Frances Anderton tells the story of an apartment building in Los Angeles

Frances Anderton tells the story of an apartment building in Los Angeles

Anderton writes that although multifamily housing is outnumbering single-family housing and is the only way out of the affordability crisis, it is often still marked by poverty and crime. To undo that image, she describes projects from Nathaniel West’s Hollywood bungalow courts to modern New Carver apartments just a few feet from the ramp connecting the 10 and 110 Freeways. There are a plethora of wonderful buildings, new and old, to choose from: swashbuckling, Andalusian fantasies, minimalist concrete tilts, etched steel and glass from the 1930s, crumbling statuary from the 1960s, garden apartments on a decidedly non-Corbusian scale, clapboard garage and loft conversions, And stacks of shipping containers, and even luxury high-rise glass towers. And, of course, decades of public housing, done right and wrongly undone in the Reagan era, when the idea of ​​federally funded, publicly owned housing fell out of favor.

Readers ride with Anderton on a personal tour of many of Los Angeles’ most visually interesting buildings and apartment complexes—as well as many that seem tacky. She is interested in the stories of who built these places and why and how they live there today. Case in point: Park La Brea, a massive complex dating back to the early 1940s, financed by Metropolitan Life, the largest residential development west of the Mississippi River. It was built on vacant land that was part of the Great Salt Lake oil field, just north of the La Brea Tar Pits Historic Landmark District. Originally a small town of two-story townhouses to which eighteen cruciform towers were added to meet housing needs after World War II, Parc La Brea is one of those places where almost everyone lived or thought about living when they arrived in Los Angeles . Known jokingly as the home of “the newlyweds and the nearly dead,” it has served as a landing point for artists, truck drivers, divorcees, and recent immigrants, and has somehow accommodated every conceivable feature of human habitation while maintaining a sense of community. Space is shared, that’s Anderton’s point. It is not an architectural marvel. It also has no architectural lineage. The complex consists of apartments surrounded by gardens, and is freed from the incessant city traffic, through a maze of confusing streets (and access that cannot be loosely controlled).

Picture of a modern residential complex in white
Manula Court, designed by R.M. Schindler. Courtesy Charmaine David

Parc La Brea is a mantra of Anderton’s main point: apartment living doesn’t just have its virtues, then you have to move on. You can live in an apartment and it can become your lifestyle. You don’t need to buy a house, install a brick patio and barbecue, or dig a pool, to become a full-fledged Angeleno.

In his quest to acknowledge the virtues of apartment living, Anderton leaves much of Los Angeles behind. Most of the city’s multifamily housing is far from ideal. This does not mean that she is unaware of the squalid conditions and price gouging that apartment dwellers suffer, or the poverty and overcrowding that is as inexplicable as it is terrible; She knows this. She also speaks to the wealth gap between white Americans and African American and Latino families — a gap that can only be closed through some form of homeownership. One wishes she had found a way to tell the most troubling and difficult truth, which is that for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles apartment dwellers, the escape to owning a single-family home or even a duplex or quadruple remains the goal enthusiasm—even as it becomes less achievable. . The tone that Anderton hopes to break, unfortunately, persists, despite her brave and exhilarating journey into one of its more livable dimensions.

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