Just Plain Palms

Just as the Himalayas are adjoined by the plains of Northern India, so does the Hillside Dingbat District  of Palms have the advantage of neighboring flatlands to set it off.   We have already examined a few of the architectural gems belonging to the area on a one-off basis, and now we look at a few more distinctive residences.

Now and Zen

The allusions to India and the Himalayas are admittedly a stretch, but we were more surprised than anyone to happen on this unusual shrine in front of what otherwise is an ordinary dingbat complex.

As it happens, the Buddha here is actually a fountain whose waters drip gently from the spout at the top to a basin below, producing a satisfying contrast with the dry landscaping that surrounds it.   


When observing the dingbat in its natural habitat, it seems that the standard front garden consists of a four-foot-wide strip of grass and possibly flower beds all along the front of the property.  (In spite of this limited square footage, it still requires forty-five minutes of horticultural fine-tuning once or twice a week, said fine-tuning to be administered with various types of extremely noisy implements.)

We therefore tend to notice the dingbat whose builders or owners have gone an extra mile or two in the area of greenery, because they sometimes achieve a kind of modernistic grandeur which is usually not seen in the average detached house.  One big reason for that is the fact that, for most of the 20th Century average houses in this region have almost always been single-story.  You usually can't grow an imposing ten-foot hedge in front of a ranch house.

Hedged Dingbat

But you can certainly do it in front of your two-story dingbat.  This particular specimen displays several features apparently calculated to elevate its class appeal.  Beginning with the second story, the tall narrow windows on either side of the corner, posts, and textured wall all suggest an upscale house, or possibly a small mid-century office building such as you might find in Beverly Hills along Wilshire.   The tall hedge conveys an above average expectation of privacy.

And that feeling of privacy is enhanced by this curving walk, which is truly unusual in the dingbat domain.  We are reminded of Paul Fussell's observation* of upper class houses and the curved driveways that lead to them.  

The word "cove" does inspire us to seek out additional allusions to nautical life, or even pirates -- but this quest turns out to be in vain.

* Paul Fussell, 1983. Class. A Guide Through The American Status System.  New York: Ballantine, 1983. p80


A curious trend in apartment houses has sprung up: stuccoed obelisks that rise up in front of them, presumably intended to attract renters by announcing the amenities of the place.


That seems straightforward enough, yet shown here is the only specimen we know of that actually puts the sign to use.  In all the rest, they are completely unadorned with anything that would give them a purpose.  They stand starkly like tombstones that still await the engraver's chisel.  


Or like mysterious alien obelisks that still await the enquiring touch of some passing prehistoric hominid.  

We can almost hear the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Left Turn OK

Daily driven past by thousands of motorists with scarcely a look, and across from headquarters of the L.A. Weekly alternative biweekly, this West L.A. stretch of Sepulveda boasts a sort of miniature Motel Row.  The signage and decorative exterior touches exude a feeling of postwar commercial exuberance, almost reminiscent of the Googie-esque diners that were sprinkled across Greater L.A. when these motels were built.

Our first stop is the Half Moon Motel.    Public records indicate that the place was built in the late 1950s, and who are we to question public records?  Besides, one look tells us that it couldn't have come from any other time.

The most noteworthy feature here is the neon lighting used in all the signage. The crescent decoration visible on the wall, next to the second story window at the extreme left, further reinforces the semi-lunar theme.

 In the picture below you can see the red and white chevron accents along the railing, which seems to add a festive,  holiday touch exuding a vaguely Alpine feel.  Oddly enough, the Swiss Motors auto repair shop is just across and a few doors up, and is resolutely anti-Alpine in its general appearance.

Remarkably for this busy yet humdrum and utilitarian stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard, hard by the 405, all these motels bring to mind past road trips that included nights in motels that were just like this, except for their surroundings.  Whether on remote stretches of old Route 66 or in the middle of West Los Angeles, mid-century motels in this state of preservation are remarkable survivors of their time.

We can't leave the Half Moon without a look at its remarkable lounge/bar. At least, I think it's a bar, assuming all those bottles in view are not merely Torani flavorings for coffee. In this modest yet welcome attempt to provide night life for its guests, this motel reminds us of the larger than life efforts of larger establishments, now long gone, like Wisconsin's famed Gobbler Supper Club and Motel.

It's Happening At The Half-Moon
 Although the place dates from the 1950s, this particular room gives off  a definite 1970s vibe, the little seating area to the right reminiscent of the miniature on-board lounges the airlines used to hawk in their advertising. And it's hard for anyone who survived the 1970s to take this scene in without imagining the chairs and tables being pushed out of the way before dropping the needle on a Bee Gees album.

Immediately north of here stand two ordinary hostelries of the standard chain motel type, a religious bookstore, and a small office building but this one is merely a generic Best Western in its discrete brown building.  But continuing northwards, we now arrive at still another vintage motel, above which floats the cheerful banner  "Deano's".

Welcome to Deano's
And after that comes the Astro.

Welcome to the Astro

Both the Astro and Deano's have omitted the evocative neon lighting and opted instead for cheaper illuminated plastic, and this even though Deano's turns out to be the oldest motel on the block.  According to public records, it began in 1926 when it had zero bedrooms, zero bathrooms, and twenty-six units.  (Translation: it was a bungalow court and none of the units had its own bathroom.)

As it turns out, these two motels seem to be locked in a death struggle expressed by the garishness of their signs.  First Deano's...

... where said garishness proclaims proudly the availability of Cable TV and Telephones. The strategy has evidently paid off, since we also learn there is NO Vacancy. Deano's also amuses with this sign, letting us know that we can watch the aforementioned cable connected TV in COLOR.

It's color TV by RCA, to be absolutely accurate.

As for the Astro, here is their sign.

 The Jetson-esque shape of the sign stands out here, obviously as pure an expression of early mid-century "space age" style as we'll find anywhere.   It's clear that the "Astro" here comes from "astronaut", and by extension from all the optimistic dreams the dawning Space Age inspired.   Sure, the Russians might have beaten us to the punch when it came to launching the first artificial satellite.  But only in America could you build your own motel and  name it the Astro, and trick out your sign with a strange brew of Danish Modern and Tomorrowland-Jetsons.

On the other hand, we can't help but notice undertone of desperation in the LEFT TURN OK sign.

It's almost as if they desperately hope we'll notice and choose their hotel before we notice the others.  After all, we can make a left turn into their driveway so, what's stopping us? How can we pass up such an opportunity?

Update 2012-10-22
Earlier sunsets have arrived, so we went back and got some evening shots, which you can see here.