Monday, August 27, 2007

Changing Idea of Home?

In celebration of my almost-one-year anniversary with LA...

Lately, I’ve become a little bit enamored of reading local real estate blogs, like the one on the LA Times, Curbed LA, Westside Bubble, and some others. Maybe I like to confirm for my more negative side the untenable-ness of life out here, I don’t know, or to be brought down to earth after ogling too many for-sale, super cute, super-expensive (to my artist’s bank account) 1-bedroom bungalows.

Reading about the property adventures—and misadventures—of others creates many questions in my head. Here’s a recent line of thought I followed on the Westside Bubble Blog:

Saving Houses, by Westside Bubble, 6/17/07:
“I hope you all read Anon's comment to "Untouched by time" in the Valley, ending, ‘... I have to ask if am I alone in my view that these houses can be saved? Does every single house have to be move in ready? What happened to working on a house over the years to make it special and yours?’ I've remodeled, not quite as old as his, still a moving experience contemplating who originally built it and how they built then. Many in Santa Monica grieve for the feeling of its older neighborhoods that are being lost to mansionization. That helps inspire my written incredulity at $5M+ listings. Or condo-ization…See also Paris2LA's comment at the bottom of Airport influence area, ending, ‘... living as a person whose life centered on ideas and creativity, not money. With these prices, I suspect the population that lives there now is all about money.’__Which leads to a question for all of you: What are you seeking, what is your favorite neighborhood, and why? Is there still a place to find it? My ideal house is a modest fixer amid friendly neighbors that we could expand and update modestly. Haven't found it yet for a price we like.”

I responded to the post with the following:
My parents-in-law have lived a couple blocks north of Montana on 15th for almost 30 years, and I know that they feel bothered and confused by the new, large houses they now live sandwiched between -- they chose to modestly remodel and expand, as did many of their long-time neighbors. I think they now feel like they can't relate to the newer folks in the neighborhood. I'm originally from the South, where the attitude about saving things is quite different -- people who buy into old neighborhoods and do the tear-down thing are really looked down upon, because society's focus is on historically-correct preservation. I’m not sure either extreme -- either save everything, or build everything anew -- is better. I chose to live in the Silver Lake/Echo Park area when I moved to LA because I really enjoy the mix of old and new that is there (though I admit to preferring the old for myself, perhaps just out of habit and nostalgia for home). As an outsider, that sharp contrast seemed to me to be what LA is all about.

So, this whole discussion, along with the tear-down phenomenon, makes me wonder: is our idea of “home” changing? During grad school, I made an effort to learn about the concept of home and the ideas it embodies: I took a seminar about the development of suburbia during which I read D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land, and I also read a lot of Gaston Bachelard and Witold Rybczynski. I learned that a home is meant to foster comfort and well being, to be a space where our bodies can relax so our spirits can flourish.

Evidently, the posters to Westside Bubble feel that their spirits are being cramped by looming McMansions (and as I posted, my in-laws aren’t big fans either). But what about the people who live in these extra large houses? How do they feel, and what are/were their motivations? And how will History judge these Moroccan-Tudor architectural fantasies? In some ways, I see them in a positive light: they represent the optimism of the owners, their desires for a “perfect” house, and are kind of the ultimate incarnation of the American Dream—build your castle and make yourself king.

As I suggested in my blog comment (see above), I really enjoy the mix of old and new that some parts of LA cultivate. It seems to me that history and innovation should be able to peacefully coexist, each providing a striking and respectful backdrop for the other.

Can architectural confrontation, maybe even violence, be part of that kingship? Am I just looking through grad school goggles again?

Westside Bubble:

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