LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.

Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.

It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,

Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.

Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family

From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.

But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?

And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.

As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.

I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.

But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.

But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.

As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.

SO WHAT IS “NEIGHBORHOOD ” ANYWAY

On tap for the next Malibu City Council meeting is a review of the phrase “neighborhood character” as a criteria in considering proposed residential developments.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere, the issue was dropped into the laps of the council by the planning commission, when after a protracted emotional hearing, declined to vote on a proposal for a nearly 9,000 square foot project on Portshead Road.

The project sited on a particularly large lot apparently meets the building code as calculated under Neighborhood Standards.

But being about three times the size of the 50 or so surrounding houses on Point Dume has raised the issue of neighborhood character, which, unlike neighborhood standards, cannot be quantified, and is subjective.

\To aid the council in its deliberations – what exactly is neighborhood character and how it possibly can be applied to proposed projects – planning staff has admirably prepared a report that lays out several rational. if convoluted, alternatives.

But as we have sadly observed, this fractured and frankly not particularly conversant council is not always rational. And neither was a gaggle of neighbors who testified before the commission, including a former mayor, who said the owner actually should be allowed to build anything he wanted. So much for the city’s and coastal commission’s rules and regs.

It was at that meeting that the owner passionately argued that the project should be approved. That was after shedding some crocodile tears in the social media in which he said the family was abandoning what was described as its dream house, however bloated the plans.

It was noted at the commission that the city recently had ruled against a property owner in a similar case where the proposed size of the project was legal, according to “neighborhood standards,.” However, “neighborhood character” was considered, the project labeled mansionization and rejected.

For some perspective, various sources describe neighborhood character as the ‘look and feel” of an area, in particular residential, and can be both descriptive and prescriptive. Nevertheless, along with a host of social, cultural, ecological, and economic factors, neighborhood character does shape where we live, and therefore is considered of significance in the planning process.

Meanwhile in Malibu, as a planning and design critic, I consider the city’s present neighborhood standards reasonable, detailing as it does allowable heights, size and bulk. But the problem over time has been administering them, subject to a parade of pandering neophyte politicians.

The standards are too often appealed, and permitted by a development friendly city, particularly when confronted by a well-connected facilitator and the threat of a lawsuit.

As for what exactly constitutes “neighborhood character,” it is a tough question, and I do not expect it will be easily resolved. Perhaps helpful would be applying a Supreme Court decision in 1964 I have always liked, in which Justice Potter Stewart is quoted that he could not describe pornography, adding “but I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about neighborhood character..

 

 

FORD THEATRES REIMAGINED WITH EDGY PROGRAM

No, I didn’t score tickets to Hamilton last weekend, as several listeners and readers inquired. But I’m continuing to conscientiously enter the lottery for the $10 giveaways, and I did receive an email that a ticket on stubhub was available, for $495.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere, I didn’t bite. Instead for my theatre experience, I calculated that for just a few dollars more I could go to Dublin to take in an attraction or two at the Abby Theatre,

I do note that upcoming there is a production of Ulysses, which is being hailed as a “brilliantly adapted vibrant version of James Joyce’s classic.” Tickets start at 13 euro ($15).

As for last weekend, we did get to Hollywood for an engaging, stage event, in a new venue in the hills off the 101 freeway. (which we note was backing up when we exited at Highland.)

There after making a sharp is the welcoming, Ford Theatres., recently reimagined by architect, Brenda Levin, at a cost of $66 million to a generous county. Is it a coincidence a plaza there was named after the former supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky?

Despite its steep site cut into a verdant hillside, well lit, wide stairways and large elevators make the open air 1,200 seat theatre very accessible. Particularly appreciated are scattered plazas for picnicking., where with packed-in eatables you can also bring in wine or beer. Of course, also at the Ford for feasting before performances are inviting, if pricey, food concessions.

Also welcomed in the auditorium is the theatrical lighting and audio visual systems. No longer heard in the background is the obnoxious 101 freeway. Though a disappointment has to be the seating, which for some reason is not staggered, even just a few inches to the sides, improving sight lines, especially if the persons in front of you are six footers.

