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Bug Off

Los Angeles has long been overrun by bugs. Not ants. Not mites. Not ticks. Not even Nathanael West’s locusts. But by dingbats, those metal geometric forms with peculiar antennae that cling to the facades of 1950s stucco apartment buildings. They have become so synonymous with the stucco boxes that the style itself is called “dingbat architecture” by preservationists.

Rectangular, flat and faceless, the front exterior wall presented builders with the aesthetic challenge of an empty canvas. In a competitive market, they believed they needed a little extra oomph to make their stucco box more desirable than the one next door. So up went the Mondrian-like blocks of color. The zigzag-patterned mosaic tile. The nutty, exaggerated picture frames around windows. And the exuberant constructivist bugs, which turned out to be lighting fixtures that bathed the walls of buildings in a soft glow, adding to the floating effect that the best stucco boxes aspire to. The lights don’t work anymore, many bugs are missing antennae and too many buildings have hidden every ‘50s detail under a flood of beige paint. But many bugs still thrive in their natural habitat.


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