Flipped Out: The End of the American Bungalow

The interior of a recently flipped 1918 bungalow in our neighborhood.

A recent story in the New York Times, “Want a House Like This? Prepare for a Bidding War With Investors” confirmed what I’ve long suspected is going on in our neighborhood. Large financial firms have turned our local housing market into a casino and in so doing have exacerbated the apocalyptic housing affordability and homelessness crisis here in Los Angeles. If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a house here you have to compete in insane bidding wars. If you can’t afford a house you have to pay an extraordinary percentage of your income in rent if you can find a unit not being used as an Airbnb.

What the investors do in our neighborhood is take modest 1920s bungalows, gut them, and barf up the contents of a Pottery Barn to cater to what the Stalinist HGTV has deemed that all our interiors must look like. Out go the moldings and built in cabinets and in come open floor plans and marble kitchen islands. If these old houses were being torn down to build nice, affordable multi-unit housing designed by talented contemporary architects I’d be cheering but that would mean that we lived in Austria and, here in the U.S., we aren’t allowed to have nice things.

While nothing special, the bungalows in our neighborhood faced many indignities over the years. In the dark ages of the 1960s and 70s many experienced what we call the “landing of the stucco bird.” Exterior beams, and the molding around windows were ripped off and the houses dunked in stucco in the false promise of lower maintenance. Cranky generation Xers like me and Kelly can remember a brief period in the 1990s when bungalows were hip again and carefully restored but that era is over as we suffer the seemingly unending tyranny of everything “mid-century” and a new dark age of ceiling can lighting and white paint over white paint over white paint.

My inner Slavoj Zizek wants to plumb the hidden ideology of these former 20s bungalows turned into open floor plan, brightly lit granite countertop palaces. With all the walls blown out, the inhabitants of the flipped houses of our neighborhood live in a state that reminds me of Natasha Dow Schüll description of casino architecture in her book Addition by Design. Schüll says,

Gilles Deleuze proposed in the 1990s that discipline, formerly the dominant mode of power in Western Societies, had been modified and to some degree overtaken by a logic of “control” that worked not by confinement or restriction of movement, but by the regulation of continuous, mobile flows–of capital, information, bodies and affects. Unlike the punitive subjection of discipline, control does not require a subject as such; nor does it seek to produce or manage one. As we have seen, casino design follows what one leading firm calls the “immersion paradigm,” holding players in a desubjectified state of uninterrupted motion so as to galvanize, channel, and profit from what the academic consultants quoted earlier called the “experiential affect.”

With no walls or doors with which to escape the gaze of our fellow housemates and bright lights and white walls everywhere, these flipped and remudled bungalows keep us in what one casino designer called “ergonomic labyrinths” in a state of “happy imprisonment.”

But as Marshall McLuhan used to say, “If you don’t like that idea I’ve got others.” Perhaps my inner and cranky Prince Charles just likes fuddy-duddy old houses. So please people, for the love of God, if you want a mid-century house please buy one. There’s plenty to go around. No need to rip out the molding and the built in cabinets in the old bungalow. Since the Man got rid of shop classes future generations won’t be able to replace those nice old details.

San Diego’s Egyptian Court Apartments.

As an addendum let me also note that the teens and 1920s gave us a great example of multi-unit housing called the bungalow court. Kelly and I lived in a spectacular one, the Egyptian Court Apartments, while we were in grad school in San Diego. Every morning you woke up, looked out the window and found yourself in a cheesy 1920s King Tut movie. How cool is that? Now the investors who have turned our housing into an investment deem that all apartments must resemble stacked shipping containers in a style that has come to be known as “SketchUp Moderne,” a Hardie Boarded byproduct of our Capitalist Realist hellscape.

Keeping Doors Secure

While this lecture is mostly about the types of doors you’ll find in institutional settings, there’s some important and actionable security information for our homes and apartments. In the talk, security consultant Brian Rea a.k.a. “Deviant Ollam,” shows far simpler ways to enter buildings without out either picking the lock or busting the door down.

For those of us who own our own houses Rea shows some simple steps you can take to secure hinges and prevent easy access to the latch bolt. Should you, for instance, live in a house where some idiot installed a door with the hinges on the outside, Rea suggests an easy fix: $4 jamb pins. Jamb pins prevent someone from the easy task of popping off the hinge pin.

Those of you in apartment with one of those telephone access boxes at the entrance are in for a shock. It turns out that just two keys will open the vast majority of telephony access boxes (a business dominated by two companies, Linear and Doorking). Once the box is open all you have to do is short the relay and the door will buzz open.

Screen shot from Rea’s lecture.

