Sunday, May 31, 2009

When Trees Grow in Bad Places - Part II

I hate waking to the sound of chainsaws.

I'm not the only one with a huge ficus tree in front of my house. A home at the end of my block had four city-planted ficus trees. Only two are visible in this picture -

Each was as huge as mine. But these trees were worse. These trees were breaking up the sidewalk.

It's one of the true mysteries of Man and Government that the City of Los Angeles planted so many ficus trees all over the city. While it's undeniable that the trees grow quickly and the mature trees provide abundant shade, the ficus root systems are notoriously hard on sidewalks, breaking through concrete, creating unsightly hazards with considerable cost to repair.

Additionally, they require frequent pruning or their branches interfere with power lines and obstruct visibility to street signs and traffic lights.

Like many things of great beauty, the ficus trees are a high maintenance luxury.

We knew the end was near when we saw the signs pasted on the trees -
Work was begun on cutting through the roots. The trees appeared to be doomed.

According to the sign, they'll be replaced. But these trees are enormous. I doubt if the replacement trees will ever provide the shade these trees give.
I'm sad for the people who live in that house. They'll be left completely unshaded. I'm sad for the rest of us on the street. That house is no beauty. It's rundown, in disrepair. It might even be described as urban blight.

Without the trees, there'll be no hiding from the truth.

The chainsaw massacre began Saturday morning when the crew arrived -

Today this is all that's left -

And the house is completely exposed -

I just hope she isn't looking for her nest -

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Touch the Water

K's latest production opens this weekend. This article appeared in the Los Angeles Downtown News.

I've pasted below-

A River Runs Through Here

Cornerstone Theater Company Makes Bedraggled Waterway the Subject of a New Play
by Richard Guzmán

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It is safe to say that most people would never want to get anywhere near the water in the Los Angeles River.

Lined with concrete and clogged in many places by garbage bags, shopping carts and other debris, the river is viewed by many as an industrial flood channel that washes waste out of the city. Most people know it more for its appearances in films than for being part of nature.

But it was not always a city-long drain. The river was once a wild body of water, rich in wildlife and prone to flooding. It was also the lifeblood for early settlers of the area.

Although it has been paved for more than 50 years, Downtown’s Cornerstone Theater Company is inviting people to bathe in the history of the river, figuratively, with Touch the Water. The original play is part of the company’s four-year series called the Justice Cycle.

“Most people see the river as concrete, as a channel, and don’t even know it has a life. This play brings attention to the nature that does exist in L.A., to the mythic qualities of the river,” said Juliette Carrillo, who is directing the play.

Touch the Water, which runs May 28 to June 21, is not just meant to get people thinking about the river. It will also bring the audience physically closer to the river than most Angelenos ever get.

The play will be performed along the banks of the Glendale Narrows at the Bowtie Parcel in the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, part of Taylor Yard just north of Downtown. It is one of the few parts of the river that is not paved and is abundant with wetlands and wildlife, a much closer representation of what the river once looked like.

“It gives a consciousness that the L.A. River is a real river and it exists,” Carrillo said.

Founded in 1986, the Arts-District-based Cornerstone does both original work and adaptations of classic plays. All are performed by a combination of professional theater personnel and members of a community involved with the subject of a particular play. For Cornerstone, “community” is a loose term. Past productions have utilized everyone from members of a certain religion to a group of bus drivers to people who share a birthday.

Touch the Water centers on the theme of the environment. It follows previous Justice Cycle plays about immigration, reproductive rights and criminal justice.

“The idea is to explore how laws shape and disrupt communities, and there are many issues involving the river,” Carrillo said. “It’s a controversial issue with different views about where the river is going next.”

Flowing Story

According to the nonprofit advocacy group Friends of the Los Angeles River, the history of the waterway stretches back almost 3,000 years, to when the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe settled along the river in 800 B.C.

In more modern times it had different uses. It served as the main source of drinking water for the city from 1781 to 1913, when the L.A. Aqueduct was built and began importing water from the Owens River. After a series of floods in the mid-1930s killed 85 people and caused $23 million worth of damage, a large portion of the 51-mile river was paved over by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Playwright Julie Hébert spent 18 months interviewing people connected to the river. Some live along its path, while others are enthusiasts who want to see a return to a more natural waterway. She also spoke with city officials working on a $2 billion revitalization plan that aims to clean and green 32 miles of the river, add bike paths and restore some of the ecosystem.

