Crest Apartments


 

 

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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.

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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.

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Evangelizing Cask Ale.


 

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Yesterday was the two-year anniversary party at MacLeod Ale, here in Van Nuys, held at the brewery on Calvert St.

It coincided with one of the hottest days of the year.

A hot wind baked the concrete front yard set with white tents for ticket sales, another tent housing a barbecue preparation area.

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A black cook loaded meats into a black steel smoker under a cloudless blue sky.

Inside MacLeod, workers, guest workers and guests hunkered down in dimness, air-conditioned. 30 or more firkins from various breweries were built into groups of six, laid down on inclined, mobile lumber units on wheels. Each cask was plugged on top with cork. And at the bottom each one employed a white plastic faucet for pours.

The Pasadena Scots Bagpipers warmed up in preparation for their opening march through the brewery.

Owner Alastair W. Boase made a last minute run in a small Mini Cooper and came back with bags of ice unloaded by the guest workers and brought in and laid on top of each cask to keep them cool. The drooping, dripping ice kept the beer coldish with the weak efficacy of wet towels on the sweaty heads of Indonesian soccer players on the field at halftime.

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Last year, MacLeod held its one-year anniversary.

To me, hyped up on IPA, a lover of Full Sail and Lagunitas, MacLeod served a weak, warm, sweet, low alcohol malty authenticity called British Style Ale.

To my uninformed palate and to my unschooled-in-beer mind, the brews were something new but not always enjoyable.

The ideology of MacLeod Ale was firmly entrenched by a young and serious head brewer who rigidly and strictly obeyed his self-imposed dogma of what constituted proper British beer. Dour and dressed in leather braces and a tweed-driving cap, he affected a uniform of anti-social seriousness. He was obstinate, at times argumentative, sometimes on the warpath with owners. Others respected and admired his fastidiousness, commitment and exactitude. The truth of his tenure at MacLeod is subjective.

At 27, he was the head brewer of a new brewery. So that alone made him an object of envy. And maybe some of an element of Schadenfreude popped up when he fell down and was thrown out.

There was an upheaval within the brewery in late 2015 and the young cultist was fired and replaced with a new brewer.

The happy result, seen in profits and popularity, has been an artistic renovation melding historic beverage preservation with robust technological innovation.

New Head Brewer Josiah Blomquist came from an engineering background but he also had made his own alcoholic beverages, including beer, whisky and other exotic intoxicants. With investment in new equipment, and a new investor named Jerry Cohen, MacLeod now has advanced water purification, new tanks, and new filters to remove impurities. But there is also a fervent energy and openness to allow for colder, stronger, more aggressively flavored beers to come into the fold.

 


Last year, the one-year anniversary seemed to revel in presenting discussions, where brewers sat on a podium and talked in a panel about their various beers. There were two or three of these, lasting several hours.

This year, there was just one set up and it was dismantled after an hour. Afterward came a variety of jazz performers, including one terrific, 1920s inspired trio of musicians. The choice of music: individual, idiosyncratic, whimsical, embodies MacLeod.

MacLeod Ale today is no longer the ingénue. It occupies sort of a higher ledge above the goofiness of American, macho-man, craft beer. If it were a fragrance house it might be Diptyque or Le Labo where whispers of greatness spread quietly among the cognoscenti, and the scent of cultivated, curated success enters the room confidently without shouting.


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Yesterday afternoon, I met one gentleman, Ryan Bell, who worked as a sales rep for a downtown brewery,  Iron Triangle. He was dressed in a dark black shirt with company logo and a straw hat over his bearded face.

We walked over to try his company’s ale which was rich, deep, malty and reminded me of Old Rasputin. He said (if I remember correctly) it was somewhere between a porter and a stout and had an ABV of about 9%.

I expected the discussion to continue about beer.

But after I asked him what he did before he was a beer rep he told me he had been a 7th Day Adventist Pastor. And he was now, fully, committedly, devoutly, an atheist.

He said he wrote a blog, “Year Without God” and was the founder of “Life After God” where he wrote, spoke and consulted the happily godless on their journey of self-enlightened rationality un-poisoned by the imagery of the all mighty.

