the most important feature of any project in Los Angeles is how many parking spaces are provided. We need more parking. And just a reminder: Please make sure there is parking. Everywhere.

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6500 N. Sepulveda

At 6536 N. Sepulveda, on 28,146 square feet, another apartment is going up. This is on that charming stretch of the street where new hookers walk and old couches come to die. Nightly helicopter patrols and pounding rap music enliven the air. A house was recently bulldozed here and gargantuan sized orange bulldozers now occupy the parcel.

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6536 N. Sepulveda

 

At 6725 N. Sepulveda Blvd, on 30,647 square feet, between Archwood and Lemay, another flat and modern multi-family is planned. This was the site of the low self-esteem Ridge Motel, whose police reports and trashy clientele attested to a level of service usually seen only in jails.

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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16
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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16

 

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6725 N. Sepulveda 10/24/16

The Ridge Motel, still a menace in its dying days, was kept behind security fencing, like King Kong in captivity. Its campy, catapulting roofline was somehow not in the sights of the LA Conservancy, whose members work tirelessly to preserve other historical buildings such as bowling alleys  in the San Gabriel Valley.

The rose-bushed, picket-fenced hood of working moms and worked-out fathers bordering these three Sepulveda Blvd. properties are relieved that some badness (and discarded condoms) has departed. Some see the Day of the Bulldozer as Saul saw Jesus. Sin cleansed by salvation.

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14827 Victory Blvd. 6/14/15 DEMOLISHED
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Vintage Auto Repair 6200 N. Kester Ave. 7/9/15 DEMOLISHED
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The oldest house in Van Nuys, once owned by the original developer, WIlliam Paul Whitsett, is cleared for condominiums. 6/7/07 DEMOLISHED

Bulldozers are like angels in Van Nuys. They are sent by the Good Lord to flatten and knock down anything standing in the way of new banality. Even when they are used to destroy history, they have a mission. They will bring, don’t you know, “jobs” and “opportunities” and “housing” to the San Fernando Valley.

We see the stuccofied greatness of our environment every day, along Vanowen, Sepulveda, and Van Nuys Boulevard. Someone, somewhere is surely looking out over all this destruction and construction, making sure that the architecture and the design enhances our landscape.

Or perhaps nobody is in charge. And we live in a kind of roulette table of a city, spinning a wheel and hoping that the building that lands next to us is a winner.

A Great Wall on Burbank.


“Building-to-street proportion is the relationship between the height of buildings on either side of a street and the width between those buildings. An ideal proportion between these two creates a pleasant and visually interesting public realm. The public realm, therefore, may be considered as an “outdoor room” that is shaped by 
the “walls” of the building heights and the “ floors” of the roadway.

Outdoor rooms with excessively wide roadways or short building heights tend to eliminate any sense of enclosure
 for the pedestrian.”
-Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision Design Guide, 2014

Our city, with its sprawling boulevards and speeding cars, is often cursed with roads way too wide for pedestrians. Think of six-lane Van Nuys Boulevard, bordered by one-story high buildings, and worse, parking lots.

In some areas of the city, like on Pico Boulevard and in Studio City along Ventura Blvd. planted islands with trees now break-up the wide asphalt. New “outdoor rooms” with a sense of enclosure and protectiveness emerge. These are deliberate and designed for upgrading ugliness.

But sometimes even an ongoing construction project can enlighten and transform a bleak stretch of formerly wide street monotony.

In North Hollywood, on Burbank Blvd. just east of Vineland, DWP has been tunneling and installing a new water delivery system.

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And along part of the route where a deep, underground hole was dug, DWP erected 20-foot high, wood and metal-framed walls. It has temporarily transformed the commercial district of that area by slicing the four-lane road into a two-lane and creating, along the sidewalk, a European type shaded alley.

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Work Area #12, as it is officially known, requires a pit to launch a tunnel-boring machine that will travel south, along Lankershim Blvd. for more than a mile. A new water pipeline will replace the aging 1940s infrastructure.

While the construction is going on, some streets have been closed off, which no doubt contributes to aggravation and inconvenience for some area residents and businesses. But the rerouting and reconfiguration has some pleasant side effects.

On Burbank Blvd. cars now stop twice, before proceeding slowly, down a narrow road whose borders are shaded by high walls and low buildings.

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On the western edge of the excavation, two tanks tower above the road, as if heralding a ceremonial gateway into the neighborhood.

And on the south side of the street, the high walls come right up to the sidewalk, creating a shady and meandering path alongside area businesses.

The gift of this unwelcome intrusion allows us to experience a different LA with traffic calming elements. What emerges? Less cars, slower drivers, shaded walkways; walled off from the exhaust fumes and the aggression of speeding motorists. Industrial construction materials in steel, wood and concrete function as street sculpture.

For the time being, a stretch of Burbank Boulevard is a living experiment in rezoning by accident.

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The Nowhere City Goes Somewhere


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Yesterday, near downtown Santa Monica, on a strangely cloudy and drizzly summer morning, I drove west, unintentionally, into blocked roads, past barriers and bulldozers.

Men were tearing down buildings, punching holes in plate glass windows and digging trenches.

The long winding humanitarian project known as the Expo Line had made its way from central Los Angeles, sweeping through Culver City, catapulting by bridge and track into West Los Angeles and finding itself and its destination next to the Pacific.

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The empty shell of Midas, a beautiful Spanish Revival structure, lay in ruins, a stomach full of bricks and wood, its ornate ornament ready for obliteration.

50 years ago, the novelist Alison Lurie wrote a novel, “The Nowhere City” set in some places along the soon-to-be-demolished houses in the path of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Yesterday, near downtown Santa Monica, I saw the sequel to that book.

After half a century, the Nowhere City Goes Somewhere: on foot and bike and rail.

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Moving Along at MacLeod’s.


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DSC_3744Things are moving along at 14741 Calvert Street in Van Nuys.

MacLeod (pronounced “mac-cloud”) Ale Brewing Company “a seven barrel production brewery with a tasting room” is in the midst of construction, with floors ripped open for pipes; and dirt, lumber, shovels and a lot of labor working hard to get this industrial space transformed into a functional operation by April.

Me and Andreas Samson stopped by yesterday, armed with cameras and curiosity, (and some guilt), as we stood next to men covered in dust and mud, shoveling dirt into trenches in preparation for next week’s concrete pour.

The owners are Scots born Alastair Boase and his wife, American Jennifer Boase, and the brewer is Andy Black. Beers will be British style.

1956: Construction of the San Diego Freeway


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In 2011, we are living amidst a big construction project on the San Diego Freeway which will add new lanes and which has also torn up vast sections of Westwood near Wilshire and Sunset along Sepulveda.

The USC Digital Archives has photographs of the 1956 beginnings of the San Diego Freeway, when bulldozers and explosives tore through the Sepulveda Pass and made it possible to eventually travel the nine miles from Encino to Westwood in less than two hours.