Tenants Raise Alarm at Historic Schindler Apartments

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The speculative real estate binge that’s sweeping across LA right now has drawn a swarm of unscrupulous people willing to do whatever it takes to make a profit. In talking to community members over the past few years I’ve heard some hair-raising stories, but nothing that tops the reports I’ve heard from the tenants of the Sachs Apartments in Silverlake.

To give you some background, the Sachs Apartments (also known as Manola Court) were created by architect Rudolph Schindler for interior designer Herman Sachs. They’re a stunning example of Schindler’s work, a collection of buildings that step gracefully down a hillside, connected by steep stairways and terraced paths. The City of LA has recognized the importance of the site, naming it a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in 2016.

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A view of the Sachs Apartments from Edgecliffe.

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Another view from Edgecliffe.

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A gate leading to a walkway between two buildings.

The Sachs Apartments were purchased by the current owners some years back. While there are three names listed on documents filed with the City, the person who has been dealing with the tenants and supervising the “restoration” is Paul Finegold. I’ve been hearing a lot about Mr. Finegold lately, and most of the comments have been pretty negative.

To start with, a number of tenants claim that Finegold has been harrassing them, and they believe he’s doing his best to get rid of them. There have been reports that he doesn’t maintain the units properly, and is slow to act when problems come up. I wanted to learn more, so last Thursday I showed up for a meeting of the Urban Design & Preservation Advisory Committee of the local neighborhood council. The only item on the agenda was the situation at the Sachs Apartments, and there was plenty to talk about. A number of tenants attended. They talked about water leaking through the ceiling, workers leaving debris on the site, and respiratory issues that may be related to dust from construction. Apparently Finegold has posted at least one unit on AirBnB, and the tenants said the guests are often out of control. One woman said she found a couple having sex right in front of her apartment.

And there’s more. According to the people at the meeting, three tenants have already been evicted by Finegold, who claimed that he, his mother, and a resident manager were moving in. But according to the current tenants, neither Finegold nor his mother nor the manager are living on the site.

Beyond all that, a lot of people are asking whether Finegold is restoring the Sachs Apartments or wrecking them. Remember, this is a Historic-Cultural Monument designed by someone who played a key role in LA’s architectural history. Having pledged to do a careful restoration of the site, Finegold is receiving substantial tax breaks under the Mills Act. But tenants say he’s made significant alterations, reconfiguring the interiors of some units and removing the bathroom from one. They also claim workers have cut down 4 mature trees and removed tiles designed by the original owner, Herman Sachs. Former tenant Judith Sheine, an authority on Schindler’s work, has expressed her concern that Finegold’s crews are doing damage to the complex.

I decided to go to the LA Department of Building & Safety (LADBS) web site to check out some of the permits that Finegold has pulled. Here are some excerpts….

“REMOVE FULL BATH ON FIRST FLOOR AND CREATE A POWDER ROOM ELSEWHERE ALSO ON FIRST FLOOR. NO CHANGE TO PLOT PLAN.”

“CONVERT A 3 UNIT APARTMENT TO A 4 UNIT APARTMENT WITH INTERIOR ALTERATIONS.”

“ADD NEW BATH; REMOVE AND REPLACE SELECTED WINDOWS; NEW ROOFING; NEW COLOR COAT EXTERIOR PLASTER”

Is it really okay to do all this with a building that’s been designated as an HCM? Was LADBS aware that this is a historic building? Obviously, any structure that’s over 80 years old is going to need some work to comply with current codes, but removing a bathroom? Converting one structure from 3 to 4 units? Remember, Finegold is getting tax breaks under the Mills Act for the work he’s doing, and that means he’s required to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Historic Resources Group, a widely respected consulting firm, helped Finegold file the Mills Act application. Do they know what’s going on at the Sachs Apartments?

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A view of the Sachs Apartments from Lucile.

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Far corner of the building on Lucile.

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Another view of the building from Lucile.

And to top it all off, now Finegold has applied to convert 5 of the units to a bed and breakfast. That may seem like a small number, but remember, we’re in the middle of a housing crisis. And based on their experiences with Finegold, some of the tenants are worried that he eventually plans to convert the whole complex to a bed and breakfast.