I was in the company, once more, of an evangelist, another hybrid in the spiritual community of Los Angeles whose own self-awakening constituted a new reality and a new philosophy for explaining and understanding existence. That it might be done by imbibing beer and abandoning faith seemed utterly logical to me, especially inside that hot, crowded brewery party after six or more ales.

My mind wandered from the packed brewery to the national scene and back again to the heat wave.

I was thinking of God and God’s successor, Nothingness. I was looking at Men and their Gods: beers and beards. I was wondering about intelligence and stupidity and how they were so often interchangeable. I was uncertain about what I should believe in or fear: Donald Trump, Radical Islamic Terrorism, certain atheism or certain faith, the NRA or Orlando, porter, ale or IPA.

Lubricated by alcohol, surrounded by many flavors of casks, some beers flavored with chiles, vanilla and rosemary, nothing seemed wrong or right, just there for the taking. I was elated by the possibilities of dropping long held beliefs, and flying into new consciousness by picking up new flavors, guided unintentionally by the atheist pastor beer salesman.

On that Sunday summer sirocco I was on the verge of a breakthrough. Or I might just collapse from alcoholic dehydration.

Fortunately, outside, there was Amy Crook, in a peach pleated skirt, whose hyena laugh and flirtatious giggle danced around the driveway as I recorded her. I joined her under the hot tent and helped check in guests. I tore off tickets, and peeled sticky armbands onto arms gleefully carrying glasses into a raucously animated party, one I knew I would later misinterpret truthfully.

Clean Up on Sepulveda.


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Through a multi-pronged alliance between City Councilwoman’s Nury Martinez’s Office (CD-6), the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, and neighbors who came together on Next Door, about 30 people gathered today between Haynes and Lemay on Sepulveda, and spent a good part of Saturday morning, raking, shoveling, pruning, digging, sweeping, and exhausting themselves to rid the dirt median of man made crap and improve a section of Van Nuys for at least a day.

Long an eyesore, the garbage strewn dusty, dry strip is a dumping ground of Carl’s Jr. burger bags, old condoms, half finished Styrofoam burrito plates, discarded diapers, tires, beer bottles, smashed soda cans, empty vodka bottles and anything else that might be dropped by an intoxicated prostitute at 3am.

Gloves, rakes, shovels, trash bags, water, all of it was brought along and given to the volunteers who included Field Deputy Guillermo Marquez, and Linda Levitan, both from Nury Martinez’s office; Penny Meyer, Howard Benjamin and Quirino De La Cuesta, all VNNC officers; and teenagers from Van Nuys. Families, older folks and an obscure blogger/photographer joined in to shovel and sweat.

Filled to the brim were garbage bags lined up along the curb and waiting to be picked up by the Department of Sanitation on Monday. Palm fronds, cut off from trees to reveal litter below, were themselves placed along the trash bags for disposal.

Work started around 8am, and by 11am the median had been raked and picked clean of garbage.

 

 

 

The Big, Empty Foreground


On Flickr, where I sometimes spend my time, there is a group of photographs called “The Big Empty Foreground.” These are urban places, usually wide-open spaces, without people.

Many of the contributors come from Europe, a place one does not often think of as empty. Soccer fields, parking lots, office plazas, old factories, these are some of the unpopulated places.


 

Sepulveda Cleaners 2In Van Nuys, we have a lot of wide, empty foreground. Expansive asphalt pavements, empty shopping centers, abandoned houses on large lots.

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Near Vanowen, between Archwood and Sepulveda, there is a collection of one-story businesses: a cleaners, a phone store, a fishing tackle store and an odd place called Reynoso’s Lapidary and Supply which specializes in rocks, gems, stones and agate slabs.

These are in a building put up when land was cheap, sometime in the 1950s. And they are plain and homely and functional, but also practical, because the cars are put in back and the sidewalk is in front. Signs are small and discreet.

What intrigued me, on a day when dark clouds enclosed the sky and transformed the light of Los Angeles into something moody and cool, was how casually open space was made in the back, without gates or fences, or trees. That’s the way we parked in the 1950s at a suburban place. There was no thought given to landscape, only to laying down asphalt.

