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Fairy Garden by Takako Tajima, image courtesy of the artist.jpg

Dear DNA friends,

Hope you are doing well.

Thanks to the magic of Voice to Text on the phone, one of my ways of working is to walk the neighborhood while dictating thoughts and to-do lists. What this means is that I get to spend time gazing at the fruits of the recent rains: the abundant flowers, bushes and grasses in the front yards of other people's homes. Which brings me to April, Earth Day, and a month of garden delights. Read on for those, as well as other Design Things to Do. But first, a stroll down memory lane and an exuberant addition to the hotel scene in LA.

The Georgian Revived

It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when Santa Monica was not the affluent, comfortably progressive city it is today. Rather it was — as portrayed by Raymond Chandler in his novels — Bay City, “a corrupt, crime-ridden town, home to water taxis from the Pier to gambling ships anchored in the Bay.” And one of the hotspots in this era was The Georgian, the turquoise hotel on Ocean Avenue that offered its denizens a view of the sea, the pier and easy access to those gambling flotillas, as well as a discreet dining den downstairs, frequented by guests including Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe, Rose Kennedy, and “Bugsy” Siegel.

The gambling ships and their creator Tony Cornero were outlawed in 1939, the downstairs hideaway later closed, for fifty years, and over time The Georgian became drab, superseded by the boutique hotels that have sprung up across the Southland. Now, it is making a comeback — with the public opening this week — thanks to a team helmed by the hoteliers Jon Blanchard and Nicolo Rusconi, with interiors designed by Tom Parker of Fettle (with architects HLW).

IMAGE 2, The Georgian, photo by Douglas FriedmanThe Georgian, photo by Douglas Friedman

Fettle (an old English verb for hand shaping or finessing something) has a gift for combining the sumptuous and cozy, so the newly appointed Georgian is full of deep rich colors and decorative, custom-designed carpets, upholstery, wallpapers, and comfy, curvy seating in themed rooms and nooks — all of which enhances the building’s Georgian and Art Deco-inspired forms, paneling and plasterwork. 

One space is a library with terracotta colored walls and rows of classics by Joan Didion, Eve Babitz, and Christopher Isherwood, selected by Lee Kaplan of the esteemed Arcana Books on the Arts. Then there is Gallery 33, an art gallery (to be found in more and more hotels these days). Its first outing is a show of work by the actress, Sharon Stone. Bellboys kitted out like characters in The Grand Budapest Hotel add to the feeling of having arrived in a Wes Anderson movie, which turns out to be the intention: drawings in the “library” are by Hugo Guinness, an artist who is also a writing partner and great friend of Anderson.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the revived Georgian Room downstairs, a low-lit, long room with bar and banquettes, “drenched,” in my husband Robin Bennett Stein’s words, “in pomegranate hues, peppered with pix and menus from when Santa Monica was the playground of flyboys, Hollywood heartthrobs and gangsters.”

Unfortunately, that is also the toughest room to get access to, since it is being kept intentionally exclusive to VIPs and guests in this luxury hotel. But, the general public gets to eat and drink in the lobby and the outdoor terrace, from which you can have a mini staycation, relaxing under baskets of hanging plants, while looking out on Palisades Park, the pier, and the view of the ocean, and dreaming of Santa Monica in the bad old days.

IMAGE 3, Georgian Room, photo by Frances AndertonGeorgian Room, photo by Frances Anderton

Design Things To Do

Wildly Gorgeous Gardens
April 15 and 16
I mentioned the glorious gardens in my neighborhood, and the most luscious are the untamed, or “rewilded” ones, replenished with native and non-invasive plants that bring back the butterflies and bees.

Such gardens are blooming across the region, as rewilding grows in popularity (as I reported for Greater LA), and you can see some of the outstanding ones on the annual Theodore Payne Foundation Garden Tour, taking place for its twentieth year, on the weekend of April 15 and 16. 

Sites on the self-guided tour “range from coastal container gardens to modernist foothill estates to experimental urban homesteads, each unique design offers beauty and critical habitat for wildlife in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.” They include this front yard by Garden Butterfly founder Brandy Williams in South Los Angeles, and Kuruvungna and The Tongva Sacred Springs in West LA, a peaceful preserve with a pond bursting with wildlife, fed by natural springs, and a reminder of this land before conquest and development.

Click here for tickets and information.

IMAGE 4, Brandy Williams in her South LA garden, image courtesy Garden ButterflyBrandy Williams in her South LA garden, image courtesy Garden Butterfly

Seeding The City
April 22
These gardens bring especial joy after our long drought, which has left us with parched earth and a dusty, dry concrete-scape, foreshadowing a Last of Us dystopia.

So it is with a yearning for nature in mind that this Earth Day, Helms Bakery District will offer a second outing of Seeding The City: Nature’s Story, an afternoon of pop-ups, installations, and workshops by artists and presenters whose work depicts flora and fauna in words or images.

I have been supporting Helms in programming this event and the stellar line-up includes Takako Tajima, a landscape architect and professor at USC, who entertained her daughters during the pandemic lockdown with the creation of fairy gardens (shown top of page), and will now show kids and the young at heart how to create their own. Visitors can also draw with, and learn from, Alexander Vidal, an illustrator whose recent book Wilds of the United States is a delightfully drawn panorama of American wildlife in its habitat, along with a plea for the preservation of that habitat and its occupants.

