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Billboard for Barbie, photo by Frances Anderton
Dear DNA friends,

Hope you are doing well, despite the heat, and excited about the advent of Barbie, the movie! More on that, in Design Things to Do, below.

Before that, a great loss.

Dear Bill

When I started work on my book, Common Ground, I had a vague notion of a narrative about a type of housing that is widespread though under-appreciated in Los Angeles: self-contained communities in dwellings around shared open space. They can be found at multiple scales, from the bungalow courts to large garden apartment complexes and, now, multistory apartment buildings with gardens on the roof.

By chance –– through meeting the photographer, Art Gray –– I happened upon a unique and lovely example, which became my north star and concluding story for Common Ground. It was the "3rd Street Compound" in Ocean Park, also known as "Tales of the City South," four adjoining lots with a single home on one and rental cottages on the other three, knitted together by one large gorgeous, shared garden. Here co-existed 15 people of different ages and backgrounds, including Art, along with 12 dogs and four cats, all behind a large fence concealing the secret garden within.

The compound was the creation of two men: Tomas Fuller and William Kelly, inseparable since meeting in the 1970s. This past Sunday, Bill died, after falling ill on a vacation in Spain. He had been mastering Spanish since retiring from a career in anesthesiology and then hospice work. He leaves behind Tom and a shocked community, but one bound by Bill and Tom's core belief in connection, and in a more urban Los Angeles, less solitary than the suburbs they grew up in.

As Bill said on this Greater LA segment about the compound. “You can go buy a big huge mansion and live inside your 20 rooms in the best part of the city. [But] if you get done with work, you go home at the end of the day, and you're alone. I actually realized I like the neighbors. And I like sharing things. Everyone looks after each other.”

The last time I saw Bill, he was talking excitedly about checking out the Regional Connector, which he and Tom did, the day before he passed.

I feel so lucky to have known this beautiful man who co-created a beautiful place.

RIP dear Bill (11/14/53 - 7/9/23).

Tom and Bill in the Compound, Art Gray, 2022William Kelly, right, with Tomas Fuller and their dogs in the 3rd Street Compound, 2022. Photo by Art Gray.

Parking, Radicals, and the Second Stair

While the primary intent of Common Ground was to celebrate lives lived in micro-communities like Tom and Bill's compound, the book also touches on the range of factors that shaped such places –– from the seemingly mundane, like parking minimums, to the ideological movements influencing the built environment.

So I'm thrilled that reporters have recently taken up and expanded on these themes.

In this article in Capital & Main, Kelly Candaele has focused on the "radicals and other visionaries" like Gregory Ain, and the architects and planners behind the public housing program of the New Deal years, who "challenged the real estate industry by pushing bold public housing projects and alternative forms of ownership."

Carolina Miranda, in this essay in the LA Times, wrote about parking, and how much it dominates land use in America, based on reading two books: Common Ground and Henry Grabar’s clever, tragi-comic book, Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World.

As Miranda points out, "parking lots and garages — especially underground parking — consume vast amounts of land and are expensive to build; as a result, they send construction costs skyrocketing. This makes it near-impossible to produce the sorts of small buildings that might be affordable to middle-of-the-road wage earners in urban areas like Los Angeles."

Some designers and developers are figuring out smart workarounds to parking minimums, as modeled in the complexes in Common Ground. They are also tackling other obstacles to attractive "small buildings that might be affordable to middle-of-the-road wage earners," such as the mandatory second stair.

Read on for more about that and more in Design Things to Do.

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Design Things To Do

Stairway to Housing Heaven
Conversation about Vertical Shared Access Reform
Thursday, July 13, 7 PM
It is the wonky sounding codes –– like parking minimums –– that actually shape housing in LA. Now some architects and planners are taking on another rule: one requiring two stairways in housing projects over three stories, and you are invited to come hear more about it.

Vertical Shared Access Reform is currently working its way through the California State Legislature. Advocates say that if they only had to incorporate one stairway (and an elevator), there would be more space for nice things like courtyards and open-air corridors. This coming Thursday, July 13, architects and planners will gather for a conversation about the reform efforts and why they matter. (Opponents of the change argue that the second stair is essential for fire and safety reasons, especially in an earthquake zone.)

The event is co-hosted by AIA/LA at the home of Lindsay Sturman, cofounder of the Livable Communities Initiative (LCI), a coalition whose goal is to transform moderately scaled thoroughfares, like Larchmont Village, into walkable, bikeable streets with two to three story multifamily housing for the "missing middle," or moderate income households, over shops. They believe that getting rid of the second stair is essential to realize this scale of housing.

I will moderate the conversation, with planner Eduardo Mendoza, and architects David Pearson and Gerhard Mayer (who will discuss European housing models without the second stair, like Erlanstrasse below).

Click here to sign up, and hope to see you there. 