So, will the Department of City Planning (DCP) reward this guy by allowing the change of use? Seems likely. In spite of the fact that City Hall keeps telling us that we don’t have nearly enough housing, the DCP has shown itself to be more than willing to work with owners who want to remove rental units from the market. The DCP has heard all about the tenants’ concerns, and so has Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office. But so far nobody from the City seems willing to stand up and ask what the hell is going on at the Sachs Apartments.

If you think somebody from the City should be asking questions, maybe you could let them know you’re concerned. Send an e-mail to DCP staffer Azeen Khanmalek, and be sure to copy Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

How about this for a subject line?

Investigate Possible Damage to Historic Sachs Apartments

Azeen Khanmalek, Department of City Planning
Azeen.Khanmalek@lacity.org

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell
councilmember.ofarrell@lacity.org

Sachs 30 Luc Rising

The Broad

Brd 10 Main

Last week I finally made it down to The Broad. I lucked out because some friends had an extra ticket and invited me along. I really recommend making a reservation. The lines for visitors who don’t have one are still super long.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

I got there a little early and spent some time just checking out the building’s exterior. It’s gorgeous. The two design firms that worked on the project, Diller Scofidio + Rensler and Gensler, worked from a concept they call “vault and veil”. The vault is where the museum stores its collection, and instead of trying to hide it, which is the standard approach, they allowed the structure of the vault to play a major role in shaping the space. The veil is the building’s outer layer, a porous sheath that lets natural light filter into the galleries.

Jeff Koons, Tulips

Jeff Koons, Tulips

A room full of Warhol.

A room full of Warhol.

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Looking at the works in Broad’s collection, it’s clear that the guy’s got a keen eye and an open mind. Unlike the super rich predators who’ve crowded into the art market looking for status symbols and investment opportunities, Broad is passionately interested in the ways that artists express themselves and interact with the world around them. Wandering through the galleries, I was struck by the depth and diversity of the works on view, but I was even more impressed by how engaging this innaugural show is. It can be tough just getting the general public to take a look at contemporary art. Believe it or not, some people don’t get excited about looking at massive hunks of sheet metal or walking into galleries filled with rotting vegetables. But the wide variety of pieces in this first show offer a range of experiences, and there’s something for everybody. If you’re an art scenester looking for challenging conceptual stuff, Mark Bradford takes over a wall to talk about post-Katrina economic realities in New Orleans. And if you’re a teen-age pop culture freak, you’ll probably want to whip out your phone and snap a few shots of Takashi Murakami’s giant psychedelic mushrooms. With works on display by Kara Walker, Joseph Beuys, Susan Rothenberg, Chris Burden, Ed Ruscha, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Tansey, Cady Noland and dozens of others, you’re sure to find something that will grab your attention.

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell'Accademia) Florenz

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell’Accademia) Florenz

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Charles Ray, Fall '91

Charles Ray, Fall ’91

I’m really grateful to Eli Broad for pulling this whole thing together. Aside from the thrill of seeing so much amazing art gathered together in one place, I was excited to see crowds of visitors milling through the galleries. And these people weren’t just passively strolling from one room to the next. They were posing with the art, laughing at the art, and talking about the art. This really is a museum for the people.

If you haven’t gone yet, what are you waiting for?

The Broad

Park located at the side of the building.

Park located at the side of the building.

Glendale Municipal Services Building

GCC 01 Crnr Full

LA has a remarkable architectural history. For decades writers and photographers have been documenting our homes and hotels, coffee shops and car washes, but there are still plenty of buildings that haven’t gotten nearly the attention they deserve. A prime example is the Glendale Municipal Services Building. It’s kind of surprising, given that the GMSB sits right out in the open at the corner of Glendale and Broadway, and that one of LA’s best known architectural firms was involved in the design.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

Northwest corner of the building.

Northwest corner of the building.

