Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Palm Springs Modernism Week Again!

February 25, 2015

I had the opportunity, thanks to the wonderful Mark Davis, to again speak at Palm Springs Modernism Week, which is the coolest, most colorful preservation event anywhere.  I reprised my 2011 talk on Preserving Modernism in Chicago with an update on those icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House (how do I flood thee?  Let me count the ways….), the sadly demolished Prentice Women’s Hospital (Philistines is too good a word – the Philistines were in fact civilized) and of course the soon to be geothermal Unity Temple.  So let’s get these pictures out of the way so we can move on to Palm Springs itself.

FHFlood0028

prentice 1009bS

unity temple best

So, here is the fabulous Menrad House – wowza!

Meanrad House2

And the famous Kaufman House by Neutra!

Kaufmann House39

And of course the great Bank of America (1961 office of Victor Gruen)

Bank America

And the stunning Chase Bank (E Stewart Williams 1960) with its working fountain!

Chase bank

Felicity took some great pictures of this.  But time for more houses!

butterfuly yell hs

gotta love those butterfly roofs!

WsWhite house40

Above: the Dr. Franz Alexander House, 1955 by Walter S. White

Las Palmas classic

Mountains and palms make the setting and screen walls tell the time!

Frey tramway front

Above:  Frey’s Tramway gas station, now the visitors center!

Ivernada

Invernada in the Movie Colony – there is a lot of Spanish Colonial but we mostly look at the Mid Century Modern

studebaker house

Helps to have a 53 Studebaker in front

Swiss Miss Palmas

These are called “swiss miss” and have whacking great front gables

Now, this was sad – here is the site of the Spa Hotel, which used to look like this:

spa hotel2

But now looks like this:

PS Spa ruins

Yes, even the site where lakhs of Modernist mavens descend for ten days a year, they can’t always preserve what draws these doyens in….still, I don’t want to end on a negative, so let’s be upbeat and celebrate the desert paradise where flat roofs and ceiling-height doors and exterior showers are de rigeur. 

alexndr steel hs10

This is one of the great Alexander Steel houses (7 were built) which I photographed in 2011.  I met the owner who got one listed on the National Register recently – kudos Brian!!

2200 Caliente

Nice one in Indian Canyons

Cody house

And a cool William Cody!!!

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Resiliency and Climate Change

February 16, 2015

Last week in Colorado I showed two slides of the Farnsworth House, which I have been blogging about for a dozen years.  The first image came in the section of my talk about the Threats to our Heritage, such as Climate Change.  I had also showed images of it earlier in the week, when I participated in a Climate Change and Cultural Heritage conference in Pocantico, New York, with a whole variety of players, from colleagues at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Society for American Archaeology, World Monuments Fund, English Heritage and many other, collected together by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  So here is the first slide, which is Farnsworth House experiencing a “100-year” flood for the first of three times in the last eight years.

FHFlood0028

I then showed another slide of the Farnsworth House later in the keynote with the caption “The Process of Preservation is Adaptive and Resilient” because I was talking about the only universal in cultural heritage conservation – the process – and I was deliberately framing the discussion in the necessary terms, which you will note say nothing about mitigation.

farns viw08flS

This is how we began our discussion a year ago with the Trustees of the National Trust, and while I was a facilitator of that discussion, I must credit Anthony Veerkamp for doing the research.  I then moderated a panel at the National Preservation Conference in Savannah on Climate Change, that included the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Park Service.  The Park Service is dealing with this issue, as is the DOD and everyone else, because the sea levels will rise 3 to 6 feet by the end of the century.

Shark fin cove framed

John Englander, who began the discussion in Savannah, works with communities around the country to plan for the sea level rise, and even frames the discussion as an opportunity to plan for something you know will occur as opposed to being caught off-guard.  The discussion is not about mitigation – that’s what reanimates the troglodytes – it is about adaptation and resiliency.  How do we adapt historic resources to new climatic realities?  How do we make our historic buildings and sites more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events?

Slawsons view napaS

and where you gonna plant grapes when Napa gets too hot?  (actually that is the trick – look where the big producers are buying land in Monterey County and you can see where your wine will come from in 2040)

Skipping over the mitigation question is not an evasion of responsibility, but the fact remains you could shut down every car and building in the world tomorrow and the sea level will still rise 3 to 6 feet by 2100.  And it is not an even situation, because how water flows and rises and falls is affected by all kinds of things.  So Manhattan is sitting on schist and actually in a pretty good situation, but MIami is sitting on some of the most porous limestone known, so even a braintrust of Dutch polderbuilders can’t make a levee that will save that.

bancroft49

collins92s

hey at least they kinda look like boats

If you know about that stuff you realize that some of our own NorCal polders like Foster City are NOT sitting pretty, but interestingly the first place in Cali to get wet turns out to be Sacramento, 80 miles inland.  Geology ain’t simple, and neither are watersheds – just look at the Chicago River – has run west, east, and west again all since the Pyramids were built, and only that last shift was anthro-engineered.