The play tells the story of the paved river through the lives of people who live along its banks, as well as the animals and greenery that have struggled along its shoreline. The plot centers around a character named Luis Otcho-o Authemont, who has just been released from prison for killing a teen at the river (inspired by an actual killing at the river years ago, Hébert said). Authemont’s mother’s house is being razed by the greening of the river, which involves placing filters underground to clean the rainwater before it is released into the river.

“The bigger story is, he represents the river, he’s wounded, he’s scared, he’s sinned,” Hebert said. “Metaphorically that character represents the river which has flooded and killed people. The river has been put in jail essentially by being paved and now we’re talking about letting the river out of jail and the river is still dangerous, so how do we figure that out?”

Along the way there are stories about animals, a wayward sea turtle, a hardheaded biologist and the ghost of a girl who drowned at the river.

Experts and Actors

Along with the professional actors, community members in the play include Lewis MacAdams, founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, and Joe Linton, a river activist and author of the guidebook Down by the Los Angeles River.

Linton was originally a consultant on the project, but was invited by Hébert to join the cast. He plays Joe Swift, an idealist and hardheaded Army Corps of Engineers biologist.

Linton said the play, although mostly fictional, captures the personalities of many of the people involved with the river.

“People who live in the river-adjacent community will see their lives and issues in the play. They’re intertwined in the storyline,” he said. “Hopefully this will give people a little more understanding of the river and hopefully also identify with stories of what happens in neighborhoods, since the river runs through a lot of underserved neighborhoods that are neglected.”

Although passionate about the river, acting was a whole new experience for Linton. But with the river itself as the background and the enthusiasm of the performers, the play is sure to connect with the audience, Carrillo said.

“It’s a delightful cast and they’re really committed to the work, and with their commitment to the river, and the river behind them, it’s very powerful.”

Touch the Water runs May 28-June 21 at the Bowtie Parcel in the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, 2800 Casitas Ave. Tickets at (213) 613-1700 ext. 37 or Tickets are pay what you can.

If you're in the area, try to catch it. When will you have another chance to see live theatre along the LA river? It's pay what you can. It runs for three weeks. You really have no excuse. To reserve tickets, click below -

Friday, May 29, 2009

Joseph and Balthazar Are Gone!

They're gone! They’re finally gone!

He's gone -

And he's gone -

Leaving behind only their previously unnoticed camel -

Now that they're gone, I kind of miss them. I never got to say shalom.

Where did they go? Were they finally taken in? If they were taken in, why would they leave the camel behind?

Were they stolen? Who needs that kind of karma?

Worse yet, did the homeowner see my blog (but forgot about the camel; I'd never photographed it before now.)

Even worse yet, did the homeowners see me taking photos? Did they think I was from the Stasi or the Lawn Ornament Police? Are they cowering in the dark, waiting for that knock on the door?

Will there be finger-pointing when they realize the camel is still out there, in full view of the Authorities?

So now, what do I do about these smiling jacks?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We're Doomed!

Did anyone else catch this story on climate change: US Wants to Paint the World White to Save Energy?

The meat of it is
"US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday the Obama administration wanted to paint roofs an energy-reflecting white, as he took part in a climate change symposium in London.

The Nobel laureate in physics called for a "new revolution" in energy generation to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

Would you ever do this? This may be fine for new construction. Maybe it should be legally mandated for all new construction. That would be fine with me. But I'm not painting my rooftop white. Hypocritical? Maybe. But my house is a hundred years old this year and a) aesthetically, it was never meant to have a white roof top and b) by buying a house of that age instead of a new house in the sprawl, I figure I've already done a huge service to the cause.

Perhaps Mr. Chu should focus on the cattle industry. Greenhouse gases, deforestation, contamination of ground water - the cattle industry is a major source of all.

Allow me to saddle up my high horse for a moment. I haven't eaten meat in 21 years; I don't have an SUV; I don't have a swimming pool or a huge lawn or a yard littered with Fisher-Price toys.

I don't even cut down trees for Christmas (or have a plastic one).

But I'm not going to paint my roof white. That's where I draw the line.

OK, I confess. I do take longish showers and a I don't take public transportation. In a different city I might. But not in this one.

And I'm not painting my roof white.

But it's like I always say about going to opera - "If people like us don't do it, who will?"
We can say what we want, but we're not prepared to do what it takes to save the planet. We're just not. You're fooling yourself if you think you are. Seriously. It would mean living like the Amish or LDS Fundamentalists (except without the plural marriage part).