This idiotic “one key to open them all” laziness allows Rea to put together a nefarious “everyday” key ring that opens everything from filing cabinets to Crown Victoria police cruisers! Rea’s key ring consists of:

  • FEOK1 elevator key.
  • CH751  a small key for things like filing cabinets and RV doors.
  • C415A filing cabinets.
  • CH751 filing cabinets.
  • 1284x Ford fleet vehicles.
  • Jigglers–these are a kind of simple lock picking tool that will open many locks. I’ve played around with them and can attest to their effectiveness.
  • A wire loop for shorting telephony boxes.
  • 16120 Doorking telephony boxes.
  • 2223443 Linear box key.
  • Cuff key for what will happen when you use the rest of the keys on this chain.

Beyond that key ring Rea goes on to show how some institutional doors can be opened with a puff of vape smoke!

I’ve added Amazon links should you wish to put your own chain together. This means that Root Simple will benefit from Amazon referral fees while you are out stalling elevators, opening filing cabinets, breaking into apartment building lobbies and stealing police cruisers. Not that any of you would do such things.

In all seriousness, it’s good to periodically review security in the places in which we live and work. It always seems that the black hat folks are one step ahead of the clueless white cap wearers and the lazy companies that supply us with locks that don’t really work.

Thanks to the bloggers and readers of BoingBoing for the tip on this lecture and for supporting Root Simple over the past 10 years.

Using the Google Search App for Plant Identification

Over the past few months Kelly and I have been testing Google’s search app, which lets you use your phone’s camera to do a kind of reverse image search, to identify weeds and trees. It’s surprisingly accurate and even when it doesn’t get you to the exact plant it usually shows results close enough to make a good guess with a little more research.

To do an image search you click on the colorful square next to the microphone and allow the app to access your phone’s camera. It seems to work both with long distance shots, for instance a picture of an entire mature tree, or closeups of leaves.

There are other plant identification apps out there that I have tested over the years but none have worked as well as Google’s search app. Google is sitting on way more data than any small-time app maker. Which leads to my disclaimer . . .

While this search ability is amazing, I find Google creepy. Why? Let me list just a few reasons.

  • When you use Google for a search they track your location data. What exactly are they doing with this location data? Yes, you can turn this off but you loose functionality.
  • They gather publicly accessible information about you and hoard it like the Nibelungen hoard their gold.
  • They have monopolized and monetized search.
  • Google’s Director of Engineering is Singularity nutjob Ray Kurzweil who believes we will, someday, be raptured up to the cloud in a perverse, secular form of millenarianism.
  • Google confuses data accumulation with wisdom.
  • See Adam Curtis’ three part series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Part I, PartII, Part III) to see where the nightmarish world Google’s belief in cybernetics will take us.

Enough ranting. You will all have to help still my urge to take a sledgehammer to the whole interwebs.

To that end if any of you know a plant search alternative that works as well as Google please leave a comment. Or perhaps we should all just take our kids for a walk and show them some plants . . .

Backyard in Progress

This morning I thought I’d update progress on the garden. A crew from Haynes Landscaping worked hard over the past week to clean up our backyard and install the hardscaping for a rain garden fed by the downspout from the back end of our house. The rain garden will fill out a problematic area we’ve struggled with over the years.

When we moved into this house in 1998 the spot was occupied by a dead tree. A few years ago we used the area to mine clay for our adobe oven. This left a shallow depression that I filled in with compost and routed the downspout towards via an unsightly pipe. Lacking definition and choked with weeds, the area never looked good.

Our landscaper Laramee proposed digging the depression out by about a foot and adding river rock and a little dry stream fed by the downspout. I made a bridge so that when it rains water will flow under the path that leads to our shed. This is why you hire an outsider expert: Kelly and I would never have thought of this rain garden or the idea of running the flow under the path.

Yes, one of these days I’ll remove the bar code from that pipe!

We plan on planting this area with native plants in the fall. Laramee and his crew also hauled up some rock to better define the paths in our yard that lead to the bees and the chicken coop.

Laramee also proposed something else we never would have thought of: 12-volt lighting. He placed the lights sparingly along the paths in our backyard. For the sake of wildlife, I don’t believe in having outdoor lighting on all the time, so I rigged up a remote control switch to turn the lighting on as needed, such as when heading to the shed in the evening.

On top of the importance of seeking outside advice, the other lesson is not to accumulate crap such as building materials or duplicate tools. I had a lot of “failed project” detritus hidden behind the shed and tucked into corners of the yard. It feels good to have that junk gone and have a space that brings solace rather than “I’ve-got-so-much-to-do” chore anxiety.

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