Probably part of the reason for its neglect is that it’s in Glendale. When most people think about LA architecture, they think of Downtown or Hollywood or the West Side. Generally speaking, the Valley isn’t seen as a hotbed of innovation in design, though it does have its share of interesting structures. No question, the GMSB is one of them.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

Stairway leading to the first level.

Stairway leading to the first level.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

Another shot of the stairway.

Another shot of the stairway.

In surfing the net, I didn’t come up with a lot of information about the GMSB. Every web site I’ve been to mentions both Merrill Baird and the A.C. Martin firm, but it’s hard to say who was leading the process. Baird is pretty obscure. It seems not much is known about him. The only other examples of his work I could uncover were a few homes, all in pretty traditional styles. Based on what I’ve seen, his involvement in a cutting-edge modern structure like the GMSB is pretty surprising. It’s tempting to give credit for the building’s striking design to A.C. Martin, but who knows. Baird’s residential clients probably dictated the style of the houses. Maybe he had more to offer than his previous work suggests. Also, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s web site does credit Baird with revealing the supporting pylons by removing decorative columns that were originally part of the GMSB’s design. Click on the link below to read more.

Municipal Services Building from LA Conservancy

All offices open onto the central atrium.

All offices open onto the central atrium.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

There are three stories of offices, but the building is lifted off the ground at its base by concrete supports. To enter the GMSB, you walk down into the central courtyard, and then use the stairs or the elevator to get to the upper floors. All the offices open onto the central atrium, and there are plenty of windows allowing workers to enjoy natural light. Even though traffic is constantly flowing on the surrounding streets, the space at the center of the building is quiet and peaceful.

A shot of the fountain from above.

A shot of the fountain from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

Walkway on the third level.

Walkway on the third level.

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The Conservancy’s web site describes the building as brutalist. While some of its features connect it to that school, it doesn’t have the heavy, blunt appearance of other brutalist structures. Generally the apartment blocks and office buildings built in that style tend to dominate the landscape. But not this one. It has a totally different vibe. It illuminates the landscape.

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1939 Meets 1984

US Wide

Not too long ago I was taking the train to visit some friends. I got to Union Station a little early, so I thought I’d buy a paper to read on the trip. But as I was walking in the direction of the newsstand, I got a small shock. It wasn’t there any more.

The place where the newsstand used to be.

The place where the newsstand used to be.

Now, I know people don’t read papers like they used to, so maybe I’m just a dinosaur living in the past. This newsstand did have a pretty good selection of newspapers and magazines, but it’s not like it was a historic landmark. It was just a tiny little shop that sold the kind of stuff you buy when you’re waiting for a train.

But that isn’t the only thing that’s changed at Union Station. In fact, the whole feel of the place is changing, and I can’t say I like it.

Completed in 1939, Union Station was designed by a group of architects led by John and Donald Parkinson. It brings together a number of different styles that were popular at the time, including Streamline Moderne, Mission Revival and Art Deco, and it has the feel of a massive museum devoted to a bygone era. It used to be a great place to chill. I liked hanging out there. I’d show up early if I was taking the train and relax in the old leather chairs. Read a paper. Have some coffee. Watch the sunlight streaming down through the huge windows.

These days it doesn’t feel so relaxing. In the first place, the chairs are now cordoned off and there are guards making sure that only people with a ticket get in. I know there have been problems with homeless people camping out there and asking travellers for spare change. And I still remember the time I was waiting for a train and there was a guy who kept screaming really loud. He sat on the floor against one of the columns while two guards tried to talk to him, and he just kept on screaming. So I know there’s a reason for maintaining some restrictions, but it makes the place feel a whole lot less inviting. And let’s be honest, this approach is typical of the City of LA. Rather than actually trying to deal with the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill, the City just shuts them out. Putting up another barrier doesn’t solve the problem. It’s just a way of avoiding it.

Waiting areas are now cordoned off.

Waiting areas are now cordoned off.

And what about the bagel shop? There used to be a little mom and pop place that sold a wide variety of bagels, and often when I was taking the train that’s where I’d stop to pick up some breakfast. It disappeared a while ago. What do we have in its place? You guessed it. Starbucks. We lost a little independent business that sold good bagels, and now we have another corporate coffee house. In fact, more and more Union Station has been taken over by chains.

