Ever look at the CVS that sits at the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards? Ever wonder, why does that not look like any CVS I’ve seen before?
It is a strange building: highly stylized concrete stairs (which scream 80s), heavy wood siding, over-scaled asymmetrical steel frames, semicircle front … it clearly was not originally designed to be an oversized drug store.
Back in the 1940s, this corner was home to the La Cienega Lanes bowling alley, the first in a number of businesses to occupy the long-spanning bow-truss structure, each representative of their time.
La Cienega Lanes lived during a popular time for bowling, when the LA Times even had a regular bowling column.
The lanes survived into the 1970s, but bowling began to lose its popularity.
Adapting with the times, the building transformed into the next hottest thing: a late-70s roller disco.
Flippers Roller Rink moved into the space.
The rink was started by Denny Cordell, a successful record producer who had worked with the Moody Blues, Joe Cocker and Tom Petty and who, after his foray as owner of a skating rink, would go on to produce albums for the Cranberries, among others. Adding to its cultural cachet was the rumor that Cher, a rollerskating fanatic, was at one time an owner of Flippers and, along with Olivia Newton-John, a regular.
The days of roller disco eventually ran their course, and the building again changed hands. In 1983, Esprit, a quickly growing, socially forward fashion label, turned the space into one of its first freestanding U.S. stores.
Esprit spent $14 million on renovations, hiring hot 80s designer Joseph D’Urso to create the concrete parking structure, wood siding and store. The remnants of an Esprit sign (with its trademark vertical-less E) are still visible on the side of CVS today.
In the 1990s Esprit had its sights on international markets and looked to sell the building. In 1995, the company entered into negotiations with the City of West Hollywood, which considered transforming the store into a new City Council chambers and a replacement library, both of which were housed in West Hollywood Park at the time. This deal, however, fell through.
A string of drug stores eventually moved into the space, which, with its wide open floor plan, was perfect for the banal big box stores that pepper our cities today.
Perhaps one day a new (and more fun) cultural trend will take over the space.
But for now, whenever I am out to pick up a prescription or paper towels, I will imagine Cher skating by — Hell on wheels, let’s roll!
What is the story with that vaguely classical, completely circular, bright green building on Sunset Boulevard near Holloway Drive?
Would you believe that it was designed by the Brazilian master of modern architecture Oscar Niemeyer?
Niemeyer, who passed away last year at the age of 104, is known the world over for his designs and was the winner of the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s highest honor) in 1988.
Notable for their monumental, curving white forms, his buildings have a sensual Brazilian bent and Niemeyer often compared these sculptural shapes to the body of a beautiful woman.
It’s fitting then that our local Niemeyer-designed building was erected to house the offices of Dr. Robert Allen Franklyn, plastic surgeon to the stars.
Finished in 1967 and originally painted white, like any good modernist building, it was known at the time as the “Beauty Pavilion” and saw numerous Hollywood stars of the 60s and 70s come through its turnstiles.
Dr. Franklyn had an obsession with round buildings, or, more specifically, with spotless symmetry. After all, he was one of the early advocates and practitioners of breast augmentation. He even wrote a book on the subject “On Developing Bosom Beauty.”
Franklyn and Niemeyer, the surgeon and the architect, make an unlikely but ideal match.
Today this charming little oddity is the home of production company Mutato Muzika, the music studio of Mark Mothersbaugh. One of the founding members of New Wave band Devo, Mothersbaugh has also lent his keen composition skills to numerous films. Wes Anderson films generally carry his tunes.
After 46 years this little building (modeled after “The Forum” in Inglewood) is holding up quite well. It is amazing what a little (or more than a little) green paint can do. The literal greening of his white building might have Niemeyer spinning in his grave, but Dr. Franklyn can never say no to a facelift.
The dramatic change of hue (courtesy of Mothersbaugh) shifts this simple structure from a modern take on the Greek temple to a post-modern fantasy spacecraft — more Xanadu less Corbu.
When most people think of street art they conjure up a witty, gritty Banksy spray-paint stencil or a graphic glue-down poster by Shepard Fairey.
But street art, which has a strong presence in the Los Angeles area (West Hollywood is no exception), doesn’t have to be political or subversive, it can also be whimsical.
I happened across one example in WeHo, an “Urban Geode” by street artist “A Common Name.”
Appearing in the nooks and crannies of buildings, these geodes look like crystalline crust emerging from a missing brick or open vent. The ones I found were “growing” out of the underfloor ventilation openings of a restaurant.
