In a time far, far behind me, when I was 16, I took a job with Benny and Barney Siegel as they carefully expanded their empire of three-decker apartment buildings in the eastern city of my youth. This was a time of conservation of useful things, long before the full onslaught of our ”buy it and toss it,” planned obsolescence society. The Siegel brothers carefully removed every useful item from the houses they purchased prior to remodeling them.
The buildings were then renovated, never torn down. My job was to remove all light fixtures, including any working light bulbs, and pack all up for transport to the Siegel warehouse which enjoyed a brisk trade selling good, used stuff to the greater community. In those days everybody knew how to pinch pennies.
There’s nothing so subtle about the removal of the house at 8759 Ashcroft. For the past two days I have heard the sounds of what some might call progress as the house was rendered by some large machine. Today I waddled over to see what was happening. Tomorrow would have been too late to observe the actions of another one of the huge yellow Caterpillar front loaders, (you know, the ones that weigh 65,000 pounds –so much for the 6,000 poune limit on the street!), as it tore through the remains of the building.
The Caterpillar spent the next hour simply scrunching the debris down to manageable condition, using its weight to flatten everything and make it suitable for loading into dump trucks. The Siegel brothers would have been appalled. Nothing was salvaged. Everything was turned into scrap and dust. The new understanding of what should be preserved is here.
I only slightly knew the house as it sat behind a high hedge, quite obscured. But, it was one of the many places built in West Hollywood during the 1920s and 30s as Los Angeles County was spreading its domain. I barely recall the general design of the place since it was difficult to see, but it was another one of the many “little houses” that had attracted people seeking some remove from the center of the city.
My son tells me the place was renovated about six years ago. The area was known as Sherman back then when it was built. Also, “back then” most houses were built of unplanned wood, meaning that the struts, beams and stringers of the frame were all actual dimensions. A 2X4 was just that, a 4X4 at least those dimension, etc. Window frames came from mills that still used such materials as sugar pine; doors might be of redwood. When remodeling my own digs I heard workmen complain that they could not easily drive a nail into the framing. It had become dry and very solid, and nails would often bend rather than sink into the wood. Of course, California’s population was considerably less in the ’20s and builders could be choosy about materials.
The tendrils of nostalgia still reach out to many of us as we see another tear in the fabric of the neighborhood, yet such change is inevitable as values also change and the views of what was once attractive give way to the new crop of developers and homeowners.
I suppose I could check at City Hall to find out what will replace the old house, but I think I’ll wait to see what will be. Another “boxhaus”? A wee cottage with a sweet little English garden? A party house? As things change more rapidly, as people’s needs evolve and the distinction between need and want becomes more blurred – well, I think I’ll just wait it out. I like surprises.
A true surprise would be that a moratorium on demolishing and re-building houses in the R-1 districts be imposed by the city. Upon consultation with family and neighbors, I find we are now well into the sixth year of nearly constant construction on my block or on nearby blocks. During that time, some neighbors have passed away and some have moved away, unhappy with the alterations to what they had once felt was a reasonably quiet and unhurried life.
Weho might be losing its former charm and replaced with incessant traffic down narrow streets, more street crime, increasing noise and a general feeling of displacement. The cozy shops are gone and highend glitz replaced them. Range Rovers and Mercedes challenge pedestrians at crosswalks. On weekend nights the city fills with young folk with fat wallets, and Guccis have come out of the boardroom to trod the cracked pavements on Robertson. The city is changing. Walking up to the Pavilions is now an adventure, and we never see well-known faces at Koontz. Where do the elite get their light bulbs and paint? It really isn’t Kansas anymore – but was it ever?
Stay tuned for more life in the construction zone coming…when?