MOVING SAM MALOOF

For my pubic radio commentary this week, an unusual topic involving an uncommon craftsman and a distinct historic landmark, chronicled in singular book by an adroit architect.

It makes for an interesting read, especially for historic preservation buffs, and prompt a visit to Rancho Cucamonga. You will not be disappointed.

The topic is the diligent relocation of a two woodworking studios, a hand crafted residence, guesthouse and 20 odd mature trees out of the path of a planned freeway to a protected site three miles away.

The book title tells it all: “Moving Sam Maloof,” with an explanatory sub title, quote “Saving an American Woodworking Legend’s Home and Workshop,” end quote. Revealing also was that it was written with empathy by Ann Kovara , who not incidentally was the relocation project’s construction manager.

You usually do not get this literary quality from a practicing architect or perspective from a writer.

Packing the contents, taking down several detailed structures, uprooting a score of select trees, then moving it all a short distance on local streets, and reconstructing and replanting it all, is not your usual dramatic subject for an engaging book.

But “Moving Sam Maloof,” surprisingly is, especially if familiar with the original bucolic compound and a friend and admirer of the owner.

When I got to know Sam he already was an acclaimed woodworker, a true California Living Legend, indeed the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur Foundation so called genius grant; his exquisite furniture was in demand, back ordered for years, and workshop thriving.

Nevertheless, he always found time to open his shop and beguile my students venturing out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Those days for me ran into evenings and relaxed meals with him and his lovely wife Alfreda and children at an accommodating nearby restaurant. He also gave his time freely for several TV segments I produced.

Kovara captures that spirit of Sam that was truly tested when the State made clear its intention to run a freeway through his 5 acre compound of 45 years.

Tough negotiations followed, during which time preservation grants became available, the overseeing bureaucrats became sympathetic, and the elaborate relocation details were resolved, with all involved bending a little, not unlike a rare pliable hardwood.

Sam witnessed the move, which took 3 years, from 1998 to 2001. He sadly passed, in 2009, at age 93.

The relocated house and studio is now under the care of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation, and can be toured. Contact the foundation for days, hours and other details.

 

A TIP OF THE HAT TO ARCHITECT ZAHA HADID

Dusting off and putting on my old beaten down architecture critics hat, I tip it in a farewell gesture to Zaha Hadid She died much too young recently at the age 65; indeed tragically as her career as a designer seemed to be soaring, just as do her many singular signature structures.

Having garnered a Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award in 2004 at the relatively young age of 53, based on just a few finished projects at the time, she took off like a comet, winning scores of commissions for her distinctively complex sweeping designs, despite having a reputation of being difficult.

Though one wonders if that was just the canard of her male competitors, as I comment in my weekly city observed on KBU FM and radiomalibu.net

Be that as it may, that her office in London employed 400 at the time of her death is a testament to her success. Incidentally, the number is more than the enrollment of some architecture schools. And those who try to imitate her distinctive style is legion.

A notable friend and an admirer, an equally individualistic and renown architect, Rem Koolhas, described her as powerful and fragile, and like her buildings, was generous, crafting public space in and out.

As much as I had taken exception to the to the label stararchitect, out of concern that it seems to bestow the professional a license for indulgences that mock context and community, as well as cost, Dame Hadid was a happy exception.

She said what she meant, and meant what she said.   I loved it, even when I disagreed with her. She was a person I would describe as one who stabbed you in the chest, not that back. No doubt she learned that having been stabbed in the back multiple times as she made her way up the ladder of success in a much too male dominated profession. That she also was an Arab made her even more vulnerable.

She was not a bullshiter, in a profession where they are too many ; that say one thing and design another, and say anything when surreptitiously smiling to secure a commission. That was the hearsay, for unfortunately I never got to interview her during my tenure in the 80s as a daily critic . Though her quotes echo is my abiding concerns for our cityscape:

“Cities should invest in good spatial organization that has more impact than just making a terrible cheap building, which you see a lot of.” Amen.

 

 

Planning Concerns Close to Home

Aired July 11, 2015

Some reflections on a Malibu Planning Commission hearing I attended this week.

It was the latest of several I have recently witnessed at City Hall concerning a host of planning issues confronting Malibu. For a small city of about 13,000 it does generate considerable controversy and discontent, giving some weight to the adage, the smaller the city, the more small-minded the politics.

Some of our city leaders are disturbed by the citizen protests, but I consider the grumblings healthy, an expression of down home Democracy. Though, frankly, I prefer they weren’t so often shrill, and ill informed.

I place much of the blame for this on the City’s failure to communicate, whether out of timidity or preferring to keep things close to their vests. For the record, my description in a commentary of the council being timorous did prompt Mayor John Sibert to take exception.

In an e-mail he states that far from being timorous the council has taken the initiative in host of issues, citing among other things scoring a needed study of the PCH and funds for improvements. And he added, and I quote, “if you think we don’t stand up to developers, you really do need to do a cranial/anal inversion. “ end of quote. Nothing timorous in that statement.

The mayor continued, saying the council for all its efforts gets no support from the-come lately spectators, who only descend on City Hall to carp. While wincing, I have to add that it is at least comforting to know that the council is listening.

This prompts me to cite yet another adage, a mathematical formula popular among journalists that states: public service equals megalomania, divided by paranoia.

But on occasion one must sympathize with those who volunteer for public service, donating their time for no compensation other than the reward of good citizenship. This was evident the other evening at the planning commission hearing considering an application for the remodel and expansion 29042 Cliffside Drive.

