Sucking the Soul out of Hollywood

Hlwd VC Corner Op

I was saddened, but not really surprised, to hear that the Villa Carlotta had been bought by a developer that wanted to turn it into an extended stay hotel. This kind of thing is going on all over Hollywood these days. Developers and real estate interests with tons of cash buying up older buildings, kicking out the tenants, and reinventing the place as a playground for the upscale crowd.

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It’s especially sad with the Villa Carlotta, though, because of the community that had grown inside those walls. Take a look at this article from Vanity Fair, written by a tenant, to get a sense of what’s being lost as these people are forced out by the owner.

Ciao, Villa

Here’s another article from the LA Times.

Changing Neighborhood Engulfs Their Old Hollywood Home

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There are larger issues, too. Not only are these people losing their homes, but they’ll have a hard time finding anything else that they can afford. Rents are going up all over LA. Owners of older apartments are jacking up rents, and units in many of the new buildings start at around $2,000 a month.

It’s well known that LA is in an affordable housing crisis, and taking the 50 units in the Villa Carlotta off the market is just one more turn of the screw. Hopefully SB 2222 will put a stop to this. It was recently signed into law by Governor Brown, and requires that developers who acquire a rent-controlled property maintain the same number of affordable units regardless of what they plan to do with the property. But LA has lost thousands of affordable units in recent years. The new law may be too little too late.

Hlwd VC Pots

In The Times piece the writer describes the meeting the developer had with the tenants to let them know they were being evicted. The way they were spinning it was that the tenants should be glad, because the developer was going to spend a lot of money refurbishing the building. This just shows how clueless they are. These people aren’t just losing their home, they’re losing a place where they made friends and partied, a place where they shared food, stories, art and music. For these people it wasn’t just a place to live, it was a community. The Villa Carlotta is a lovely relic of old Hollywood, but even more special than the building are the people who lived there.

Of course, the new owners don’t care about the people. All they care about is money.

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Mama Shelter Update

Work continues the building at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

Work continues the building at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

Just wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote about the Mama Shelter hotel at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

I went to a hearing last year to express my concerns over some variances that were being considered for the project. The three issues that worried me were the request to allow live entertainment on the roof, liquor permits for the two restaurants, and the amount of parking required. I got the zoning administrator’s determination a while ago, and these are the results.

They’re not going to allow live entertainment or amplified music on the premises. Very happy about this. While the hotel isn’t close enough to my apartment for the noise to bother me, this is becoming a big concern for residents in the Hollywood area. A few people who attended the meeting complained that they’re already having trouble sleeping because of existing venues that play music far into the night. So I was very glad that the City nixed this.

They did decide to grant a full liquor license for the two restaurants. I was not happy about this. It’s not so much that I’m worried about the hotel itself, as the fact that these days the City is giving out liquor licenses like candy. With so many places in Hollywood for people to get hammered, there’s been a significant increase in crime. In fact, the problems are so serious that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck wrote a letter to the Department of City Planning last year in which he expressed his concern about the number of liquor licenses that are being issued. The City really needs to slow down on this. There are already plenty of places to get a drink in Hollywood.

The last issue was the parking, and this was tricky. The administrator’s decision said that Mama Shelter would be allowed to lease five spaces off-site. Apparently these were for patrons of the restaurant, but it didn’t sound like nearly enough. I also wondered where the hotel guests would be parking. I knew the lot adjacent to the building wasn’t available. I ended up writing to Gary Benjamin at the Council District 13 office and Jared Sopko of Archeon Group, a company that’s working with Mama Shelter on the project. Both of them responded to me quickly, explaining that the hotel has contracted with a valet parking service that has access to 300 off-street spaces in the area. That was good to hear, because parking on the street around Selma and Wilcox can be really challenging. I was afraid local residents would be fighting with valets for spaces, a scenario that’s not uncommon in Hollywood.

All in all, I’m cool with the outcome. I wish they hadn’t granted the liquor permit, but I’m happy with the resolution on the other issues. I’m glad that Mama Shelter is refurbishing a building that’s been vacant for years. That’s definitely a plus. And of all the new hotels that are flooding into Hollywood, Mama Shelter seems like the best fit with the neighborhood.

So I can live with this.

A Trip to the Mall

Outside Macy's Plaza in Downtown LA.

Outside Macy’s Plaza in Downtown LA.

I hate shopping. Slob that I am, I’ll wait until my clothes are coming apart before I force myself to go out and buy new ones. And when I do finally get to a store, I grab the stuff I need, pay for it and leave as quickly as possible. I just want to get it over with.

So hating shopping like I do, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I also hate malls. They seem so big and impersonal. But obviously I’m in the minority, because millions of people flock to malls every week, and seem to enjoy the experience. It’s been said, and I know it’s true, that malls have become the social center for communities, replacing parks and town squares. Whether I like it or not, they’ve become an important part of the fabric of American life.

When I do finally break down and go shopping, I usually head for Macy’s Plaza in Downtown. That’s where I went last Saturday night to pick up a couple pairs of pants. The main reason I like this mall is that there’s usually nobody there, and that was the case on Saturday. I breezed in, bought what I needed and breezed out, without having to fight my way through crowds. It was fairly painless.

But obviously, what makes Macy’s Plaza attractive to me is a sign that it’s not really attractive to other people. If nobody’s showing up to shop, stores can’t survive. This mall has been struggling for years. It’s never drawn the kind of crowds you’ll find in Burbank or Sherman Oaks or Santa Monica. There are times when I’ve visited that the place seems more like a ghost town.

So somebody’s trying to change all that. A couple years ago a developer bought the property and they’re pouring millions into a massive makeover. Construction has been going on for months. As I was walking out I stopped a moment to take a look at the work they’re doing in the central court. Here are a couple photos.

Interior court at Macy's Plaza under construction.

Interior court at Macy’s Plaza under construction.

Another shot of the interior court.

Another shot of the interior court.

Apparently this area will be opened up and turned into a public plaza, which is a smart move. This area will offer direct access to the subway as well, which also makes a lot of sense. If you’d like to see some renderings, take a look at this post on Curbed.

What Macy’s Fortress Will Become

Of course, if you’re throwing all this money into an extreme makeover, you’ve also got to throw a lot of money into rebranding the place. And this was the thing that really caught my eye on Saturday night. Apparently once the remodelling is done, the mall will be renamed The Bloc. The campaign they’re using to promote the change is interesting. Check out the temporary barriers that currently line the entrance to the mall.

Construction barrier with a quote from Byron.

Construction barrier with a quote from Byron.

Construction barrier with a quote from Euripides.

Construction barrier with a quote from Euripides.

Construction barrier with a quote from Hafiz.

Construction barrier with a quote from Hafiz.

I can’t remember the last time I went shopping and was greeted by quotes from Thoreau, Euripides and Hafiz. It definitely made me stop and look, but I wonder how these guys would feel about having their work used in a marketing campaign for a mall. On the other hand, it’s definitely better than having the place plastered with massive, garish images of supermodels and food.

And as I was snapping these photos I looked up and saw dozens of origami cranes hanging overhead.

Origami cranes suspended from scaffolding.

Origami cranes suspended from scaffolding.

For the past few years the only cranes I’ve seen in LA have been the massive metal kind that dominate the horizon. It was nice to see the other kind for a change. Something small, graceful and beautiful tucked into a hidden corner of the urban jungle.