In the hallways, by the pool and in the clubroom — which looks more like a W hotel suite, with suede sofa cushions, geometric-patterned rugs and green apples arranged so perfectly they look like props — the atmosphere at the Archstone Studio City apartments isn't much different from reality TV, where genetically blessed twentysomethings hang out in Queer Eye'd interiors. And no matter whom you talk to, almost every resident has a connection to Hollywood, however tangential.
"Everyone here has something going on," says Dennis Desantis, a self-proclaimed "liaison" to the adult entertainment industry, as he lies by the pool tanning the "Hustler" tattoo on his chest. "If you can afford to live here, you're obviously doing something right."
Within weeks of moving from Ohio to the upscale building, Kent State University theater major Alisa Ledyard was able to tell friends back home, via her faithfully updated website, "There's probably a lot of future famous people living very close to me." And some of the already famous have passed through too, including Ashlee Simpson and Grammy-nominated rapper Kanye West.
For Ledyard and the hundreds of other fledgling entertainers in the 276-unit complex, the building's built-in buzz and studiocentric location off Vineland Avenue are more important than such luxury touches as the granite counters and walk-in closets found in every apartment.
Nearby, the Oakwood Apartments on Barham Boulevard can still rightfully claim the title of "where Hollywood rents" — such stars as Emma Thompson and Queen Latifah have lived there while filming in Los Angeles, and workshops for child actors are held there regularly. But Archstone has found a niche within a niche by marketing flophouse-like flexibility and five-star amenities to the pre-famous who find support, and perhaps comfort, in living in a college dorm-meets-"American Idol" atmosphere. Why wait for the big break when you can lease the high life?
Other, smaller buildings around L.A. are popular among actors, but the Archstone is unique in that the 3-year-old complex on Bluffside Drive has been positioned as a clearinghouse for the wannabes of fame. When asked where most of the dancers in town live, one dance studio manager replied, "They're all trying to earn enough to live at Archstone." Acting studios consider living at the complex to be a rite of passage for Hollywood hopefuls.
After taking over in late 2003, new owners Archstone-Smith began targeting younger transient talent that passes through Los Angeles, the kind of people who come for pilot season and return to Little Rock if nothing works out. Rents were lowered (they range from $1,120 to almost $4,000), minimum leases went down to two months, and a series of rules tailor-made for the fly-by-night were implemented.
Having second thoughts about auditioning for "Fear Factor"? If you decide to leave after two weeks, Archstone will prorate your daily cost with no questions asked. And what if you land a picture deal that involves filming in Minnesota? Not a problem. Archstone can transfer your lease, deposit and application to any of its other 370 properties around the country. (Although you're likely to end up living among Archstone's core clients, laptop nomads — the corporate types who hop from place to place for their work.)
Archstone's rule admitting dogs that weigh 30 pounds or less was seemingly written by Paris Hilton herself and accounts for the daylong parade of women in hip-grazing sweatpants who stroll along the swath of grass in front of the building, cellphones in hand, with Louis Vuitton purse-size canines in tow.
On weekend nights, the building's travertine-tiled entryway morphs into one of the San Fernando Valley's few stoop scenes. People congregate on the front steps, waiting for rides, talking on cellphones or just hanging out, as a succession of mostly late-model Mercedes, Hummers and Hondas whiz in and out of the underground parking lot. One young vice president of TV development, who decided to sell his house in the Valley while the market was still hot, has a street-facing two-bedroom on the fourth floor. He says that while the perks in the building are considerable, the noise is a major drawback.
"This is more like a high-end dorm than an apartment complex," he says. "People don't talk here, they yell."
Even if security is routinely called upon to calm in-unit parties, Archstone is big on promoting camaraderie. Management refers to the building as a community, not a complex, and fliers announcing afternoon mixers and Sunday brunches with free food confirm the "we're young, we're hip, we're gonna make it" vibe. When potential renters are shown the model unit, a ground-floor furnished two-bedroom filled with pillar candles and throw pillows, they're as likely to be drawn to the brand-new everything as they are to the social scene that is always in progress.