Chgo River 614S

Now, if you have read my posts about the Farnsworth House, you will recall that I first approached it as we will no doubt need to approach many cultural heritage resources:  let them become the future of underwater archaeology.  Make decisions based on significance and community needs, and perform the unpleasant but necessary triage that will save some things with precision while allowing others to collapse into that state of romantic ruin that so inspired John Ruskin.

Fountains abbey cloister

It was a dissolute place anyway

Now, I changed my mind about the Farnsworth House because it is an amazing work of art and architecture and its value needs to be kept above water – although also in a floodplain, since its design makes no sense outside of a floodplain.  But we can’t elevate every landmark in the way of the water and we can’t move every lighthouse.  Some of it will be lost.  But, as Englander notes, we have the opportunity to plan for it over the coming decades – so there is that.  Some things, like my favorite National Historic Landmark from the 1880s – will be moved.

LUCY

LUCY!

Others will be lost, partially or completely.  But the majority of the activity we will undertake in the coming decades will not be about radical saves or radical losses of cultural heritage.  It will be about how we make our heritage more resilient.  Just as this Beaux Arts gem was retrofitted to withstand seismic events, so too we will work to make our historic buildings more adaptable and resilient in the face of weather events and rising sea levels.

city hall3 S

As always, 19th century buildings will have the upper hand, since they were built in a time when they were viewed as moveable assets and 19th century North Americans had no problem shifting buildings around.  The oldest house I ever owned was built in 1872-73 but MOVED in 1878.  It’s still there, about 500 feet above sea level outside of Chicago.

915 snowS

There are whole cultures threatened by rising sea levels, and not just the various Polynesian islands soon to be inundated.  At our conference we had Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gulla Geechee nation on the Sea Islands off of Georgia and Florida.  A physical artifact can be made resilient and even adaptable, but how do living cultures respond when they are put in new environments?  As is our efforts to save cultural landscapes across the world (Global Heritage Fund), the challenge of preserving intangible heritage may be even greater than finding new techniques and new uses for buildings, sites and structures.

Victoriana California

August 7, 2014

I have written before about how I am surrounded by Victorian architecture in Northern California, and this week we made it up to Humboldt County where you get it in spades. The capper is of course the Carson Mansion in Eureka, which has inhabited every architectural style book I have owned since 1983.
Carson HouseAs

This over-the-top horror vacui of a composition dates from 1884 and in my first architectural style book it illustrated both Queen Anne and Eastlake styles (it also supposedly embodies Stick and Italianate) and is still the centerpiece of Eureka, which blossomed as a lumber town in the Gilded Age and saved just enough of it for a critical mass downtown, despite a godawful prison and too many parking lots.
Pink LadyCs
The famed Pink Lady across from the Carson Mansion. It’s for sale!
White house rowS
A row of Shingley Queen Annes on 2nd Street

Eureka trades on this history and did save a reasonable chunk of the old downtown with some very fine big Italianate and Queen Anne blocks from the late 19th century. This one has an excellent new tourist center (beer on draft – how can you have a tourist center without beer on draft??)
Yellow Ital blockS

McDonald BldgBs
Now that’s my kind of McDonald’s

Big green Ital blockS

Corner shingle sideS
Shingle Style influence here, with a nice rounded glass oriel

Eclectic frontS
The plaque on this one even says “Eclectic,” which is Architectural Historian for “I give up.”

They trade on the Victorian so much in Eureka that 25 years ago they rebuilt a long-gone San Francisco house from what is now the Financial District. Thankfully the sign and guides note that it is a recreation.
Carter House Inn RecreS

We were walking past the Carson Block and noticed they were exposing some of its original skin…
Carson TC exposeS
That’s terra cotta!
Carson skin exposesS
and pressed metal bays…

So I went back Monday and ran into my old friend Bill Hole, who was helping with what appears to be a great restoration.
Carson Block w craneS

A few more shots of historic Eureka
Carter House Inn hotelS
Carter House Inn Hotel – amazing place
Nice false frontS
old-timey clocks, brick sidewalks, the whole shebang
View of downtownS

Shingle corner bldgS
Horse carriage. Forgot that part of the whole shebang

Blue Vic cottS
fine lookin’ cottage
Rundown Class houseS
This one needs work

But wait, there’s more! A few miles down the road there is Ferndale, which I seem to recall was the subject of a coloring book and which featured this building that I also used incessantly in architectural history slide shows:
The Big DoubleAs

Great Inn Vic addS
Bed and breakfasts expand into inns and tourism adds to the “cream” economy – you certainly pass a lot of cows on the road into town.