Made of cut, folded, painted and treated paper, these pieces portray a rare natural event, one that is by definition hidden. Geodes form in hiding and are revealed only when a rock (or in this case a building) is broken, cut, cracked or otherwise opened.
These geodes make viewers wonder, for a moment, “just what is behind the surface of our walls?”
Are they entirely filled with these formations? And what within the walls could cause such beautiful things to grow?
A charming thought.
To see a map of geode locations, including the one here in West Hollywood (8782 Sunset Boulevard at Palm) visit http://acommonname.com/street-art-project/.
When the Pacific Design Center was built in 1975 the West Hollywood area was made up of low-scale residential neighborhoods.
Needless to say, the hulking structure was highly controversial. Residents complained of the design’s lack of relation to the history of the area and its complete disjunction from the surrounding residential scale. Pauline Schindler, the widow of Rudolph Schindler, architect of the Schindler House and an early West Hollywood resident, was one of the most vociferous critics of the design.
But Cesar Pelli, architect of the PDC, is a notorious smooth-talker and eminently likable man. His charm and ability to disagree without being disagreeable smoothed the controversy over.
Blue glass, he argued, would help to hide the bulk of the building by blending in with the sky above and, simultaneously, the reflection in the glass would speak to the scale of the surrounding neighborhood.
The result is a building with an exterior both shocking and right; like a well-kept classic car, it has barely aged. The original PDC is a building that, if only because of its color, would be just as controversial today as it was in 1975—an example of the provocative power of color.
Ever Wonder what is behind the high walls emblazoned with hazardous material warning signs on the back side of the Beverly Center?
Shielded from San Vicente Boulevard is, in fact, an actively drilling and pumping oil well.
Managed by Plains Exploration and Production (PXP) this well taps into both the Salt Lake Oil Field and the adjacent Beverly Hills Oil Field. Discovered in 1902, one tip of the Salt Lake Oil Field begins in West Hollywood and runs generally along Beverly Boulevard all the way past Highland Avenue and south to Wilshire Boulevard. (See map above) where it is the source of the tar at the La Brea Tar Pits next to LACMA.
Oil wells exist all across urban Los Angeles, long predating the neighborhoods that have been built around and over them. Most of these wells have long since been abandoned, but at the Beverly Center site drilling continues. Advances in drilling technology, by drilling at an angle from behind soundproof walls, make this single location able to reach faraway deposits of oil, boring down as deep as 3,300 feet below the city streets.
The desirability of areas like Mid-City and Beverly Hills may seem at odds with being located above an oil field, but the wealth in these areas can be partially attributed to the subterranean geography. Oil companies pay royalties to those who own land above the oil field — thus the black gold that stirs thousands of feet below the surface help pay for the many Jimmy Choo heels and Mercedes SUVs that navigate the streets above it.
As Los Angeles expanded during the 20th century new districts and suburbs were created by annexing land from neighboring areas. West Hollywood long resisted incorporation into the encroaching city and its borders today reflect both the variety of external forces and the local desire to retain the area’s distinct and autonomous identity.
This autonomy was what drew many to West Hollywood initially, including the speakeasies of the 1920s, celebrity clubs of the 50s, hippy and rock and roll culture of the 60s and the homosexual community—each sought refuge from Los Angeles Police Department raids and harassment within West Hollywood’s borders.
Each annexation (see map above) has a story of its own that reveals the reason for the jagged borders. For example, the 1979 addition to the Fairfax district included land that was specifically acquired by Los Angeles for the construction of the Beverly Center, which was finished in 1982.
As a city logo, the outline of West Hollywood is a reminder of the city’s retention of its identity by maintaining its geography.
You’re not standing above a city water reservoir; these markers were part of a 2007 program called “Well West Hollywood.” The program mapped, measured and marked 2.5-mile paths through the city to promote fitness.
There are three paths: The red arrows lead you uphill — they don’t call it the Cardio/Historic Route for nothing — from Kings Road Park past a string of historic buildings to Formosa. Like parks? The yellow markers take you from West Hollywood Park to two others, Kings Road and Plummer. Curious what the neighborhood west of the PDC is like? Follow the blue arrows, starting at Santa Monica and San Vicente, in a convenient loop.
Tie your shoes and follow the arrows, fitness is built into the city infrastructure.
See the yellow path map here.