Crest Apartments




One of the best buildings in Los Angeles has opened in one of the least likely locations.

Crest Apartments, 13604 Sherman Way, is a $20 million dollar, 45,000 s.f.,  64-unit apartment for the Skid Row Housing Trust. It is east of Woodman Av.

It provides special needs support for the chronically homeless as well as veterans. Social services and a federally supported health clinic are part of the complex.

Architect Michal Maltzan designed a five story tall, tautly elegant building. Rising subtly from its garish surroundings of motels, billboards, discarded furniture, speeding cars and urban decay, Crest Apartments is a crisp, all-white façade with no signage and no ornamentation.


Mr. Malzan has experience designing many lauded buildings, including another homeless project near downtown, New Carver Apartments, which has received many awards.

There is irony in the fact that an exquisite, understated and artful building will now house a marginalized group of people.

The Crest Project is but a drop in the bucket of solutions to the appalling and obscene homelessness afflicting our city.

In a better nation, morality, money, architecture and the public good would join hands to build a more humane and aesthetic city. But reality favors bluster, bravado and bragging.

Some of the ugliest housing in Van Nuys and greater Los Angeles is still going up for those who feign affluence and success.


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 RV Encampment

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 11.51.53 AMParked along Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood, on the east side of the park, between Magnolia and Riverside, a remarkable new residential community of homeless people has been established in a line of permanently parked RVs.

Visible and egregious, with their reflective cardboard stuffed inside windshields to cool down the metal houses in the summer sun, these faded and rusted motor homes are testament, depressing and sobering, to the high cost of housing in Los Angeles and the inability of so many to find a suitable and safe place to live.

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I walked along here today and photographed some 15 vehicles where people live.

In front of one, a woman and two men were in lawn chairs, sitting in the shade. The lady asked me, in a friendly way, why I was photographing and I told her it was for my blog.

“I’m homeless. We’re all homeless,” she said.

And I told her I knew that. And I also said I was photographing these four-wheeled residences to let others know how their fellow human beings were forced to live.

“God bless you,” she said.

And I continued my walk.

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“This is the club where Bing Crosby belongs….”

Picking Olives Front

Some of the enormous, picturesque, and historic postcard collection amassed by Tommy Gelinas and his Valley Relics has passed through my hands.

The San Fernando Valley, only 100 years ago a largely agricultural area, dotted with newly established towns, became the fastest growing part of the United States in the 15 years after WWII.

Postcards from visitors who passed through here; visited olive groves, rode streetcars through vast planted lands, absorbed all the sunshine, boosterism and hucksterism of that time; radiate in words and pictures.

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Around 1910, Pacific Electric advertised a 101-mile-long, one-day trolley trip for one dollar. “The Scenic Trolley Trip” visited 10 beaches and 8 cities.

“Paralleling the mountains from Los Angeles to the ocean, then 36 miles along the Seashore. Parlor Car; Reserved Seats, Competent Guides. FREE ATTRACTION-Admission to largest Aquarium on Pacific Coast; Ride on the LA Thomspon Scenic Railway at Venice; Admission to Camera Obscura, Santa Monica.”

It sounds thrilling.

And imagine, men in suits and women in long dresses riding all day in wool coats, felt and feather hats, with many layers of undergarments, not even an ankle exposed.

Tower Motor Front

Thirty or so years later, the Tower Motor Hotel at 10980 Ventura Blvd in Studio City was smartly streamlined with gas pumps in front, steam heat and air-cooled rooms.

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Bing Crosby, who lived in Toluca Lake, was the most successful singer of the 1930s. A postcard sent from a fan who visited Lakeside Golf Club near Mr. Crosby’s home wrote: “I’ve seen him playing two mornings this week.”


A 1930s view of Van Nuys, along Sylvan Street, towards the Valley Municipal Building, shows diagonally parked cars and a “Safeway” store.

On another postcard, showing the Encino Country Club, a Model T is parked under a shady oak in a verdant landscape of hills and orange trees.


It may be too much to extrapolate truth and fact from these postcards. They were advertisements for businesses, meant to promote and sell.

But my heart tells me that Encino, Van Nuys and the rest of the Southland were magical back then.




Foley’s Donuts and North Hollywood (via Japan and Vancouver)

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On a recent visit to Vancouver, I met a naturalized Canadian named Christopher Foley, who by coincidence comes from a family that settled into the San Fernando Valley in the early 1930s. Chris lived in both the SFV and San Francisco and later emigrated to British Columbia.

He showed me, in his digital scrapbook, some fascinating old pictures.

His grandfather, a movie photographer, had moved from West Virginia in the early 1930s to work in the studio system.  Later on, the family opened up a donut shop in North Hollywood called, not surprisingly, “Foley’s”.

His mom, actress Mary Foley, played a band member in “Some Like it Hot” (1959/Dir. Billy Wilder) which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

His father served in Japan after World War II, and I asked Chris for these fantastic images of his dad and people in that country.

Their clothes, including selvedge denim, are what collectors these days call “Heritage” and are sought after in both Japan and the United States.





Holiday Inn Express, North Hollywood.

Sunrise Ford

Holiday Inn

One of the strangest juxtapositions of new development and old crap can be seen in the San Fernando Valley east of Lankershim on Burbank.

A new six-story Holiday Inn Express is going up on the south side of Burbank Blvd. within view of the “arts district” yet firmly within the auto zone of muffler, tire, transmission, oil change, lawnmower and auto sales dealers.

Imagine you are a naïve guest, perhaps from Iowa, who is coming to Los Angeles for the first time and you see this modernistic, multi-colored Mondrianlike building on Trip Advisor. You might be excused for believing that you had lucked into a real fine deal, a lovely, clean hotel with good rates right in the heart of North Hollywood.

Upon checking in, you drive up Lankershim, past Sunrise Ford with its bright red painted “Diesel Truck Repair Center”.



You go up to your room and look out and see V.A.S Auto Repair and John’s Lawn Mower with its garages full of grease monkeys changing oil, servicing radiators, and loading up pick up trucks with power equipment and lawn mowers.


If you are getting hungry, after walking through all the paint and gasoline fumes, and breathing in the smell of diesel, you can pick up something to drink at N. Hollywood Liquor where they accept EBT and can also cash your check for a fee.

$1 Taco

Smoke Shop

For a stroll you might stop by for a bite to eat at Tacos Manzano where Taco’s Tuesday is only $1. Or go directly next door to the Smoke Shop or Harry’s Auto Repair where the smog experts work behind cinderblock murals of Marlboro cigarettes and hookah. Pick up some pot at any of the medicinal pharmacies along the way. Marijuana is to modern Los Angeles what rice is to China.

Los Burritos

Quick Lane

If you don’t want burritos on the cheap you can have a more expensive burrito at Los Burritos or go across the street and get an American style burrito burger at Denny’s. If you crave nightlife you can go to El Zorro nightclub right next door to the Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center.

In another 50 years, a new generation of vaca negras will waddle past here, orange drinks in hand, and wonder if that bad old motel with prostitutes and vagrants will ever be torn down.