Fab frontsS

IOOF and2s

Victorian InnS
The Victorian Inn. Says it right there in the name!

Vic Gothi cottgS

This house near the downtown reminds me that there is a strong current of Victorian Gothic in the houses of the North and Lost Coasts of California. As one would expect, you get a slight lag from the East Coast, so Victorian Gothic which peaked in the East in the 1840s is still making itself felt here in the 1850s. After all, it took three months to get here. But get here they did, mostly by boat and they brought so much of their architecture with them that the famed historic town of Mendocino has been used as the set of an East Coast town in multiple movies and TV shows.

mendo front viewS
Mendocino, She Wrote. Why doesn’t the sun rise over the ocean?

Mendocino bay chute remnantsS
Emare-gency, Emare-gency Everybody to get from street!

Spenser Hills 54s
Plenty of 1850s Gothicky houses

nice mendo saltboxS
And a few saltboxes

mendo viewS

The most distinctive feature of the townscape are the ubiquitous water tower- originally headed by windmills that powered the wells below and filled the storage tanks. Almost every house has one, and it adds an interesting atmosphere to the town. The Main drag has plenty of false fronts and of course the hotel, while there are two major house museums in town and plenty of B & Bs.

Mendocino HotelS
Mendocino Hotel

Shops in MendoS

Ford HouseS

maccallum houseS
Verging on the Gothic again. At least in the vergeboards

Kelley House closeS
Kelley changed the spelling of her last name to make it classier

Didjeridoo bestS
This is where we stayed. Could be East Coast if not for the obvious drought

We had wonderful guide who played an 1880s character and took us by the Masonic Hall with its huge (carved from a single Redwood) sculpture of Time and the Maiden.
Guide at MasonicS

Now I could go into the details of historic tourism and the economics of house museums and the decline of the logging industry and so forth, but this was a vacation so I am just going to show a few more pictures of Fort Bragg, a few miles up the Coast from Mendocino.

Fort Bragg strfrtsS

Ft B Golden WestS

Guest House ObliqueS
This is the Guest House. No, really, the name was Guest

Ft B fronts3

Ft B City HallS
City Hall

gothic window houseS

So, for those of you who wondered if I missed Victorian architecture in California…

Oh, you can see my posts extolling the architectural history of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz as well, not to mention Watsonville.

What Hath God Wrought

February 1, 2014

horses on the hill mar2013s
This is last March before the drought

Living in Silicon Valley is fascinating in a variety of ways, from the absurdly non-existent weather (we think “Polar Vortex” is something treated with antidepressants) to the car culture, massive amounts of wealth, and the odd internationalism of the computer industries which draw people from every nation on earth. There is also the famously laid-back West Coast ethic and a blissful isolation from the vapidity and noise of national politics. California is the world’s eighth largest economy, and like the second, it has a functional single-party system. Also like the second, it is the most capitalist place on earth – it’s not how much money you make: it’s how much money your money makes…
west appl sign san joseS
Even the appliances are laid back. My washer and dryer stay outside

I like to joke that in Palo Alto there are two types of businesses: start-ups and wealth management. There is also Stanford University, although I suppose it also falls under the category of wealth management as the most successful fundraising entity on the planet. But there is something to the ethic of innovation that characterizes Silicon Valley, that drew Zuckerberg from Harvard, that formed Steve Jobs, that made garages the seedlings of the world’s biggest corporations for several generations.
PA mission complexS
add a sense of Mission

The famous Jobs quote where he talks about understanding that the world is made by other people and can just as easily be re-made by you – is true every day around here. If you go back in this blog, you can see my struggles with technology. I didn’t understand the iPad when it came out, but I understood that within a week every fifth person in China had one and now I can’t eat a meal, contract a service or even talk to another human without an iPad.
PA cool car
You only think cars need wheels because other people say they do

Innovation and that old “thinking outside of the box” really are everyday here. In fact, they are tradition. A tradition of not thinking traditionally.
fillmore italianatesS
Plenty of traditional architecture, though. Which, as every preservationist knows, is where new ideas come from

Yet despite the promise of the wireless world and the depth of our relationships with our smart phones in 2014, this is still a place, and the tradition of this place goes back before the garage of Jobs to the garage of Hewlett Packard, which was actually preserved as a relic of 1939 and birthplace of Silicon Valley. Why a place when we live in a wireless network – why not another place?
reserrvoir ride 13s
well, this helps