A walnut or orange grove, on many acres, probably occupied this land before the building was built.

This landscape back here will probably be developed someday and covered completely in a banal apartment, approved by city zoning.

But for now there is light, and space, and sky.

 

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The Plaintive Call.


 

A few weeks ago, around 7:30 at night, I received a phone call from an upset stranger.

“Paul Dunbar” said he was a neighbor. A woman had given him my number. And told him Andrew, at “Here in Van Nuys”, might be helpful.

Mr. Dunbar explained that he lived with his wife and two children in a home he has owned for the past 16 years. His 1950s ranch has three bedrooms, and a large den facing a backyard pool. It is a classic old Valley house. But it is now under assault.


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Dunbar Family Pool.
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Just Beyond the Fence Behind the Dunbars.
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A backyard paradise which will have an audience in the next few months.
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A single famly house now developed as a multi-family rental property.
A few months earlier, the house behind the Dunbar’s was sold and purchased by an LLC. That entity was now constructing two houses, intended for rental use, on an 8,099 sf lot, zoned R1 (single family).

The back house, entirely new, will rise up two stories and contain a two-car garage below, and living spaces upstairs. The renters will enjoy an outdoor balcony whose view will be the Dunbar pool below and the back of the Dunbar House where all activities, indoor and outdoor, will be under the scrutiny of strangers.

A backhoe had dug up all the vegetation, and had deforested the backyard. A naked slat wood fence was all that stood between the neighboring houses. Rising up, like Godzilla over Tokyo, was a new 22.5-foot high house with many windows.

The egregious backyard neighbor’s two houses will be rented out. The renters (whomever they are) will live, and look down, across the entire width and breadth of the formerly private property. At night, the Dunbar Family drama will be a stage show for prying eyes.

Exhaustively, and in detail, Paul Dunbar kept records of the various letters, emails and phone calls he made to many city agencies and offices: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, District 6; Assembly member Adrin Nazarian; LA’s Department of Building and Safety; City Inspectors,the City Attorney’s Office. Senior Lead Officer Erika Kirk, LAPD, even intervened, with no results.

The upshot of the situation is that a speculator can buy a home on a single-family lot and put two houses on one lot with a “variance”.

All the neighbors in the area are aghast. They know anybody can now come in and demolish. And then construct two new, rentable houses on old, one-family 8,000 SF lots. A bad precedent has been set.

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Construction for the new multi-family development on a single-family lot.
The New Homes of the LLC Family.
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“What is the point of investing your life savings and a large portion of your monthly paycheck into a single family neighborhood? The city decides they will change it with no explanation/warning. And NO representation to voice your feedback, unless you spend more money and time for an attorney to fight what is already a done deal?” Mr. Dunbar asked.

A few hours later in the afternoon, the first story of the new guesthouse rises over the Dunbar fence.
The first story of the eventual two-story house rises above the Dunbar fence.
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Privacy Under Assault.


 

Van Nuys, in the aftermath of the recession, has regained most of its pre-2007 property values. But the average house in our neighborhood might be worth $550,000. If a home sells for $500,000 and needs $150,000 worth of work to remodel it, there is little incentive to flip it if the ceiling is only $700,000.

Therefore, the only way to make property profitable in Van Nuys is to carve up the pieces and put some income producing business on it.

Some speculators are trying the LLC route. Others are engaged in various nefarious scams.

There are now businesses that are buying up houses around the area and using single-family houses as sober living halfway houses. The owners bill insurance companies thousands of dollars for each resident, and then cram six or seven un-related adults into a house. The operators can earn $20,000 or $30,000 a month paid for by health insurance, subsidized by Obama Care.

My cousin, who sometimes works in these “sobriety” houses, says they are a profitable business and he knows of people who bought up multiple $1,500,000 houses in Beverlywood and set them up as post-addiction estates. Van Nuys, with lower cost housing, is in the sights of unscrupulous people bilking medical insurance to finance these arrangements.