And they can witness the unfurling of projections of a display of digitally-based, hand-rendered, 3-D images of floral bouquets by Sean Knibb and his team at FlowerBoy project (see in last week’s newsletter). Knibb will talk with guest James Vincent, former CEO of Apple's exclusive global agency partner, Media Arts Lab, about fusing the natural and the digital, and hopefully help us all make sense of how to live in the Anthropocene, or Information, Age. 

Seeding The City is a free event that takes place from 12 noon to 8 PM on Saturday, April 22. Click here for details.

IMAGE 5, Illustration from Wilds of America, by Alexander Vidal

Illustration from Wilds of America, by Alexander Vidal

Would You Live in These Homes?
Thursday, April 13
In case I had not mentioned it before, Topic A right now in Los Angeles is housing — how to create more of it to meet state mandates and alleviate homelessness, while navigating zoning patterns that result in homes being built at the very low-scale (ADUs) or at mid and high-rise on our arterials and at transit nodes and business centers.

Sometimes the dense new development on thoroughfares can feel out of scale, clunky and generic. Often we see a lowest common denominator approach in the face of constraints that include high cost of land, materials, labor, lawsuits, and byzantine building codes that preclude architectural creativity. 

Nevertheless some developer-architect teams are managing to create multifamily buildings with great style and livability and on Thursday, April 13, at 5 PM, you can see just how. Seven architects, both established and emerging, will show their work a “Pecha Kucha,” or fast-paced presentation, and talk hosted by AIA/LA’s urban design committee.

Lorcan O’Herlihy (LOHA), Brian Lane (Koning Eizenberg Architecture), Lise Bornstein (KFA Architecture), Chris Torres (Agency Artifact), David Christensen (RELM), Aaron van Schaik (SuperLA®), and Clayton Taylor (West of West) will show designs that: 

  • break down scale with stratagems like stepped back terraces and changes in height.
  • configure buildings in ways that get rid of the dark, double loaded corridor.
  • incorporate social spaces and landscaping.
  • add details and finishes that add character and a sense of connection to place.
  • model a desirable new Los Angeles lifestyle. 

I’ll moderate the conversation, which takes place on Thursday, April 13, at 5 PM, at RELM in DTLA. Click here for details.

Image 6, The Park in Santa Monica, designed by KEA, photo by Eric StaudenmaierThe Park in Santa Monica, designed by KEA, photo by Eric Staudenmaier

Coachella, the Artworks
April 14 - 23
Coachella (The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival Art Program) arrives next week for two weekends — April 14-16 and April 21-23 — in Indio, California and the line-up of artists selected to create artworks is as worth watching as the musical talent. 

That much was proven after the Burkina Faso-born architect Francis Kéré won the 2022 Pritzker Prize, not long after creating an installation at Coachella in 2019. This year the following four were chosen to provide the colorful landmarks and beacons that help transform the fields of the Empire Polo Club at Coachella into a pop-up cityscape:

  • Kumkum Fernando from Sri Lanka, who “transforms found objects into art that is informed by thousands of years of Sri Lankan culture.”
  • Vincent Leroy, Paris-based creator of kinetic sculptures and immersive installations that draw from nature and the digital world.
  • Güvenç Özel, Turkish-born, self-described “cyber physical architect and critical technologist,” who shares his wisdom as a teacher at UCLA.
  • Maggie West, Los Angeles-based photographer noted for surreal digital landscapes of flowers realized through a process of time-lapse photography. 

The designs are kept strictly under wraps until opening day, but expect interesting works from these headliners. 

While Weekend 1 tickets are waitlisted, you can still get tickets for Weekend 2.

And of course while you are in the area, catch the super blooms and the site-specific artworks at Desert X.

IMAGE 7, Kumkum Fernando, the 5 headed synthetic dreamer, image kumkumfernando.comKumkum Fernando, the 5 headed synthetic dreamer, image
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What I'm Digging

Read: The Battle of the Oranges
I loved this story in the New York Times about the annual orange-hurling battle in the Italian town of Ivrea, where locals divide into teams and, for three orgiastic days, beat each other to a pulp with overripe citrus. The writer Jon Mooallem took part for a few hours and lived to write about it in a hilarious and brilliant narrative about a festival dating back hundreds of years, with customs and rites of “Dungeons and Dragons-like complexity,” that left him reflecting “how crazy the thing looked and how meaningful it felt. I loved the Battle of the Oranges for pulling that off. It was the ugliest beautiful thing I ever saw.”

See: The (W)rapper (Redux)
And speaking of “ugly beautiful” things…

After making the case for the (W)rapper, completed by Eric Owen Moss Architects for Laurie Samitaur Smith and her late husband Frederick in the Jefferson Blvd/La Cienega area, I recently got to go inside it. Philip K. Dick could not have dreamed up a more original, other-planetary outpost. This non-conformist, “creative office” tower, now seeking tenants, has vast column-free floor plates, each with different ceiling heights and floor to ceiling glass, offering panoramic views of the basin and glimpses of the interlaced ribbons of cement-fireproofed steel that form the building’s structural exoskeleton. This edifice sits on a base-isolated foundation, making (W)rapper a building we should run to when the Big One comes. It is brutally gorgeous and the complete opposite of the soft loveliness of nature extolled at the start of this newsletter, which may be proof that contrast is the spice of life (or that I am confused). 

IMAGE 8, The (W)rapper, interior, image courtesy EOMAThe (W)rapper, interior, image courtesy EOMA

With that, thank you so much for reading this newsletter. Please share your reactions and pitches, at



IMAGE 9, The (W)rapper, photo by Frances Anderton

The (W)rapper, photo by Frances Anderton

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