But that is the logic of capitalism, which overrides the apparent logic of technology any day. You know the idea that professional people can live anywhere they want thanks to the communication network that connects us all – how old is that idea? 2000? 1996? Try 1844. Samuel Morse’s telegraph. What Hath God Wrought? They all predicted there would be no cities now that you could communicate over wires. Which is why there have hardly been any cities built anywhere since 1844.
chgo vw from homan sq twrS
not

You see there is a logic to concentration that overrides the ability to be distant. This is why H-P and Intel and Apple and Google and Twitter are all here. The logic of capitalism states that if there is a successful business, the best place to build a similar successful business is right next door – you have the talent and treasure to make it happen. We thrive in this sea of collaboration, in this physical network that has transformed the world into a virtual network.
cable CAR13s
Because the most high-tech way of moving things is to run a wire underground and keep it constantly moving. Grab on for a ride, let go to stop.

Recycling Recycling: Symbols of empathy

January 18, 2014

My town is about to join a long list of local communities and counties that are banning plastic bags from stores. LA just became the largest city to do so. Because environment. Like most such actions, the benefits of the ban are primarily symbolic and inspirational, which is how we have approached recycling in the United States for well over seventy years.
starbucks garbg

Humans need symbols, and the most effective ones are visual. When I was in high school baby harp seals, over-the-top cute and cruelly clubbed, became extremely effective symbols for wildlife preservation. Of course, if the animals were less than cute (snail darter) they might become symbols for the opposition.
DSCF7579
like this threatened newt in Yunnan I shot (photographed) in 2008

But back to recycling. Famously, in World War II Americans recycled metal, rubber, newspapers and more to help the war effort. The idea was that we recycled these things into jeeps and tanks and bullets and telegrams or whatever to aid our soldiers overseas. Economists debate the actual economic and logistical impact of these drives, but no one doubts their symbolic ability to motivate patriotic support of the war effort.
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The next burst of recycling started with the oil scare of 1973 and I remember recycling newspapers from at least 1975, which in that case required careful straightening, bundling and delivering to a recycling station 2 miles away. Our hate affair with plastic bags begins at this point as well, since about that time the great question of eternal duality began”: “Paper or plastic?”
PV water bottle store
Please put my plastic bottles in a PAPER bag

I actually never understand that duality: Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t I have some of both? I would be happiest if I came home from the grocery store with BOTH plastic and paper bags – I can use the one for the little garbage cans and the other for the recycling, right? But the checkout clerks force you into one camp or the other. Paper AND plastic??? what are you, sick??

Which takes us right over the barbed wire into the no-man’s land of NO PLASTIC BAGS. And I understand this too, based on an experience I had 20 years ago in the Illinois River Valley.

IM Canal lasalleS
near here

I was tasked with fighting against a huge landfill in LaSalle County. In the process I visited local landfills and while I remember the earth movers and dump trucks the enduring image of the landfill was PLASTIC BAGS. They would catch in trees next to the landfill and for a mile or more around it. They looked awful blowing in the wind and they hearkened right back to that 1971 environmental commercial where the Italian-American actor dressed as a Native American shed a tear seeing what us consumers had done to the rivers and trees.

The plastic bag is the enduring image of the pollution of the landfill, and the landfill in turn is what we are trying to avoid by recycling. Even though the landfill is mostly yard waste, paper and construction debris, not plastic bags, and the biggest lesson I learned in that (losing) battle was about “special waste.” Do you know what “special waste” is? It can be put in lots of landfills because it is NOT toxic waste. It is diluted toxic waste. Cool, huh?

lawndale forge recyclingS

There are many reasons to ban plastic bags – they end up not only in trees but in the ocean, where they kill the hell out of marine critters, so that is a good reason to ban them. But if you are thinking about landfills, your reusable bags could be taking up more space. The value of the ban is less the direct benefit to the environment than the symbolism of the action.

hs with recyc
I feel better already

The deeper problem is of course how can you possibly use consumption to fight consumption? That is the pernicious logic that renders the paper versus plastic divide nonsensical: which consumer choice will you use to fight against living in a consumer society? Because you can’t win it unless you change it structurally, not symbolically. That means cutting out not just the plastic but the purchases themselves. Interestingly, that actually happened in World War II – I have my grandfather’s ration book to prove it.