Corporate coffee...

Corporate coffee…

...corporate sandwiches...

…corporate sandwiches…

...corporate snacks.

…corporate snacks.

I used to like hanging out in Union Station, but not so much any more. These days it’s kind of like spending time in a detention center that’s attached to a strip mall. The vibe of the place has changed. It feels colder. More corporate.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. Isn’t that what’s happening to the whole country?

Church Clears Another Hurdle

Mosaic Front

A quick update on the status of the Mosaic Church at Hollywood and La Brea. Earlier this week, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the structure be designated a cultural-historic monument. Click on the link below to get all the details.

Hollywood Church Closer to Becoming Historical Monument from Park La Brea News

This is good news, but as Helen Berman of Save Residential Hollywood points out, the fight is far from over. Developers LeFrak and Kennedy Wilson want to demolish the church so they can build a large mixed-use complex. They claim the building isn’t worthy of historic status, and they have very deep pockets. No doubt, they’ll be pushing hard to scuttle the designation.

So even though the groups hoping to preserve the church have won an important victory, they still have a long way to go. The CHC’s recommendation will go to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee next, and eventually the City Council will vote on the issue.

Thanks to Save Residential Hollywood for all their efforts so far. Here’s a link, in case you’d like to get involved.

Save Residential Hollywood

Thanks also to Councilmember David Ryu, who has come down firmly in support of granting the church historic-cultural monument status. If you’d like to thank him yourself, here’s his e-mail address.

david.ryu@lacity.org

Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge

Looking north from the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge.

Looking north from the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge.

A while ago I took a walk across the Sixth Street Bridge to get some photos of it before they tear it down. Looking out over the landscape, I saw the other bridges that span the LA River, linking Downtown and East LA. I started thinking it would be cool to take pictures of them as well.

I started walking on the Downtown side of the bridge.

I started walking on the Downtown side of the bridge.

It’s taken me forever to get started on that project, but recently I took a walk across the Cesar Chavez Bridge. There is something kind of thrilling about seeing the surrounding area from that vantage point. Much of the landscape is hard, grey concrete. Power lines criss-cross the sky. But you can also see the hills in the distance, and on the day I crossed the bridge there were massive clouds billowing all along the horizon.

A view of the First Street Bridge.

A view of the First Street Bridge.

Today the bridge is part of Cesar Chavez Avenue, created back in the nineties to commemorate the courageous labor leader who helped organize California’s farm workers. The segment that includes the bridge was formerly called Macy Street, but it’s also part of the historic Camino Real, the road built by the Spanish to connect their missions back when they governed California. The first bridge built on the site was erected in the nineteenth century, but it was demolished at the beginning of the twentieth. In the twenties, the City of LA began an effort to construct a series of viaducts across the LA River, and this bridge, then called the Macy Street Bridge, was part of that effort.

A huge mound of debris on the north side of the bridge.

A huge mound of debris on the north side of the bridge.

For years I’ve seen this massive mound of debris resting on the north side of the bridge. I have no idea where it came from or if it’s ever going away. If you look closely you can see that plants have started to grow here and there. It’s become part of the landscape, an artificial hill rising up over the river and the rail lines.

A view of the bridge heading toward East LA.

A view of the bridge heading toward East LA.

The bridge is lined with lampposts on either side, and decorated with porticos ornamented in the Spanish Revival style that was popular in the twenties. There are plaques affixed to the porticos explaining that the bridge is dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions. Serra’s legacy is controversial, since he was a major player in Spain’s effort to subjugate the native population. The Vatican’s recent decision to canonize him has ignited the debate all over again.

One of the porticoes that decorate the bridge.

One of the porticoes that decorate the bridge.

Another view of the same portico.

Another view of the same portico.

If you want to learn more about the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge, below is a link to an article on KCET’s web site that talks about the origins of a number of LA bridges. To see more images and to access info about it’s history, check out the links to the Library of Congress.

