Sad foot sign, the end is comin’

News arrived this week that the rotating podiatrist sign that gives our Los Angeles neighborhood its identity will move and no longer rotate. Several years ago Kelly and I decided to help promote the idea of calling our disputed border region, located between the neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Echo Park, “Happy Foot Sad Foot” or “HaFoSaFo” for short.

Kelly detailed, in a 2010 blog post, the many cultural references to the sign including a novel by Jonathan Lethem.  A reader pointed to a song by the Eels. Later we found out that David Foster Wallace used the sign in his posthumously published novel, The Pale King. Allow me to digress for a moment to note that the longest half hour of my life was the time I was part of a film crew interviewing Wallace. He had an epic, paranoid freakout as soon as we started taping and it took most of that half hour to calm him down and assure him that his thoughts would not be taken our of context. He kept staring into the lens and repeatedly asking, “Who is going to edit this?” Once calmed, he went on to have a reasonable discussion about David Lynch. But back to the Foot. In The Pale King, while he references the sign, though moves its location to Chicago.

Many of the bards that frequent our hiptsery ‘hood have sung tributes to the Foot. There’s a song by Yacht animated by Mike Hollingsworth:

And the aforementioned Eels:

Sad foot sign, why you gotta
Taunt me this way
The happy side is broken now
It’s gonna be an awful day

And if I have to drive back by
To see from a different side
Would it be enough to say
The first time was a lie?

Sad foot sign, the end is comin’
That’s what they say
Maybe you could, see it in
Your heart for one day

To let me feel what it’s about
To really be alive
To live and breathe
And see and feel, then I can die

And when I come back to this room
I’ll put on a uniform
And go into, the foot sign shop
Where you were born

In the comments to Kelly’s original foot post, readers contributed neighborhood defining commercial signage from other parts of the U.S. including the Frederick, Maryland’s Freeze King:

The demented sign of the Lebanon Missouri Chiropractic Center:

An odd dual Hotel/Motel sign that used to be in Waco, Texas:

And I’ll add the Doggie Diner sign in San Francisco that was an obsession of Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith:

When the Doggie Diner went out of business one of the iconic fiberglass doggie heads was moved to a median strip at Sloat Boulevard and 45th Avenue and deemed San Francisco landmark No. 254.

If only we could find a median strip for the rotating foot. Instead we might have to revive our efforts to call this place the Free Republic of Edendale. Some years ago I even came up with currency featuring the common neighborhood vista of a street mattress:

In all seriousness, our corrupt city government does a very poor job of placemaking. The best they can do is name intersections after people with pathetic little signs posted high up on a signal. You know you’re in trouble when a podiatrist sign is a better placemaking option. Paris LA ain’t. I think we’re going to have to take things into our own hands and build our own Happy Foot Sad Foot Arc de Triomphe. One we do that the People’s Parliament of the Free Republic of Edendale can get around to those much needed protected bike lanes . . .

Does your neighborhood have a distinctive and quirky sign? Leave a comment!

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.

Notre Dame on Good Friday

When the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames this week I thought immediately of the book I’ve been reading in the evenings for the past few weeks, J.W. Mackail’s Life of William Morris. Morris was obsessed with Medieval architecture and visited Notre Dame and many other French churches on a trip in 1855. Later in his life Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (which still exists) as a response to the poorly considered renovations of Medieval buildings that grew out, ironically, of a Gothic revival movement during the Victorian era.

Morris’ believed that historical buildings should be kept in good repair and stabilized. As the University of Maryland describes his philosophy,

While the Gothic Revival drew renewed interest to the medieval aesthetic, some architects sought to restore old buildings to an ideal state by removing original detail and adding new construction- trends Ruskin and Morris both found troubling. Morris championed an alternative building preservation model based on retaining all surviving building fabric, no matter how flawed by the passage of time, while employing minimal, non-intrusive reinforcement of the existing infrastructure to prevent future damage. He coined the name, “Anti-Scrape Society” for the SPAB, a humorous shorthand that embodied his philosophy of honoring the artisans who constructed old buildings by preserving their work without alteration.