Los Gatos

September 15, 2013

I have lived in Los Gatos for well over a year now and am past due to blog about it. Like many of the communities in the Bay Area, it has a rich history that is still visible in its buildings and landscape. It also has a kind of branding, namely its name, which is Spanish for cats.
LG cat SC blvdS
These stylized regal cats are found in many public and private places and seem to be a cross between Egyptian cat-gods and guardian lions rather than the mountain lions which the place was named for. I am tempted to insert a joke about cougars relating to our downtown venues of Mountain Charlie’s and Number One Broadway but I shan’t.
los gatos reserv roadS
But safe to say you find these cats everywhere….
Los Gatos penthouseS

The town is way down in the South Bay next to San Jose, and is the gateway to Santa Cruz on the coast. Indeed, we live in the Santa Cruz mountains just over the county line but we are still scholastically and politically within Los Gatos, although its downtown is about 10 miles away. The town began, if I can believe the historic plaques along the onetime railroad in the town square, in the middle of the 19th century, which again is common for this part of the country (see my summer blog on Watsonville.)

LG plaq firstS

Impossible to read that, but it basically says Los Gatos was a stagecoach and later rail stop on the way to Santa Cruz. I would say it would be fun to see the days when the Peninsula was served by stagecoaches, which would stop at various points to get fresh horses, but I won’t wait long to see it again: that is basically Elon Musk’s plan for his ever-expanding Tesla electric car empire: You pull into a Tesla station, swap your battery, and continue on your way. Just like the Pony Express. Another great Silicon Valley innovation only eight generations old.

forbes millS
So this is the town’s historic site, Forbes Mill, which was built in the 1850s drawing power from Los Gatos Creek and kept Forbes’ name despite his complete lack of success running a flour mill. This is actually an 1880 addition saved from demolition in 1982 to become the local historic museum which every town has.
forbes mill muse plqS

Downtown Los Gatos sort of consists of three roughly parallel streets, Santa Cruz Boulevard, which is Main Street, University Avenue next to it, and Los Gatos Boulevard on the other side of Highway 17, which gives way to strip development once you get past the downtown. Here is a classic view of the section of Los Gatos Boulevard that is historic:
LG Main Street 1890s blockS
purple onion bldgS

Just past is the modernist City Hall and even more contemporary Public Library, followed by the 1923 High School, which is picture perfect, a Classical composition set back on a vast lawn:
LG HSs

Another mile of Los Gatos Boulevard features a lot of Victorian houses, in fact I would argue that the Queen Anne defines Los Gatos the way the Italianate defines San Francisco (and they both command seven figures on a bad day)
LG Blvd 2m VictS
LG road victorianS
LG Blvd Alma hopusS
The last one there is the 1905 Alma House, which was on the market for $5 million last year. There are also lovely runs of Queen Anne cottages on University Avenue and on the other side of Santa Cruz Boulevard throughout the town:
great victorian wilderishS
LG Bld Vic cottgS
univ ave victorianS

LG Blvd VictorS

This one right at the intersection of Highway 9 and Los Gatos Boulevard sort of reminds me of early Frank Lloyd Wright Shingle Style with its Palladian window:
LG Blvd and 9 palladianS

univ ave victo carS

One of the most elaborate Victorians is on Santa Cruz Boulevard and is now the popular Palacio restaurant, but of course was once a funeral home.
palacioS

The Western side of town has its hills well populated with Victorians.
LG W yellow VictorianS

LG W grn shingle VicS

LG East ItaliaS

Now, there are of course bungalows and even a few mission style houses, although fewer than you might expect given the location. And of course plenty of postwar moderns in the “Likeler” tradition.
LG Blvd bungalowsS
LG Blvd bungaS
SC blvd postwar4s

episcopal churchS
This last is the Episcopal Church next to “Old Town” which is really a shopping center but is the site of the historic city center and has a faux Mission to “prove” it.

Downtown you have everything from the original Opera House and Romanesque business blocks to corner-turreted shops and even an Art Deco movie theater now under restoration.
opera houseBs
well bldg sunglassesS
downtownS

I love this one which features polychrome terra cotta images of the Missions which defined the Camino Real and the whole bottom two-thirds of California.
TC bldg4s
LG night TCs

Speaking of architectural detail, check out these panels right on the main downtown corner, stoic as innumerable Teslas and Priuses roll by….
corner bldgScorner bldg detailS

I’ve always been enchanted by this little Romanesque gem, now an office, on University Avenue:
LG Blvd RomanS

Now, we live up in the mountains in an area called Villa del Monte, very close to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake on 1989. The Villa itself is a 1918 house which still exists and has a fabulous Roman atrium design.
the villa courtyard colsS

It is cool to see how historic houses, like this 19th century schoolhouse converted into a winery, survived earthquakes – this is less than half a mile from the epicenter.
burrell schols