I don't mean to be a downer, but . . . I wouldn't stock up on any wool sweaters, even on sale.

Side note: I remember in my childhood there were houses with white roofs and sparkly white rocks all over the roof tops. My elementary school may have had that treatment. What was that all about? Are those houses still around? Was that the one futuristic '60s look that may actually be part of our future?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Doors - Part II

Now what about our second front door? It became a door for a utility closet. The door was too small for the other doorway and since the house seriously lacks storage space, and there was this doorway there anyway, we stole a bit of space from the porch to make a closet. Just a bit of space off the porch. Not enough that you would even notice.

We found the exterior side painted that yellow. I don’t have pictures of the interior side as we found it. It was hardly photo-worthy. Like everything else in the house, it was covered with a sheet of paneling and painted glossy white with just a little hole drilled out for the peep hole.

When the paneling was removed – this is what we found -

- a door that showed potential – with a potentially interesting speakeasy door.

K stripped off that nasty paint . . .

. . . dipped and stripped the speakeasy door . . .

. . . and spray painted it . . .

. . . and now we have a lovely door hiding our mops and vacuum

. . . and ready to shine after years of hiding behind a sheet of ‘60s paneling . . .

What were those panel-loving people thinking?

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Doors - Part I

Once upon a Time, our home had two front doors. The house had been converted to a duplex through a series of additions and weird reconfigurations.

This was the front door to our East Wing:

And this was the front door to our West Wing:

Around 1924, the original dining room was bumped out toward the front, probably eliminating a bay window and flattening the facade. We believe this door was original to that period. As a second front door, it faced the porch from the side, rather than directly facing the street as the other door does.

We spent a lot of our last Christmas break looking for salvaged Craftsman style doors. The trouble was, we didn’t want any windows or glass in the door, which kind of contradicted the Craftsman style. At that time we didn't find anything suitable. Then later, around March, K locked himself out of the house and had to break down the old door to get back in. That meant we had to rush find a new front door.

That’s when we came across this beauty at Santa Fe Wrecking Company:

Yes, it does have glass. But the row of glass is up so high, someone would have to be pretty tall to peek into our living room. Plus the price was right. $65. We couldn’t argue with that. Even if it were only a temporary door, it was a good deal.

And the here's the crappy lock set that came with the old East Wing door:

Naturally, it broke in the break-in so we also needed a new lock set. Not that we would have kept the old one anyway.

I found an Arts & Crafts style lock set from

I could have chosen to buy a similar lock/handle set here for only about $500 more. The difference? As far as I can tell, about $500.

When the new handle arrived, it seemed enormous. Like a door handle fit for a castle. Here's a comparison with my size 5 1/2 shoe:

Pay no attention the the crappy paint on the horrible aluminum siding. That's a project for summer 2010.

K preps the door for a little painting:

We decide on the color that will match our window trim and the edges of our front yard fence:

And here we are!

and the handle doesn't look that big anymore:

For the interior we went with Sherwin Williams' Hubbard Squash because we'd already used it elsewhere in the house.

Tomorrow, front door number two.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fan Dance

Back when we had the walls all torn out, we made the decision to forgo central air. Cash was flowing out fast and furious in other directions and we thought we would see how it all worked out once we had insulation and decent windows. Plus I'm a little freaked out by duct work.

Compared to pre-insulation days, it doesn't get that hot in here now but it still tends to be a little humid, especially when you first come in from outside. Ceiling fans help, especially when you sit still, very still. But obviously, the more air movement the better. Another ceiling fan is out of the question.

During my bi-weekly stroll through Bed, Bath & Beyond yesterday, I spotted this little table top fan:

It's called the "Otto" by Stadler Form. Isn't it cute? Even though it's on the Modern side, I think it would feel right at home within my new woodsy, Craftsman-y walls (which you'll see soon. I promise.)

I love this little fan. Most fans are too hideous to keep around all the time. This one could stay.

Except it's $200. Doesn't that seem like a lot for a table top fan? It's lovely, but it's still just a fan with some wood wrapped around it instead of plastic.

I suppose if I consider the thousands I saved by not installing AC, I'd be way ahead of the game. And I do have a stack of those coupons . . .

A Story Too Sad Not to Tell . . .

. . . even though I usually resist feeding off other bloggers' topics, because this one relates to both houses and to restoration, I think this story on The Eastsider LA is worth sharing.