He would not have liked the 19th century spire that collapsed in the fire this week nor many of the other alterations that took place to Notre Dame in that period. I’m sure he’d also be worried about Macron and his fashion billionaire friends who have some alarming restoration notions. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. Thankfully, Morris’ forward thinking ideas have become mainstream in the restoration world.

Ship of Theseus

The tragedy of this fire is also a reminder, as Nassim Taleb pointed out, that all building restoration efforts bring up an old philosophical paradox known as the Ship of Theseus. This thought experiment asks the question “If, during a journey, I replace all the planks of a ship do I arrive at my destination on the same ship or a different ship?” Anyone who has worked on an old building faces this weird ontological conundrum all the time. And the law can make this abstract thought experiment a confusing reality. Keep one wall of a building and a municipality will deem what is in reality an entirely new house a cheaper to permit remodeling. This can get absurd as in the flipper palace under construction in my neighborhood, seen in the photo above. It would have made for a much more interesting building had they kept that old wall rather than removing it as soon as the inspectors left.

Part of Morris’ philosophy is keeping earlier modifications intact so as to show the passage of time. Paradoxically that would mean leaving the surviving 19th century modifications to Notre Dame that he, no doubt, hated. Notre Dame has been altered and wrecked so many times that Ship of Theseus questions about how to fix the current damage will provide years of difficult architectural conundrums.

Framing the Frame Blog

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Professor Henry Rowland, 1897.

I remember going on a tour of an art museum once when, towards the end of the tour, the docent asked if anyone had any questions. One of the people on the tour, motioned towards the ornate gilded frames and asked about where they came from. The docent grimaced and I could tell that she thought this was a stupid question.

Giovanni Bellini, the Frari Triptych, 1488.

It’s not. It turns out that most artists of the past gave a lot of thought to the frames, often coming up with their own designs or collaborating with highly specialized woodworkers. I know about this though my discovery of a deliriously detailed and meticulously researched jewel of the internet: The Frame Blog. The blog is run by frame historian, Lynn Roberts and has over 45 contributors.

Don’t believe how important frames are? Just look at this post to see what happens when the frames go missing. And Roberts also likes to point out how important it is to include the frames when paintings are reproduced online or in books.

To go meta on this, the post-modernist in me thinks it’s important to look at the frames we put around everything, not just art. And, practically, I’ve been trying to make some of my own frames lately with a table saw jig and Frame Blog has been a source of inspiration (and humility as my frames look like they were made by Fred Flintstone by comparison).

The Frame Blog is one of the few gilded nodes on the internet’s tarnished tubes.

Wallpaper: Like a Tattoo for Your Walls

Root Simple reader Morninglory asked for a closeup of our new wallpaper so here you go.

It’s William Morris’ popular pattern known as “Fruit,” first produced in 1864 and still available in a variety of color combinations. There’s also a version with birds (put a bird on it!), but Kelly thought the bird-less version would look less repetitious.

We also installed Morris’ “Daisy” wallpaper in our breakfast nook. “Daisy” is the first wallpaper that Morris manufactured and it’s inspired by the illustrations in a book in his parent’s library that he thumbed through as a kid, Gerard’s Herbal.

Morris discovered a talent for patterns by way of failing miserably as a painter. While he couldn’t paint a human figure or animal well, he had a talent for patterns that grew out of a lifelong obsession with illuminated manuscripts.

While working on the house last summer we discovered a fragment of the fuddy-duddy wallpaper that covered the walls in the 1920s. Partly inspired by this, Kelly ordered some samples of the Morris papers and when they arrived in the mail I thought they were so striking that we had to install them in spite of my fear of wallpaper and the great expense of the paper itself.

I very briefly considered installing the paper myself but then read some how-to directions that made my head hurt while, simultaneously, discovering Eric of Garden Fork’s video, “I’m Hanging Wallpaper, What Could Go Wrong?” It turns out a lot went wrong and when I wrote Eric he told me to hire someone. Hanging your own wallpaper is like doing your own root canal.

Finding a qualified wallpaper hanger proved difficult until a friend, April, gave me the contact info for Jan of Busy Bee Wallpaper. Jan did a phenomenal job and, unlike the rest of the folks I attempted to contact, set a date and stuck to it. I enjoyed watching her deftly cut around fussy window molding and uneven and out of square walls. She made it look easy which it ain’t.