Most of the houses are post-1960, but there are some fine ones and some fine wines, since we have a lot of wineries here. (and will continue to do so after temperatures rise, unlike Napa)
villa best winery houseS

You can even see the tunnel that cut through the Santa Cruz mountains and made Los Gatos an important place.
the tunnelS

The stunning Lexington Reservoir I pass every day traveling to and from town:
lexiington reservoirS

But can you see Los Gatos? Some of my mountain neighbors have, but my own sightings are nil. Unless you count live music nights at Mountain Charlie’s…
mountain charlie detS

Virtuality in preservation

August 4, 2013

So we are driving in Sonoma County and we come to a town and see these lovely Victorian buildings on the hill.
Bodega first view
There are some other people there taking pictures of this big old Italianate that looks kind of like a school, and a church and an antique shop
Bodega st. theresa
Bodega antique
Bodega birds bldg
Now you might recognize this last building, but I was like the first viewer of The Sixth Sense or Fight Club and I was unaware of anything except a very cool mid-19th century buiding, so we went into town where we were looking for a fabric store and found a craft store and some other nice buildings like so…
bodega quoing house
Bodega 1870s
Bodega bukcfronts
Bodega store wi AH manni
So why did the store have a mannequin of Alfred Hitchcock out front? And one of Tippi Hedren inside?
Bodega stoere tippi display
And unlike when I saw The Sixth Sense and figured it out, I needed a storefull of The Birds memorabilia to connect that building with the movie that made it famous.
Bodega store birds displ

Now, earlier we had swung by one of my favorite buildings in Marin County, which is noted in architectural history as one of the late great works of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Marin County Courthouse.
Marin county courthouse bes
marin co courthouse cls
But this is also a movie set – it was in the late 1970s for THX 1138 and in 1997 for Gattaca, where its futuristic 1950s design ably represented the mid-21st century.

Appearing in a movie can make a place or a building more famous and more attractive to tourists, which might seem to be cheating since the “history” being added to the building is fictional by definition. Yet, when we film a famous movie at a site, that is part of its history too, right? I am reminded of being in Marfa, Texas, at a National Register hotel, which had a whole room dedicated to memorabilia of the film Giant, which was made there in the 1950s. More recently, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed in the rural hipster mecca.
paisano courtyard bS

chinati concrete18s
hipster because Donald Judd

Even places that have legitimate and ongoing attraction for tourists because of their architecture get a boost from movies. Think about Paris after The Da Vinci Code. Already famous buildings became the setting for a novel and then increased the interest in those buildings tenfold. Of course, LA is full of scenes from movies since they are mostly made there. TV has a similar influence – twenty years ago Germans called this monument in Chicago “Bundy Fountain” because it appeared in the opening credits of Married With Children
buck fntn

The point of all of this virtual history of place is that it is a kind of historia, a narrative that may in fact have been inspired by the place or not but is definitely attached to the place. In terms of tourism, this connection to fictional narratives can exponentially increase it – just look at the tourism of Universal Studios Hollywood, which is where TV and movies are really made.
IMG_0053
but this building is part of the purpose-built amusement park that goes along with the studio tour, so not sure where that fits into the analysis.

One of my favorite visits over 20 years ago was Portmerion, Wales, where they shot The Prisoner (say that in conversation and confusion ensues) back in the 1960s. It was a funny fantasy place of slightly off-scale buildings, not unlike Disneyland but preceding it by two generations. It was an architectural fantasyland and it became a perfect movie set. Interestingly, what keeps the tourists coming since the 1970s is Portmerion china, so the layers of historia keep building…
portmerionS

Watsonville

June 2, 2013

Had to drive to Watsonville twice yesterday. Town founded in 1852 and there is a full range of architectural styles on display, from the Italianate of the 1850s in the famed downtown Mansion House (With a Classical Chicago Skyscraper next door)
mans house
To many many classic California bungalows
cali bunga
And plenty of those little shotgun Victorian cottages that are ubiqquitous in NorCal, sort of the 1890s version of the ranch house
twin vicottage
purple vicottage
And this cool Shingle style cottage
shingle2
shingle3
If you want the joys of Classical ornament, you can find it both downtown
lettunich
and in the neighborhoods
classical entry
Classical wall
gothic churches, spanish colonial of course
church
span colo
and this marvelous 1850s Italianate cottage right out of Alexander Jackson Davis’ patternbook
AJD
Downtown has a Main Street with several intact early 20th century “highrises”
downtown hotel
ad 1911
While neighborhoods feature every kind of Victorian styling
high stair vic
and there is doubtless more….
corner vic

Homeownership as Industrial Relic

May 10, 2013

This blog is of course inspired in part by living in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets where double-wides can cost a million dollars, but it is also situated in time, and as the blog in its eighth year is still called Time Tells, let us think about homeownership in time.