Aside from the questionable design, I testified that I felt the indicated construction of 49% is a blatant attempt to have the project declared a remodel and not a new structure, with its additional constraints and fees.

However, my prime objection is based on my experience as the past chair of the city”s View Preservation Task Force, and as a planner.

I fear as do current Cliffside residents that if this application is approved, and however it compromises the blue water view of any property, even by a sliver, it will also clearly affect their property values.

My view is not affected, but others are, and with the result of lowering their property values, mine also would be affected.

This did not bother the city’s wavering planning department, which recommended approval. But happily the commission did not. Member Jeff Jennings was particularly forthright . So was Mikke Pierson. And chairman David Brotman displayed his forte as an architect noting that the layout with its five master sized bedrooms, each with its own bath, was more indicative of a residential medical clinic than a family home.

Such residences have become the bane of Malibu, since only State approval is needed to convert an ostensibly private home to a clinic. Though, consultants for the corporate owner said this was not intended; that the house will be a retreat for a large extended family.

Obviously sensing the commission’s sentiments and a looming no vote, the applicants asked for a continuance. The neighbors hope in the two months given the applicant will attempt a redesign that preserves views. That is the hope, but deep pocketed developers in the past have not been so accommodating. We’ll see.

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, and this the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net.

 

 

Is it Possible to Make PCH Safer, and Malibu Saner

Without question, the PCH is the bane of Malibu, given the highway’s daily accidents, capricious gridlock and conspicuous distracted drivers.

It is the price the city’s 13,000 residents must pay living in a self-anointed coastal paradise, through which 80,000 commuters pass every day, and up to an estimated 400,00 beach-bound visitors descend on sunny days.

After years of endless complaints, and years of studies, the city gave its blessing last week to an exacting 900 page report, recommending some 150 improvements with a price tag totaling 20 million dollars plus, presumably to make the roadway safer.

As detailed by consultants, the improvements include synchronized traffic signals, realigning several intersections, straightening sections of the road, an underpass, and bolder stripping and signage.

The improvements will fine-tune the highway, and no doubt make the intersections less prone to rear end collisions. .

But not solved is the conflict trying to accommodate bike lanes and on street parking in the eastern stretch of PCH, or more critically slowing traffic. Despite the praises of the City Council and others, there is no silver bullet to solve the harsh realities of the PCH.

Indeed, many of the recommendations might be counter intuitive. Traffic will probably increase.

Improving roadways almost always generates more traffic; traffic being like water, flowing downhill, to find its way into the most conducive channel.

And in Malibu, the PCH is the one and only channel, a lone connect linking the 21-mile long sausage-like city squeezed between an ocean and a mountain range.

Putting on my planner’s hat, as I have in past commentaries, and in remarks before the City Council, I feel the PCH should no longer be considered a highway, with speed limits of 45 and 55, in particular through the civic center.

Reevaluating the speed limit for the 4-mile stretch between Webb Way and Las Flores Canyon Road is way down the consultant’s priority list.

I suggest a high priority, and lowering the speed limits there to 35, and further down to 25 edging the Civic Center Way. That are the limits for the PCH where it passes through downtown Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar and other coastal towns.

In effect, this section of the PCH would become Malibu’s main street, and as such, Caltrans urban standards would apply, not incidentally protecting the hallowed trees. Also encouraged would be cross walks, and other amenities, lending the commercial clutter and park there a more welcoming identity.

In tweaking the PCH, the traffic study also needs some tweaking.

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and this is the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU FM, radio Malibu. Dot COM.

To be aired 6.27.2015

 

Ever Desirable and Threatened Malibu

Aired 6.13.15

Today, its my ever real estate desirable Malibu, where the planning commission and council are under pressure pondering the future of the civic center.

As the heat of the summer builds, and the heat of development bubbles , focus is on two proposed projects: a whole foods market and shops sweetened by a park, and the second, a commercial cluster that actually was approved by the city in 2008, but still must resolve some environmental issues.

Whatever, we can expect these developments will be with us for some time, tied up by appeals and law suits.

Meanwhile, a citizens task force is completing a draft of design guidelines for new commercial development, which most likely will recommend further study, on a broader plan , to weave a more attractive and accessible center, for residents as well as tourists.

But this continuing debate over the civic center can be distracting, for Malibu, after all, is primarily a residential community, which to be sure is also under development pressure, one project at a time. And this being a desired address for the deep pocket crowd, where big is considered better, the projects sadly are often egregious.

I feel they are compromising Malibu as much as the excessive commercial.

Consider the proposal of 29042 Cliffside Dr to be aired before the planning commission Monday. It takes a bad faux Mediterranean style house and attempts to convert it to a bad faux modernist structure.

From my perspective as an architecture critic, the design looks cheap.

I also feel the indicated construction of 49% is a blatant attempt to have the project declared a remodel and not a new structure, with its additional reviews and fees. The result is what I would label a macmansion .

However, my prime objection is based on my experience as the past chair of the city”s View Preservation Task Force, and from years as a planning consultant, to private corporations and public agencies.

I fear that if this application is approved, and however it compromises the blue water view of any neighboring property, it will also clearly affect their property values. That in turn will constitute what is known in planning as a taking; the taking away of value from one party to benefit another. This could be the basis for a costly law suit against the city.

My view is not affected, but if those of my neighbors are, and with the result of lowering their property values, mine also would be affected, and also that of all Malibu. Macmansions are a plague to be avoided. Tune in next week for the results

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, on 97.5 KBU and Radio Malibu, dot com.