11 Erlenstrasse 1Erlanstrasse, Lochau, designed by Dietrich Untertrifaller

An Evening of Urbanism: Frances Anderton & Josh Stephens
Helms Design Center, Thursday, July 27, 5.30 PM
There was a time when you'd say the word "urbanism" and people's eyes would glaze over. No longer. Figuring out how to make cities like Los Angeles work, in the face of a barrage of challenges and change, is today's frustrating, and fascinating problem.

That's according to Josh Stephens, Past President of the Westside Urban Forum and author of The Urban Mystique: Notes on California, Los Angeles, and Beyond.

I'll sit down with him on Thursday, July 27, for a conversation about our respective books and the "the ways that design, planning, policy, and culture intersect."

Better yet, it will open with cocktails and a tour of the exhibition, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip Hop Architecture.

Click here for details.

Alla site, shocking, IMG_2441The site of the onetime Garden of Allah today; photo Frances Anderton

Garden of Alla/h
At the corner of Sunset Strip and Crescent Heights sits an empty site. Until recently it was filled with a parking lot, a strip mall, and a bank that were demolished to make way for a large condo complex designed by Frank Gehry. Now the Gehry project is on ice (the site is for sale, complete with entitlements for the Gehry design), and the empty site is ringed by a high fence covered in advertising.

What comes next is unclear, but the current void allows one’s mind to wander back to when this site was a legendary Hollywood hangout, created by the amazing Alla Nazimova, whose life story is the subject of a one woman show currently playing at Theatre West on Cahuenga Boulevard.

As portrayed by actor/playwright Romy Nordlinger, Nazimova was a Russian Jew who had an awful childhood and a huge talent for music and acting. She made her way via Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre to New York, then to Hollywood in the silent movie era, where she became its highest paid star. She moved into a mansion slathered in Mediterranean and Moorish styling, added a swimming pool in the shape of the Black Sea, lush landscaping and a moniker, Garden of Alla.

Her home became a magnet for outré Hollywood, and was known, says Martin Turnbull, author of the "Hollywood’s Garden of Allah" series of novels, as “an interesting place where interesting people would come to talk about interesting things.” Among the regulars: Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, Rudolph Valentino, Cole Porter, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was also known for its “sewing circle,” Nazimova’s group of women friends and lovers, said to have included actors Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne, Jean Acker, and Anna May Wong; director Dorothy Arnzer; and writer Mercedes de Acosta.

But in the early 1920s, Nazimova fell from grace, undone by failed pictures she produced and starred in (Camille and Salomé), and by journalists who trashed her “deviant” lifestyle. Nordlinger dramatizes all this over an 80-minute monologue, playing Nazimova and multiple other characters against a backdrop of her movies and stills, and newspaper clippings.

Nordlinger created the play after learning of this extraordinary woman, whose story had disappeared into the mists of time. This was perhaps because of her unconventional lifestyle and ambition. As the show's producers say, “Homophobia, sexism, racism, antisemitism, ageism: Alla was fighting these contemporary struggles back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but alone and without a Twitter account.”

Or maybe the memories disappeared with the building itself. To pay bills, Nazimova added 25 villas to her plot and it became the Garden of Allah hotel, remaining a magnet for denizens of Hollywood, until 1959, when it was sold, demolished, and replaced by a mall, a McDonald’s, and the bank. As Alla/Nordlinger declaims, “You can hear me under the rubble.” Somehow, with the site cleared, her voice seems just a little bit louder. Were her "Garden" to exist today, it would likely be an LGBTQIA landmark. Hopefully, whatever finally gets built on this site will honor the memory of Alla.

Garden of Alla: The Alla Nazimova Story, directed by Lorca Peress, runs at Theatre West, through July 23, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. A screening of Camille (1921) follows the performance this Saturday, July 15.

Romy Nordlinger, photo by Lorca Peress, Garden-of-Alla_5797Romy Nordlinger as Alla Nazimova against image of Garden of Allah; photo Lorca Peress

Museum as Medium/Outdoor Living
PDC Design Gallery
Through July 22; Tuesday-Saturdays,11:00-5:00 PM
Wednesday, July 19, 12:00-6:00 PM, with OUTDOOR LIVING 2023
Starting in 1989, the photographer Elizabeth Gill Lui set herself the project of photographing art museums around the world, which were growing in size and number, especially following the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

She was interested in their emerging role as the secular cathedrals of our time, and how they formed “an iconic presence of the museum on the cultural landscape that rises above its consumer-driven art role.”

Now you can see a display of her photographs, both analog and digital, in the PDC Design Gallery, in West Hollywood. You will find meditative images of Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, Long Island City, NY (Isamu Noguchi With Shoji Sadao), High Museum of Art, Atlanta Georgia (Richard Meier), National Gallery of Art-East Wing, Washington DC (I.M.Pei), Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain (Frank O. Gehry), and many others.

As a photographer, she says she was inspired by the architecture even though, as an artist, she expresses concern at the huge amounts spent on new buildings instead of on art and education. Her images capture specific details and spatial moments in close-up –– the subjective experience rather than the entire building in a frame. 