If you haven't the energy to click on the story, it's about a woman who loses her home to foreclosure - her home of 30 years - an 1887 Victorian in an historic preservation zone of Angelino Heights. The story describes the woman as a passionate preservationist and an asset to the neighborhood.

Foreclosure stories aren't just about McMansions.

The neighborhood is within (longish) walking distance from my home. I was walking through there just this past weekend, thinking about how much it takes to fully restore and maintain those old Victorians. To do it well takes a lot of money and a lot of vision and either a lot of time or even more money. In some cases, it could be a lifelong project. While there are some spectacularly restored treasures in Angelino Heights, there are also plenty of houses whose challenges appear to overwhelm their owners.

I can't image what financial sins she must have committed to lose a home of 30 years. Doesn't matter. None of our business. Whatever it was, this must be colossally painful.

We've only been in our house for 6 1/2 years. We're not doing a faithful restoration. Even when we're done, there will still be plenty to complain about. But I empathize with her. To have all that work, all that vision, all that commitment taken away to be auctioned off to a stranger must be devastating.

I wish her well. I wish the new homeowners well. Oddly, most of all, I wish the house well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Followers" Returned

I put them back. I figured out that if you go to your Dashboard you have the option of blocking the creepier, spammier Followers. I left one that seemed kind of spammy but at least it is a real blog. Just seems like it's kind of arbitrary, like she's following as many blogs as she can to drive traffic back to her. That's the game I guess.

Between our Google apps, Facebook, Twitter and whatever comes along next, soon we'll all be within 3 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Followers" Deleted

I've removed my Google Followers gadget. My last three "followers" were basically spam. They were nothing but links to web sites completely unrelated to blogging or to the topics of this blog.

I will continue to follow the blogs I follow but I will no longer provide an avenue for spam on this blog.

Has anyone else had this problem?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Know You're NOT a Redneck If . . .

Don't ask why, but I get daily alerts on which videos are hot on the web. I want to share this one with you because with the title Rednecks Blow Up House with Cannon it combines two of my interests - houses and class division.

Who determines who is and isn't a redneck? Is that term not pejorative? How is it there are members of that group who embrace the term? What's next, The Cracker Comedy Tour?

Rednecks Blow Up House With Cannon

When I first saw our house, I remember staring up at the kitchen cabinets and the huge vent hood over the range, knowing that it would all have to be demolished. I couldn't imagine how that could be done. (what I really couldn't imagine was how it could be done without making a big mess. It couldn't.) After watching hours of HGTV I learned that for many people, the demolition is their favorite part of remodeling. Swinging a sledge hammer seems to be fun and games for many. For me, nothing involving dust and loud noises could possibly be considered fun.

If the guys in this video are the gauge, I guess I know I'm not a redneck.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Plague on Both Your Houses

First, a disclaimer - other than the title this post has nothing to do with houses.

In the Great Plague of London (1665) somebody came to the conclusion that cats were the cause of the plague. I heard somewhere that it was believed that witches traveled in the guise of cats, so the natural conclusion would be that cats/witches brought the Plague. As a preventive measure the cats of London were killed. According to this site the author Daniel Dafoe estimated that 200,000 cats were killed along with 40,000 dogs.

Of course, cats/witches didn't carry the Plague. Fleas did - fleas that rode on the backs of rats. With the cats gone, the rats flourished and so did the fleas. The Plague accelerated.

Fast forward 344 years.

Egypt has ordered the slaughter of all its pigs. In this NPR story I learned that some neighborhoods use pigs to dispose of their garbage. Great idea, using the pigs to eat their garbage. But with all the pigs gone, what will they do with the garbage? What about the flies? Yes, I'm sure there are flies with the pigs too, but all cultures will have livestock. There will be flies. Having a huge pile of food waste building up isn't going to help the situation.

Doesn't it seem more likely that flies carry what what is now called the H1N1 virus? Flies FLY for heaven's sake! How is a pig going to efficiently spread a virus? We know the flu isn't food borne. So it's not the pigs, it's the flies. And the origin must have been the flies from the disgusting factory farms in Mexico owned by Smithfield Foods, recipient of the third largest civil penalty ever levied under the federal Clean Water Act.

Can we not learn a lesson or two once every 344 years? Can we place the blame where it lies -not on the poor pigs but on Smithfield Foods? Can we not end the practices of factory farming and treat fellow creatures with respect?