It did make viewing the evening’s program a challenge, as was the double bill itself. But if you also welcome the creative and experimental, the program had its rewards. Well deserved credit goes to the Ford, partnering as it has with the Music Center in support of the emerging performing arts. It is effort such as theirs that makes L.A. a cultural haven.

The program featured the Jacob Jonas dance company’s world premier of Pile On, and, yes, it opened with a pile on, not unlike occurs in a baseball game when a player hits a walk off homer, and his teammates bury him in bodies at home plate.

Only at the Ford it was more graceful, as were the individual break-dancing and gymnastics, as if a warmup to a Paul Taylor performance. Nonelessless, it was given a standing ovation. One senses this early experiment will in time morph into a more compelling piece.

This feeling also followed a visual and sound performance by Tim Hecker with Kara Lis Coverdale, and though dazzled by digital compositions, I found the program more noise than music. A lot of smoke, but no fire.

 

 

ANNUAL TRANCAS CANYON DOG PARK ROMP

 

One of the more appealing things about my Malibu beyond its magnificent weather and coast, is the distinct outlander traditions of its natives, especially among the persevering pet owners.,

Indeed, many people moved here not only because of their love for nature, but also for their animals. And to be sure, we’re talking all type of animals: cats, dogs, chickens, peacocks, pigs, turtles, horses, lamas, goats, birds of every feather, and whatever else may be in the homes of our neighbors.

I’m not telling, for it might attract a local Homeland Security type in our sadly increasingly monitored world, to come knocking, someone having reported hearing screaming, when it really was just a voluble Green Amazon parrot, such as our Zuma, calling for dinner.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, there are actually several happenings in Malibu that can be considered communal. These include the chili cook off, the Pt. Dume July 4th Day parade, and the Concert on the Bluffs, which, by the way, is this Sunday..

Then there are the more serendipitous happenings., such as when a high surf attracrs swarms of locals, running down our block at sunrise to sunset to the beckoning ocean below.

Or, a gathering of a gaggle of residents at City Hall to protest staff and council bending over for a developer, or skirting administrative norms to accommodate whomever.

And among the lesser known gatherings, there is the annual convergence of canines at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park to honor the birthday of a fondly remembered four legged friend, named Bodhi.

Held recently, it is an exception to the park’s canon not to bring food within its double gates, in this instance a tail wagging variety of treats served out of a shredded pinnate

Whether any of the scrounging dogs remembered Bodhi or not, they certainly celebrated the occasion, groveling for the treats on the raw decomposed granite park floor while their equally mixed breed of owners looked on.

There was enough for all, so food fights were avoided, especially among the usually more aggressive breeds. The owner’s know who they are, but there will be no pointing fingers or chiding here of petulant pets.

That is because frankly one of them is my barking Corgi known fittingly as Bobby the Bad. He is annoyingly willful, but he is also faithful and, smart and, of course, a rescue and mine. His sidekick who he would no doubt kick if his legs were only longer is my other dog, CoCo, a sweet Shih Tzu.

She loves her treats, but at this party she hung back from the pack, especially from the determined “A” types . Even the more docile dogs got into the fray, including the lovingly groomed Golden Lab Zoe, and the regal Lady, a great, Great Dane. Giving them respectful room were the pack’s more dominant personalities, notably the ravenous Rocky, and the tireless Tanner.

But my alliterating report ends here, for in keeping with a commandment among the regularly attending owners, my friends, what happens in the dog park, stays in the dog park.

 

HAMILTON TICKET MANIA

I’m sorry to report this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites that as your intrepid cultural correspondent and avid theatre goer, I unfortunately missed the opening at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood of the much heralded Hamilton, the hit musical fresh from sell outs in New York .

There the contemporary, hip-hop-inflected spin on the story of the Federalist founding father, had been received as something akin to the second coming, and scoring a ticket equal to winning the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

We had considered getting tickets when in New York, but going through the box office was near impossible, and cashing in a 401 for a pair of questionable scalper’s seats not advisable to our financial consultant, and a mortal sin to our cultural faiths.