For Kevin Levrone, a top-ranked national weight lifter from Baltimore with hopes of being the next Arnold, that is often in the gym or sauna. After hearing about the place from his preacher, who looked around during a trip to L.A., he signed a lease for a two-bedroom before he even landed at LAX last fall.
"There's everything I need here," says Levrone, who carries a binder full of clips of himself in magazines such as Flex and Fitness as he makes the rounds of acting classes and auditions. At 38, he is more than a decade older than the typical Archstone renter, whose age seems to hover around 25.
Living at Archstone may be a financial stretch for Ledyard, who works as a hostess at an Olive Garden. She rents a two-bedroom with three Kent State grads for $2,000 a month, when units across the street can go for about half that. But the complex gives her access to a segment of Hollywood that goes beyond celeb sightings at work. Among the residents who have had at least a brush with fame: Michael Elliot, a screenwriter whose credits include 2002's "Brown Sugar"; reality "villain" Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth; and Shakim Compere, Queen Latifah's manager.
"There's a lot of networking going on here," says Ledyard, who recently went to her first audition, for the Disneyland "Snow White" musical. "All of my roommates want to get into TV or film or theater, and both the scene and the location of the complex are great for that."
Exactly how Archstone-Smith, a Fortune 500 apartment developer and operator that caters to corporate professionals, came to house Simpson and R&B band 3rd Storee is the cause of much resident speculation. The building has had an intentional Hollywood feel since it was built in 2001 by Legacy Partners, a rental property developer.
In a bid to appeal to industry professionals, Legacy created a Hollywood theme with a tenuous Art Deco design and such touches as black-and-white framed photos of '60s-era rock stars that are still bolted to the walls.
Present management won't admit to courting the studios and talent agents, or offering free rent to A-listers in an attempt to build on the buzz, although many residents suspect otherwise. "Archstone wants to have celebrities here," says Bijon Brandon, a 19-year-old R&B singer who rents a one-bedroom loft with his girlfriend. "A lot of times agents or managers will pay for their clients to live here if they need a place to stay in L.A."
For some, the change in ownership meant a change in atmosphere. Barry G. Holmes, a British celebrity photographer who moved into the complex in 2002, says that by targeting younger clients, management turned the once-peaceful atmosphere into something more akin to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
"When Archstone took it over, it became more like trash TV," says Holmes, who moved out of the complex last fall. "The elevators were refinished with that scraped metal look because people started to put graffiti in them, you'd see fights in the parking lot and there started to be lots of goings-on in the corridors. I had to wear earplugs every night. And every weekend, moving trucks were bringing people in and moving them out."
For most people, the constant noise is either the price paid for the perks or the exact point of living at Archstone. The common denominator between the fledgling stars and the full-fledged celebrities who live side by side is that temporary digs should come with all the comforts of home. But even 19-year-olds can begin to dream about peace and quiet.
"I'm not here for the long haul," says Brandon, adding that he may be close to a deal with Universal Records. "They've built some new places on Sunset and Vine that I'm looking into. I want a place where it's more private, where I can go and chill. Besides, I'm around celebrities every day anyhow. I don't need to live with them."
Alexandria Abramian-Mott is a Los Angeles freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. * (BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX) Who lives there?Residents suspect the Archstone courts talent to build buzz. Two who've called the building home:
Pre-fame is fleeting: Catch the rapper-producer at the Grammys on Feb. 13. He's the one with the most nominations — 10.
Rocky welcome: On a business trip to L.A. in 2002, the Chicago native was in a near-fatal car accident that inspired the hit single "Through the Wire," rapped with his jaw wired shut.
Grown-up crib: Archstone apartment costars with Simpson on MTV's "Cribs."
Already infamous: Lip-synching on "SNL" to a song from her first album, she's dubbed "Ashlee Vanillee."
Sound familiar? Texas native can draw on life experience as she films "Wannabe" about aspiring entertainers in L.A.