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The idea of homeownership and the financial mechanisms to achieve it were a key to the economics of the 20th century, when the growth of the middle class and a consumer economy became the lion’s share of GDP, especially in the States.  There are innumerable studies that also link homeownership to things like family and economic stability, rising real estate values, and other attributes of the growth of the middle class.  And the phenomenon has spread beyond the United States to other parts of the developing world, although never with the market saturation seen stateside.

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The roots of the obsession with homeownership and our economic dependence on it go back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, when, for the first time, we separated work from home on a grand scale and had to invent a whole new culture of domesticity (and unnaturally restricted gender roles) to support a new economic geography.  Men went to work and women stayed home.  This was a new thing, and a literature and an art had to develop to support this innovative cultural frontier.

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As the middle class came into existence and expanded, the importance of domestic architecture grew correspondingly.  It had to be tranquil, conducive to family, a respite from the smoky reality of factory and office.  Even the crowded urban tenements, constantly being reformed throughout the 19th century, kept adding elements of middle class respectability.  My Fair Lady may focus on the costumes, but that “middle-class respectability” was also about architecture interior and exterior.

 

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belgravia flats

An old college friend with considerable financial expertise told me recently that it made no economic sense to buy a house in California. While he relented after years to domestic pressure (the cultural construct outlives the economic rationale) I took his words to heart. And I also thought about what Time Tells: homeownership means a fixed location, which makes sense for an industrial economy where you might comceivably have one job in one place for an entire career. It makes sense when fixed assets like factories remain in place. But in the fluid global knowledge economy of the 21st century the average worker must be trained for 20 years instead of 8 or 12. That same worker will need to be retrained 3 or 4 times over their lifetime and need to relocate 4 to 6 times.

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In SO many ways we are SO over the middle class of the 20th century so why on earth would we tie ourselves to a mortgage and a fixed location? Culture of course. It outlasts economic rationale. And of course the massive suite of U.S. Government support of homeownership, extending from a host of 1930s financing mechanisms (including the dramatic reduction of down payments from 50% of value) to the ongoing deductibility of mortgage interest has extended the economic benefits of homeownership well beyond the larger economic rationale. Will these subsidies shift in the coming years as we recognize the desirability of a more fluid workforce in a more fluid economy or will the pressures of political support (great to have voters fixed in place!) override the rationale? We shall see.

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All of this thinking about the (relatively recent) history of homeownership was inspired by a recent study by David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick, which argued that “areas with high levels of homeownership are more likely to stifle innovation and job creation.” Why? Labor mobility, discussed above, was a major factor. Zoning was also a factor, a much longer discussion we must save for another day. Silicon Valley – a crucible of innovation for two generations – is pretty far from Warwick, but its never-ending blast furnace of real estate values may well be the exception that proves the rule: the one place where home values defy history and continue to go up, fueled by the churn of knowledge workers. Or?

CLASSICAL

Tagging Pops: Techno Tempo NorCal 2013

March 28, 2013

Here are the things I want to blog about this week: Driving in Northern California; the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hit “Thrift Shop”; automated toll collection; and my addiction to my iPhone. How do we tie all this together?
horses on the hill mar2013s
horses maybe? I saw these horses yesterday on my way to work, while driving. And I took the photo with an iPhone. And I was listening to “Thrift Shop” on the radio that morning. Okay, that works.

Driving in Northern California

So, like everywhere else in the world, they have traffic jams and rush hours and traffic reports telling you where the accidents are. But is seems like there are more accidents. I saw a couple last week, and my commute is fairly long so the odds of me seeing one are higher.
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this is part of my commute
commute nr PA 280s
this is another part. No, it isn’t always beautiful.
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commute flowers3s
Okay, I lied. It IS always beautiful.