I also feel it is a bit ironic that the quest for tickets had taken on the mien of a stock market mania – something akin to the Dutch tulip craze in the 17th century– considering Alexander Hamilton was the liberal first secretary of the Treasury, remembered for attempting to bring some financial stability to post revolutionary United States.

Anyway, a New Yorker we know well and respect actually had gone to the opening night, and had judged the production just, “okay”. And the fact is she had only gone because it was a benefit for the praiseworthy non-profit Humanity in Action.

So we decided to wait until it came to Los Angeles, where if you keep tabs on such things, it seems to have been received as perhaps not as a second coming, but a third. The first, of course, being a tenet of pure faith that occurred 2,000 or so years ago and the second, a reception for President Clinton at the home of Barbra Streisand in the heyday of his now lamented administration.

So we of little faith missed the opening, have gotten no reasonable invites and not wanting to pay the box office prices of $300 and up. and the scalper prices that far exceed my TOTAL tuition and fees for four years at a Ivy League school. It was $600.

To the credit of the producers, there is a daily lottery for a few teasing $10 tickets. Entering it is relatively simple. Chances of winning very slim. We have tried and lost, but intend to keep trying.

Meanwhile, in reality it appears we will wait until the crowds might diminish before its run at the Pantages ends, or maybe a secret Santa deems to gift us, or just be content with a someday student production at Pepperdine, or Malibu High. Then there probably will be a movie, probably a bad one..

“NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER” QUESTIONED

Against my own advice not to get involved in personal zoning issues, I find I’m compelled to comment on the current city conundrum involving a proposed house on Portshead Road.

The issue has gone too public to ignore, especially since the Planning Commission, after a protracted hearing, declined to vote on the proposal for the 8.800 square foot project and instead kicked it to City Council.

Beyond the emotions it has generated –should the applicant be allowed to build two and a half times the size of his neighbors’ houses– there is a major planning issue involved, concerning the definition of neighborhood character., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Indeed, in a similar case recently, citing size, the city ruled against a property owner where all other conditions also had met, as they have on Portshead. This set an important precedent.

Nevertheless, the Portshead applicant went before the planning commission, obviously confident that his plans for what he described as his dream house would be acceptable.

However, there were objections, and a petition reportedly was circulated objecting to the size of the project. This prompted a lament by the applicant, which stirred a well-spring of sympathy and an antithetical petition to approve the project.

That sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing, no doubt a factor in it backing off from a decision. With a polite nod to the heart felt sentiments, I feel zoning is not an issue to be decided by petitions, circulated on behalf of whomever.

That should be the purview of the planning commission, and city council. And as often stated at hearings, zoning cases should not be based on how attractive the project or appealing the applicant, but on their compliance with city codes and applicable precedents.

In addition to the echoing of the phrase “neighborhood character” so were the terms “mansionization: and “mcmansion.” This struck a chord with me, for I am cited by Wikipedia as one of several authors that coined the phrases, specifically when I was the LA Times architecture critic in the 1980s. Having also written several books on planning immodestly made me an authority.

I first used the phrase in describing the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which in turn led to a domino effect that ultimately compromises the character of neighborhoods and accelerates hyper gentrification. .

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.

He and his tearful wife pleaded that though a “mcmansion,” the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset.

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. It therefore makes one wary, especially knowing that the larger the house in Malibu, the much larger the profit, say realtors who always seem ready to pump up properties to maximize their commissions.

.The size of the proposed Portshead project was defended by the applicant, who stated that it may be excessive, but he wanted to include such amenities as a gym and a screening room to make it a fun house for his family.

However ingenuous the remarks or not, the real issue persists whether the project is out of neighborhood character. It is a tough question, which calls for some common sense, and common courtesy, and frankly not crocodile tears.

Meanwhile, the applicant might want to consider a more modest house, which his respected architect said was possible, or build elsewhere where the project would be more in character. There are such streets in Malibu, though Portshead is not one of them.
 

