In a suburb named for the King of Apes, along a highway made famous by a rock song, a building nearing completion stands as a symbol of what its architect thinks typifies America--the big luxury car.
Although Los Angeles already boasts--or in some cases boasted--architectural oddities such as a giant hot dog, a giant chili bowl and a giant stack of records, the pink two-story building rising at 19611 Ventura Boulevard in the suburb of Tarzana is the city's first giant auto.
Some Tarzana residents joke about the building, but its architect, a young Texan with big ideas, defends the design and philosophizes about its meaning.
"Ventura Boulevard is about as American as you can get, and what's more American than a big luxury car, a Cadillac?" said Lee Oakes in an interview. "It's symbolic architecture, but abstract."
Although the front of the building, called Fleetwood Square, is built to look like an early 1970s Cadillac--from its fender lights to a massive radiator grill--Oakes and his bosses are quick to dismiss the similarities as coincidence.
"We can't say it's a Cadillac for obvious reasons," said Nisan Matlin, of Matlin-Dvoretzky Architects, for whom Oakes works as an architect. "The Cadillac people might not be happy."
When the 30-year-old firm, which has won American Institute of Architecture awards for conservative designs employing redwood and sleek lines, was contacted to design the retail-office building, Matlin turned the project over to Oakes.
"We're not the esoteric types," Matlin said. "We had a strong identity with the woodsy, earthy type of building."
Out on the Town
One night Oakes took a late night walk after a few beers in Santa Monica and that identity changed.
As evidenced by skylines across the nation, the days of the box building are over and Oakes and Matlin wanted something different. But instead of going back to Italian Renaissance or English Tudor, Oakes opted for 1970s Americana.
"I was walking along Ocean Avenue and saw a '70s Cadillac, and the proportions of the front were the same as the building," said Oakes. "So I began to think about Ventura--the cars, the asphalt, the neon--and the Cadillac just rang a bell."
It was "hard knocks" convincing the developers to go with the design, Matlin said. But eventually CBS Realcorp Management Co. was won over and has even leased office space to a car rental agency and is negotiating with a limousine service.
Those who work and live near the building laugh about it but are also impressed and happy with their new neighbor on Ventura Boulevard, a major thoroughfare made famous by the America rock group song "Ventura Highway."
Signals in Stucco
"It's fantastic," said Vera Kelly, who works at the Corbin bowling alley across the street. "I'm just waiting for the bumper lights to come on."
Oakes designed neon tubing as bumper lights and headlights are to be installed this month. The headlights are set against a background of about 600 glass bricks and the turn signals stretch around sleek pink stucco bumpers.
Plans also call for a California license plate address sign and bumper sticker store signs for the first floor retail space.
But all are not happy with the building.
"We've gotten some pretty nasty letters," Matlin said. "One asked us how we could 'blight the landscape.' "
A Matter of Risk
"Constructing a building like this is definitely taking a risk," the firm's 62-year-old senior partner said.
The 35-year-old Oakes was quick to interject, "But hey, this is Los Angeles. There are a lot of mediocre buildings out there. What we wanted was a building with an individual identity."
Frank McMillan, a building superintendent at the site, said: "I've never seen so many heads turn and do double-takes on any building I've worked on. This one really stands out."