A Brief History of Bridges in Los Angeles County from KCET

Cesar Chavez Avenue Viaduct from Library of Congress

Photos of Cesar Chavez Bridge in the Library of Congress

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Hollywood Journal – It Wasn’t What I Wanted

Egyp Pylons Angle

Things change, and sometimes change is hard to accept. Part of the reason I spent years keeping a journal on Hollywood was to record the transformations that were taking place. One of the biggest upheavals was in the way films were exhibited. Hollywood is home to a handful of movie palaces, all of them built over the course of a decade starting in the early twenties. Up through the eighties, those palaces were still playing first run movies, and on opening weekend you might see lines going down the block.

But in the eighties multi-plexes started springing up, and the huge Hollywood theatres couldn’t compete. They either had to change or die. The Egyptian Theatre was shuttered in 1992. I was really upset. I’d seen so many movies there, including 2001, Alien and Point Break. When it suffered major damage in the 1994 Northridge quake, I was sure the next step was demolition. So I was overjoyed when I heard the American Cinematheque had bought the building and was going to renovate it.

Overjoyed, that is, until the theatre reopened and I saw the results. The auditorium was less than half its original size and the screen was significantly smaller. Plus, there were a number of minor changes that bugged me. I wrote it all down in the journal entry below. I was ticked off.

On the plus side, though, the Cinematheque was on Hollywood Boulevard and they were showing some great stuff. I eventually signed on as a volunteer, and ended up giving tours of the theatre, which made me look at the changes in a whole new light. In the first place, there was no way the Cinematheque could run the Egyptian as a 2,000 seat house. It just wasn’t possible to fill an auditorium that big on a regular basis. They had to find a way to solve that problem, and the solution was building two smaller theatres inside the original structure. Second, the theatre I remembered was very different from the theatre Sid Grauman had built in nineteen twenty two. He created a silent movie palace. As soon as sound came in, the theatre had to start adapting to stay viable, and numerous changes had been made over the years. In the process of renovating the Egyptian, the Cinematheque actually revealed parts of the original structure that had been concealed for decades. Third, the process of renovating a historic building is incredibly complex and costly. The Cinematheque had to follow the City’s code for historic preservation and find the money to pay for everything. They were lucky to connect with a couple of very talented architects, Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung. The team came up with a number of innovative and elegant solutions to some difficult problems.

I love seeing movies at the Egyptian these days. If the screen isn’t quite as big as it used to be, it’s still one of the largest you’ll find in LA. And the sound is way better than it was when the Egyptian was operating as a commercial movie theatre. So while the journal entry below shows my initial disappointment, as the politicians say, my views have evolved. When the theatre first reopened, I wanted it to be the way I remembered it in years past. That wasn’t possible. Things change.

Here’s a link to a page on the American Cinematheque web site that shows images of the Egyptian over the years.

Egyptian Theatre Past

And here’s a link to the Hodgetts and Fung web site that shows images of their renovation/restoration.

H+F Egyptian Theatre

Egyp Hier

January, Nineteen Ninety Nine

Well, last night I finally made it over to the American Cinematheque. And I’ve gotta say I’m pretty disappointed with what they’ve done to the Egyptian. I mean, if you just want to look at it as a modern, mid-sized theatre it’s fine. But, aside from preserving some of the decorative elements, it has nothing to do with what the Egyptian was. It seems like the auditorium is about half its original size. The screen is considerably smaller. The seats are cozy but narrow, and there’s very little leg room. I was more comfortable the other night at the Beverly. Why do they have that sign up that says it’s Grauman’s Egyptian? It’s not. Did any of the people involved seriously think they were restoring or renovating the original theatre? All they’ve done is build a mid-sized auditorium inside the shell of a movie palace. They’ve completely changed the interior and the exterior of the building. The experience of going to this new Egyptian Theatre is totally different, and it’s certainly not a change for the better.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I also have to say I’m really glad to have the American Cinematheque on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m pretty impressed by their programming so far. It seems like they really want to offer all kinds of films. In spite of what they’ve done to the Egyptian, I look forward to going back.

Last night we saw Cruising, and Friedkin was there to talk about it. I really liked the film. It was interesting to hear the director’s comments, too.

Egyp Columns