Majestic in the westering sun they stand: The Hillside Dingbats Of Palms

For some reason, the much maligned dingbat style of apartment house weaves its sinuous way in and out of this blog.   Possibly it's because I not only live in one, but also  it happens to be in the Palms district of Los Angeles--otherwise known as the absolute nexus and center of all things dingbat.  Here's an overhead view, the overall look and feel of which will be familiar to anyone who's been a passenger on a plane heading into LAX.

Seen from this perspective, you'd think you could borrow a cup of sugar from someone in the next building over without either of you leaving your apartment.   

Dingbats perennially get a bad rap for the artificiality of their style, for they tend to be festooned with architecturally meaningless appurtenances.  Either that, or because they have no style at all, which just goes to show that sometimes you can't win.  They also garner a lot of criticism for the prominence of their ground floor parking spaces, which is said to promote car culture and a car-dependent lifestyle.  This is unfair, because like multifamily housing generally, dingbats are usually closer to shops, cafes, and cultural amenities then single-family houses.  Almost always,  moreover, dingbat neighborhoods are better served by public transit.  These humble abodes offer the choice of a car-avoidant lifestyle.  If you've ever lived in an apartment that came with fewer parking spaces than you have cars, and you've experienced the bi-weekly street-cleaning parking space juggle, you might well conclude that apartment life strongly discourages excessive car-dependence.

In an earlier post we saw a series of series of dingbats whose owners or builders seemed to have been inspired by Classical culture.  In this post we'll look at some dingbats that exhibit some interesting mid-century architectural details, and are also notable for their siting.

March of Dingbats

What I like about this shot is it shows that, even in L.A. you don't have to belong to the uppermost economic strata to afford a hillside home.  What's more, these apartments belie the usual pattern of dingbat siting, according to which each apartment house is sited among scores of other, similar buildings on land that is absolutely flat. Instead, the occupants of these apartments have commanding views of the plains below.  Without a doubt,  said view isn't much to look at during the day, but from sunset to sunrise it's a different story. 

Of course, some balconies on this one would have certainly been nice.  Now let's take a closer look at the imposing brutalist facade.

Nobody can fail to be impressed, nay, intimidated, by the imposing brutality of its brutal presence.  You know those zombie movies where the entire planet has become infected and overrun, all except for one fortress-like compound where the scientists race to find a cure?  This could be one of those fortresses; not least because this particular dingbat occupies such a commanding strategic position at the top of the hill.  Of course from the previous picture we know that the illusion of an impregnable fastness is granted only to those who look at it head on.   

Coming to the upper end, we see the builders were sufficiently moved to continue the illusion around to the uphill side...

...for maybe 15 feet.  Be that as it may, however, I know where I'd rather be when the zombies arrive.

Let's look at the building next door, which is distinguished by the "slats", as I believe the technical term is for those vertical planks in the facade.

According to public records, this one was built in 1955.  You cannot hope to understand the driving aesthetic of 1950s domestic architecture unless you appreciate the central importance of slat-work, both indoors and out.  If you reached the age of awareness any time between 1953 and 1963, you must have noticed this.   Evidently the urge to divide spaces with walls-that-were-not-walls came into full flower during this period.   It continued for some time after that as well; you need only watch some vintage TV episodes--examples abound in Star Trek:TOS--to convince yourself of this.

Zooming out a bit reveals one good quality that this stretch of dingbats offers.   Rather than slicing off a flat parcel on which to build a typical apartment house, the builders of these preferred to shape their dingbats to conform to the terrain.  

The foreshortening makes this dramatically evident in the building on the right--which is none other than the Tactical Zombie Abatement Command Center that we examined previously.  While this terrain-hugging layout of the building is undoubtedly pleasing to look at, it must be said that it has its practical disadvantages.   Anyone who has ever moved from one unit to another in a building like this knows this: every change of level means another two or three stairs that have to be navigated with every stick of furniture, not to mention every cart or dolly-load of smaller items.  

Our last building is another good example.

 At first, the facade here looks like it's covered by small tiles of slightly different shades of off-white.  As a matter of fact it was this illusion that first drew my attention to this group of buildings.   As I continued to look at it, I was disheartened to notice it looked like that external disease that runs rampant in the dingbat world: stucco treatments.   Fortunately that's not the case, here, however: instead, the building appears to have been faced with a layer of small field stones.  As originally used it's highly likely  that the rocks were left in their natural color, which was undoubtedly some shade of brown.  With that in mind, the fact that they have been painted over seems to be an improvement.

( Note: There did use to be some additional content here.  That has been moved to its own post, which starts right about here.)

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