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Some Proposals for a Better L.A.

The recent appeal here for a better preserved, planned, designed and, generally, a more livable city has prompted some modest, and immodest, proposals from concerned readers. The following are a few, which I, of course, have embellished:

--Among the more urgent that could fall into the category of modest, was a plea by the Glendale Historical Society and others, that a proposed senior citizens housing project on Cedar Street between Wilson Avenue and Broadway be redesigned so as not to overwhelm the landmark Goode House, it appears, in the plan, to embrace in a python death grip.

You would think the City Council and developer Joe Ayvazi would want a design as sympathetic as possible to the l00-year-old Queen Anne delight. The unfortunately approved plan by architect Marco Brambilla is an abomination that hurts the cause of senior citizen housing, historic preservation, urban design and the conscientious, if misdirected, efforts of Glendale to revitalize its downtown.

--The dwindling attendance at some of the grand movie palaces in the historic Broadway theater district and the concern that a few might have to be closed, perhaps gutted and, worse, demolished, has generated various proposals. These include making one or two into showcases for a movie museum, something that could be unique to Los Angeles.

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There also is the possibility that a few could be recycled without much damage to their architectural integrity into needed courtrooms. At present, this is a concept being pursued by the public/private Miracle on Broadway for the street’s queen facility, the sumptuous Los Angeles Theatre.

If not, it has been suggested by a cadre of former Mouseketeers who are now preservationists that instead of building a new $50-million concert hall on Bunker Hill, Lillian Disney consider buying and converting the Baroque-styled extravaganza on Broadway, or even moving it to Bunker Hill where, in the spirit of Walt, it could be imaginatively sited and expanded.

Then again, the preservationists noted that Mrs. Disney could only build a $48-million new facility in memory of her late, great husband, and give $2 million to saving the landmark theater as a rehearsal hall or for a Bear Country Jamboree.

--From the indefatigable Alexander Man of the Federation of Organizations for Conserving Urban Space (FOCUS), comes the proposal for an “Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund.” The thrust of the plan that would put a value on each tree is to discourage their removal, but if removed, make whomever did it finance the planting and maintenance of others.

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Among other FOCUS proposals was the greening of the bits and pieces, and strips of public-owned space throughout the region, including parkways, street edges, vacant lots, alleys and railroad rights-of-way now up for grabs. Those interested in this effort and in identifying potential green areas are asked to contact Man at 213/459-6398.

Better streetscaping, with an emphasis on greenery and enhancing pedestrian and neighborhood use, and discouraging through-traffic, also are among a host of proposals that have been made in recent years by residents of Melrose Hill, in particular landscape architect Edward Villareal Hunt.

These proposals include distinctive street lighting, repainting sign posts, discouraging parking on front lawns, beautifying walls, landscaping parkways, planting more street trees and encouraging diverse plantings. Generally, the community proposed that the city bureaucrats balance their concerns for maintenance and liability with a concern for aesthetics and urban design.

--It is interesting to note that sensitive streetscaping, on a block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis is what was emphasized by the appointee of the recently created position of city architect of San Diego, Michael Stepner.

While style obviously is a consideration in evaluating a proposed project, Stepner contends, with the conviction of an urbanist, that paramount is how a proposed project would affect its users, its neighbors and the city fabric. That Stepner will not be buried in a department and will be free to speak out and advise the City Council is encouraging.

The creation of the position prompts the thought that Los Angeles consider establishing a similar post with similar powers.

At present, a position similar in name only, is buried here in the Public Works Department. There also is a consulting architect to the Cultural Affairs and Cultural Heritage commissions. In addition, a gaggle of volunteer professionals and academics have been appointed to something called the mayor’s design advisory panel, but typical of such appointments by the mayor, it appears to have little authority and no staff.

Certainly, the position should be removed from Public Works, where design and accountability appear to have become for many there an annoyance, and public service a cliche.

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More enlightened has been Cultural Affairs, especially of late, where the department, now under the energetic Al Nodal, promises to be more assertive, and the commission, headed by Merry Norris, that oversees it, has been increasingly design-conscious.

Indeed, the commission recently was honored by the American Institute of Architects “for distinguished service in encouraging creativity in design and art work in public buildings, and for stimulating discussion of public architectural projects. . . . “

Nevertheless, for a city architect position to be effective, it obviously has to be strengthened, supported and made independent, at least enough so as to be able to override the rubber-stamping hacks and pandering Philistines who infest the city’s building-approval process. Given the region’s burgeoning growth, that is the only way the job that needs to be done, will get done.

Perhaps it is time for a Robert Moses-type, but unlike the former New York master builder, design-sensitive and community conscious, to step forward out of the muck of the region’s failing planning and development apparatus, offer a vision and take responsibility.


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