Other properties that are zoned for single-family houses are now being redeveloped as denser housing to encourage more intensive use of large parcels of land. Allegedly creating a more walkable city, the new “small-lot” zoning will pour additional cars onto the street day and night.

The LLC situation means that individuals are not the new homeowners. Companies owning many houses will buy up distressed properties and rent them out, and they will also find ways around the zoning laws to carve up lots and cram in homes.

Poor Van Nuys.

Even when properties are rehabilitated they are simultaneously degraded.

Who is in charge of zoning? And who is in charge of handing out permits? Why and how is it allowed that an LLC can throw up two houses on one lot in the midst of our single-family home neighborhood?

Why are we always fighting new forces intent on destroying Van Nuys?

Why are people in power deaf to their constituency?

Julius Blue, Whites Only, Van Nuys, 1948.


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According to WWII Army Enlistment Records, on March 9, 1942, Julius Blue, a 21-year-old Negro citizen from Walker County, Alabama enlisted at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The United States had been attacked by Japan three months earlier, and this nation was now involved in a struggle against the formidable and murderous Axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy.

Unknown to most of the world, Germany was also engaged in the world’s most advanced genocide against unarmed Jewish citizens of every nation in Europe.

America fought not only to win, but to free enslaved peoples.

When the war was over, Julius Blue, now married, made his way to Los Angeles and settled at 1655 E. 40th Place in South LA.

By 1948, Los Angeles was booming. Jobs, factories, housing: the state was on fire.

And up in Van Nuys, near the corner of Roscoe and Sepulveda, 392 single-family homes were under construction at “Allied Gardens.” Terms were very favorable for veterans. A $10,400 home with a $66.80 mortgage could be had for $400 down.

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So one fine day in 1948, Julius Blue, his wife and her parents made their way up to Allied Gardens to look at the new homes.

When they got to the development, instead of being shown plans, the promoters handed the Blue Family a mimeographed document. It contained this description:

“No person whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian Race (and for the purposed of this paragraph no Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu or any persons of the Ethiopian, Indian or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian) shall at any time live upon any of the lots in said Tract 15010”

Boltenbacher and Kelton, the builders, were allowed, at that time, to restrict purchasing of their homes to only whites. They were unapologetic about their open prejudices and discriminatory policies.

In that same year, 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled against race restrictive covenants.

If Mr. Blue had been able to buy a house at Roscoe and Sepulveda, he might have tried to apply for work at the brand new General Motors plant five minutes away at Van Nuys Boulevard north of Raymer.

But that plant also discriminated against black people. There were thousands of jobs, but only a handful of black workers, mostly janitors, employed in that factory.

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These are some tales of old Los Angeles told by the LA Sentinel, a black-owned paper whose news coverage reported (and continues to report) stories often ignored by the LA Times and other white-owned media.

While it is amusing in our present time, and poetically just, to imagine that the multi-ethnic San Fernando Valley was once, by law and custom, reserved only for white buyers, it is still shocking to contemplate the blatant sadism, inhumanity and unfairness of that old time racism.

Julius Blue was not the only black man who had difficulty buying a home in Los Angeles. The August 12, 1948 LA Sentinel also had this headline:

HATEFUL SIGN PLASTERED ON “KING” COLE’S $85,000 PALACE

Nat “King” Cole and his wife were planning on moving into Hancock Park but they were bitterly opposed by neighbors who feared that the dark-skinned entertainer and popular singer’s presence would reduce property values.

In 1948, Nat “King” Cole: wealthy, talented, successful, world-famous; fought to buy his own house in Los Angeles.

Think about it.

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As a footnote, in 1987, Julius Blue, 65, was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles.

I don’t know whether he survived.

But his story is the story of so many black men. How they managed to stay alive and keep their chins up high is truly astonishing and inspiring. And deeply distressing.

We Americans are the inheritors of an illogic and unreason that herds men and women into racial categories.

We Americans must uphold individual, not group, character as the only standard of moral judgment.

If we again buy into con-man ideas about group wide evil, we are going back in time to somewhere dark and ignorant, not pushing ahead into enlightenment and reason.

Dec 3 1987