A REVITALIZED FORD THEATRE REOPENS

For those who love music and dance, are adventurous, and willing to fight the traffic on a weekend, you might want to check out a Music Center extravaganza; not at the music center downtown, but in the more accessible Hollywood Hills.

And so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere.

Admirably conscious of the need to go beyond its central campus on Bunker Hill Downtown, the Center is offering three evenings of distinctive productions in the welcoming renovated and reconstructed, John Anson Ford Theatre, in the Cahuenga Pass.

And, yes, you can come early, as you can to its next-door neighbor, the Hollywood Bowl, and picnic, making the evening a social event, and time it to best the traffic. To make things a little more comfortable, for those who do not like schlepping, there are new concessions, serving full dinners.

The 1,200-seat theatre was recently creatively reimagined by L.A.’s premier restoration architect, Brenda Levin. She has fashioned the iconic but ancient Ford Theatre – built nearly a century ago — into a state-of-the-art venue, for both the audiences and performers, with new seating, staging and most critically, theatrical lighting and audio visual systems

Having toured the Ford in the last throes of its $66 million reconstruction, I can’t wait to see it come alive with performances. And neither obviously could the Music Center, under the auspices of a most cooperative county arts commission, in joining forces with the Ford for three evenings, to sponsor what each promises to be a memorable experience.

On stage next Friday, the 18th, will be a dance performance by acclaimed choreographer Aszure Barton, entitled Awaa, which has been described as a powerful journey through music and sound, celebrating sexuality and humanity.

Featured are seven male dancers and one woman, in a performance the San Francisco Chronicle labeled “brilliant” and The New York Times, “audacious.”

Saturday, the 19th features a double bill that includes an original work by the ever-challenging Jacob Jonas. Expect something visual and visceral.

It will be followed by a concert exploring an electronic mix of past and present composition in a melding specifically for the outdoor location of the Ford. Hopefully it will be harmonic, as will be a concluding new age, new music piece.

I expect Sunday evening’s entertainment will be somewhat milder, with songwriter Rufus Wainwright performing a program that includes curated Canadian compositions.

 

 

SUMMERTIME, GETTYTIME

Still summer, crowds still here, at the beach, and on PCH, and given the inexorable population growth of Southern California, I expect summer to extend to Thanksgiving, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and websites everywhere

In effect, Fall has fallen from the calendar, so if you want to keep your flame of culture glowing, I fear you must face the traffic, strap yourself in your car, turn on the air conditioning and turn up KBU, and with patience and fortitude, try embracing some motorized meditation.

But if it’s museums you are interested in, as I am, the commute can be eased by avoiding weekends, going early, staying late, and focus on the more accessible venues.

Heading my list is the Getty, where I find myself returning to more and more these summer days. Not only does the Center above Brentwood have an engaging array of changing exhibitions, and an ever-engrossing permanent collection, it is gratefully free, as I believe all museums should be.

But what further makes the Getty Center so attractive in the now extended, simmering summers, is its mountaintop site, with its constant, cooling breezes, and its captivating views.

And to think when the Getty was being planned just a short 30 years ago, I argued then as the LATimes architecture critic for a more urban site, such as Westwood, or Downtown. What was I thinking?

Yes, it would have been easier to get to then by bus and eventually in the future by rail, and especially for the growing hordes of tourists.

But it would not have had the views, and the incentive to stay late on select days and see the spectacular sunsets and have a pleasant, reasonable dinner. It is for these reasons I frankly love the Getty, for myself, for my family and for showing off to friends and visitors.

And then there is the Getty Villa, with its specialized collection, even closer to Malibu, off the PCH. That is for another day,

But meanwhile, it is back to the Getty Center, where for me the feature exhibition at present is a celebration of David Hockney’s 80th birthday.

Make that two exhibitions, one a display of his self-portraits, he had drawn, painted and photographed since his youth. The other, his experiments with photography, specifically Polaroid composites and photo collages.

Fascinating, and they’re on display until the end of the new, summer, past Thanksgiving, through to November 26.