Now, Californians are of course known for being more laid back and friendly and even disconcertingly intimate to those of us from less evolved parts of the country. And this extends to driving in one striking way: they are enormously polite about “letting you in” when merging or at an intersection. Enormously. Unfailingly. There is one intersection on 17 where the signs actually say that those coming from the left have the right-of-way and won’t stop and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM does, and lets you in. Awesome, Dude!
cutie carS
This is what I mean by “disconcertingly intimate”

On the other hand, they tend to gun it and brake suddenly. Like, really suddenly. Like they have these false hopes that now traffic is moving quickly so they go for broke and then all of a sudden it is like everyone stopped. I guess that is why all the accidents. That and texting or sexting or whatever.
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Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE CAR is a Prius?
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Automated Toll Collection

Last week I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and paid $6 cash toll FOR THE LAST TIME EVER. Because now they are forcing automation on toll collecting. You either have a FASTTRAK or FASTPAS or whatever they call it here, or a little camera takes a picture of your license plate and SENDS you the bill. Like when you blow a stop sign or skip a toll booth. In addition to obviously saving labor (hmmm) and speeding up traffic (yay) it also means a cash windfall (d’oh). You buy the fasttrakpas thing and have to load $40 or so on it, which means the toll contractor (do they have governments anymore?) keeps the float on your money until you spend it down. Nothing new here – same deal with my subway pass in Chicago, the fastpastrak we had in Illinois, and so forth. It is not place-specific but it is the techno tempo, which is to say the technology of the times.

golden gate consS
This is so you can compare that famous GGB vermillion with traffic cones and Jersey barriers

iPhones

When this blog started in 2005 I sometimes complained about technology, and I was sometimes a Luddite, like in that 2007 post about owning an iPod for three days. Or that one from 2006 that is even more lyrical. I love that line about burning coal and endorphins.

I’m sucked in now, six years later. Burning it. I drive a car two hours every day and I have had an iPhone now for in actuality maybe four or five months but in terms of my day-to-day functioning it is more necessary than my gall bladder. It IS my watch and my alarm clock and my parenting device and my primary relationship, really. We still relate to other people, but now our language is not formed simply by air whistling past teeth and palates and lips but also by a million switches on a piece of sand smaller than the space between your finger and your fingernail.

One more quote from me from 2006: “They become an item of identity, and their actual functioning –what they do – is entirely secondary to the fact that you need them with you all of the time. Cell phones are not used for emergency calls or even necessary calls – they are used for identity establishment and as relationship dummies.”

You don’t have to take this as critique – those of us in the Derrida generation are copacetic not only with the shifting sands of time but also the shifting sands of referentiality. Speaking of which (pulling a muscle reaching for a distant segue…)

Thrift Shop

So what about “Thrift Shop?” I loved this song when I first heard it, having never heard of the reasonably famous artist(s) behind it. Hooks, beats, voices, dynamics, it all worked. It was also amazingly 1980 in its anti-consumerist sentiments, something that vanished from popular music sometime between the dissolution of the Clash and the rise of WHAM! Derrida generation but still with that crypto Judeo-Christian morality that infected both hippies and punks. Key Macklemore lyric in this regard:

“Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant (expletive)
I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”

Wow. Most rap songs are all about getting swindled and pimped and tricked by a business. It seems that mostly pop and rap songs ARE ALL ABOUT extolling the virtues and rising the prices of everything from Patron to Mercedes Benz to the extent that TEN YEARS AGO almost half of the most popular songs mentioned consumer brands BY NAME (Lil’ Kim set the record with 14 placements in one song.) Two years ago a study noted that for every hour you listen to rap/R&B/hip-hop you will get no less than three brand name alcohol references. So this is a bracing counter to the popular punch drunk pablum we are used to. The bottom of the hook is “I only got twenty dollars in my pocket” which is, again, the opposite of the whole gangsta aesthetic. Heck, it is the opposite of pretty much every aesthetic except maybe the old hippie one.

Ah, old hippies. Northern California. The “hella” is of course the key California word, although the sentiment is not because this place is as BESTBUYREINORDSTROMMACYSLOFTGAPOLDNAVYPOTTERYBARNFOREVER21BATH&BODYWORKS as anywhere else in the world. If anything, they are more so because it is high end market. In the valley it is easier to find an Apple store than a McDonald’s (they disguise them too sometimes). I could also probably find you a Tesla or BMW dealership more quickly than Ford or Chevy. Local loco locavorism insures a suite of regional vegan restaurants and cup-at-a-time coffee shops, so it is very ALTERNATIVE but it ain’t anti-consumer.
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Popping Tags at the Biofuel Oasis!

So my daughter and I sing along to “Thrift Shop” (I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes, I’ll look incredible) as I drive, guided by the tomtom in my iPhone, past mountains and horses and Teslas and Philz Coffees, not wondering whether what we experience is what was promised thirty years ago, or what it will be like in 30 years, or the meaning of it all or meaning at all, just difference and how technology is what we are and where we are as much as it is an extension of us because like placemaking it is a reciprocal relationship, it is toolmaking but it is making us at the same time. Which I wrote about two years ago here.

Oracle stadia east bayS
I think this speaks for itself. Oracles usually do.