Our landlord took down the garages of our 90 year old building a few months ago. The garages were small, three connected rectangular boxes housed in a cute little barn-like structure. Each unit had double barn doors, and a parking space in front.
We used our unit as storage, and we had a lot in there. When our landlord informed us that he’d be taking the structure down, we were not only inconvenienced, but saddened that our building would be losing an appendage of its historical design.
His reason for taking it down was to make way for one more parking space. Essentially, he’d be turning the footprint of the garage, and our little back-yard area into a concrete parking lot. He’d even be tearing down a perfectly good tree. All for one additional parking space.
Here in Los Angeles, parking spaces are revered. Like celebrities-of-the-week, or sensational headlines, hot-button issues or national fads, everyone hunts them, covets them, hoardes them, territorializes them. When it comes to parking spaces, we’re a demoralized band of zombie paparazzi.
In the case of our landlord, a single parking space holds more value than a useful and aesthetic 90-year old structure.
On the day of the demolition, when the work crew had fully knocked the thing down and swept clean the naked concrete lot, a crowd of neighbors gathered to take in the change.
“How great!” One woman said. “More parking!”
“Cool. More street spots for us,” her friend agreed.
“I’m a little sad about it,” I said. “I liked the garage. It was a lot prettier than this parking lot.”
“I mean, it’s not like it didn’t serve a purpose. We all used it for storage.”
“Ohhh,” They said.
I don’t believe it is silly for me to mourn the demolition of a building, if even a small one. Los Angeles exhibits much too much ease when it comes to demolishing buildings, and it gives not one thought to history or the aesthetics of design.
Just look at the case of the The Lot. A historic film studio founded by Mary Pickford, and still in good shape and operating as a film studio up to the last minute, it is now, ironically, just an empty lot.
Empty lots are as abundant in LA as parks are in San Francisco and New York. Many of these empty lots become parking lots, as in the case of the burned Basque Nightclub at Hollywood and Vine. The nightclub occupied the Laemmle Building, which was built in the International Style in 1932 by architect Richard Neutra for Carl Laemmle, of Universal Studios fame. Although it had been altered many times and retained few of its original features, it was a hell of a lot prettier than the asphalt lot that sits there now. Sure, a fire that completely destroys a building leaves no hope for its preservation. However, perhaps we could build something equally aesthetic in its place, rather than giving the footprint over to a private parking lot management company. I know these things take time, but I also know that there are no plans to replace the Laemmle Building. So, where Hollywood and Vine was once four-corners of historic, metropolitan buildings, it is now three buildings and a parking lot.
But, you say, parking is valuable in a city dominated by cars. Yes, I say, and therein lies our problem. Perhaps if we expanded our metro system, we could recover our pride, once again placing our values upon city planning and civic design.