"I've been really interested in being in a space and my imagery typically has this aesthetic of singularity," she explains. 

Outdoor Living
On July 19, Gill Lui will be in the gallery for walk-throughs and she will sign a book she wrote about her thoughts on museums. This is part of Outdoor Living 2023, a showcase of landscape design, sustainability, and outdoor furnishings for the home, by PDC showrooms and manufacturers.  

Click here for details.

   Chicago, by Elizabeth Gill Lui
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; photo by Elizabeth Gill Lui

Fun with cardboard
Art exhibit and workshop for kids
Westfield Century City, July 21 - September 3; Wed-Fri 12:00-6:00 PM, Sat-Sun 10:00 AM-6:00 PM
Preview party, Wednesday, July 19, 6:30-9:00 PM
reDiscover is a nonprofit that teaches kids, art, design, and conservation, through workshops where they make stuff out of throwaway cardboard. 

Starting July 21, they will take up residence for a few weeks in a storefront in the Westfield Mall in Century City. There you can take workshops amidst a show of cardboard sculptures by Aaron Kramer, reDiscover board president, as well as invited artists.

Last year reDiscover was at 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica, which like many malls, is confronting the challenges of traditional retail. This year they are at Century City, with sponsorship from Westfield.

The reDiscover team says, “We love moving into under-utilized spaces, bringing life and creativity into them. We're all about building community and malls are a natural gathering place that tend to have an abundance of cardboard that we love to cycle back into our art.” 

Fun guaranteed.

RSVP for the party here

Sign up for workshops, here.

rediscover cardboard city cardboard super heroesA cardboard superhero and a maker at a reDiscover workshop. Image courtesy reDiscover.

Barbie is here
Opening, July 21
This summer's movie sensation is expected to be Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and of course it will be a must-see for anyone who loves design. By all accounts, production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer (whose past collaborations include Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and Beauty and the Beast) have surpassed themselves.

Much of the action takes place in a life-size Barbie Dreamhouse, described by AD magazine as a “Fuchsia Fantasy,” inspired by “Palm Springs midcentury modernism, including Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House and other icons photographed by Slim Aarons." “Everything about that era was spot-on,” Greenwood told AD, and strove “to make Barbie real through this unreal world.” In a stroke of movieland magic, the set was not in the actual Palm Springs but created at the Warner Bros. Studios’ lot outside London.  

Having been what used to be called a tomboy as a child, I never played with Barbies. But of course, I came to be fascinated by her cultural dominance — modeling so effectively and horrifyingly Californian consumption and synthetic glamor, along with girl-power while trying to stay relevant through changing culture and waves of feminism. So I’m excited to see what Gerwig and actor Margot Robbie have done with her. 

Meanwhile, you can catch a recent take on a Barbie Dreamhouse in Wasted, the KCRW series I coproduced. The opening episode dealt with throwaway plastic and a retake of the famed Dreamhouse, by product designer Charlie Hodges. He set himself the challenge of doing away with its nightmarish 96% plastic content.

Barbie, dreamhouseMargot Robbie/Barbie descends the slide of her Dreamhouse. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures 
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What I'm Digging

Love: Green Canopy
I am intrigued to learn that Old Glory, a 400-year-old oak tree in Santa Clarita, may become a Los Angeles County Historic Landmark. Ever since reading Richard Powers' incredible book, The Overstory, I've joined those in awe of trees and their vital role both below and above ground. So I was also intrigued to read about Diana Beresford-Kroeger and the case she has been making for addressing climate change through re-planting our forests. Beresford is the tree-whisperer who was fictionalized as Patricia Westerford in Overstory, and carries the weight of history: she says her connection to trees stems from an ancient Irish prophecy she heard in childhood.

Watch: More Green Canopy
I am a late arrival to Outlander, the time-traveling, bodice–ripper set in the Scottish Highlands. When Claire Beauchamp (Caitriona Balfe) heads back from 1945 to 1743, one of the things that jumps out, apart from the lusty highlanders and the lack of basic medical know-how, is the lush, wild forest that abounded before industrialization and today’s massive human population. It’s a commercial for reforestation.

Watch: LA Lawyer
There is little more entertaining for someone who loves legal shows and Los Angeles than an adaptation of a Michael Connolly novel. Thrilled that Lincoln Lawyer, Season 2, has appeared, with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the dimpled, irrepressible defense attorney who fights for his (often complicated) clients while crisscrossing Los Angeles in his blue 1963 Lincoln Continental Convertible (with “NTGUILTY” plates), on location from neighborhood eateries to the new Sixth Street Viaduct.

I think that’s it for this week’s newsletter. Here's to summer in LA.

Yours, with very best wishes,


l-not-guilty-the-lincoln-lawyerThe Lincoln Lawyer. Image courtesy Netflix. 

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