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Residents of Los Angeles’ Little Persia denounce Trump’s ‘unjust’ travel ban

Order has immediate chilling effect on Iranian community, as some worry about family and friends who have green cards and visas who are marooned in Iran

The sun still shined on Westwood Boulevard, the thrumming commercial heart of the biggest Iranian community outside Iran.

Families lunched on chicken kabob at Flame, Shaherzad and other restaurants. Students browsed titles in Farsi bookstores. Music lovers flicked through CDs of Ebrahim Ebi Hamedi, the king of Persian pop.

Just another Saturday in Tehrangeles, a portmanteau of Tehran and Los Angeles coined by exiles and their descendants also known as Little Persia, a term so well established Google Maps recognises it.

The apparent normality deceived. In hushed and bewildered tones, people wondered whether they still recognised the United States, the adopted homeland that had welcomed and sheltered them but now labelled them potential terrorists.

It is totally unjust. This will affect thousands and thousands of families that are completely innocent, said Siamak, a 56-year-old physician who fled Iran after the ayatollahs took over in 1979. We ourselves are victims of terrorism. Now we are branded terrorists?

The news was still sinking in: Donald Trump had signed an executive order halting arrivals from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries as part of his extreme vetting to keep out terrorists.

The order, named the Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, imposes a a 90-day block on entry from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

Irans foreign affairs ministry said it will take legal, political and reciprocal measures.

Overnight, many of the up to 500,000 Iranians and Iranian Americans who live in southern California felt as though the US border had clanged shut. If they leave, they may not be able to return. Those who are currently outside the US even those with green cards and visas are marooned.

My friend is visiting relatives in Tehran and now hes stuck, said a young bookseller, who like most interviewees did not want her name published. Hes got a job here, a mortgage, car payments. What will happen to him?

The question hung over every family with noncitizen relatives abroad. Its ridiculous, said Sam, a restaurant manager. Weve felt good here. California is very open-minded. But now this. His voice trailed off.

The director Ashgar Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2012 for his film A Separation, and is nominated again for The Salesman, may not be able to attend next months ceremony, an absence which would fuel Hollywoods animus towards the Trump administration. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the prospect extremely troubling.

One middle-aged woman, loading groceries into a Porsche, quivered with indignation. Iranians are not murderers. Iranians are not terrorists. Americans should know that. She said sanity would return. Trump is not going to last so long. Theyll impeach him.

Trump had promised a crackdown during the campaign but the executive order still came as a shock. Californias Iranians, who often prefer the term Persian to distance themselves from Irans current leadership, form a thriving community with roots stretching back decades. Some arrived as students in the 1960s, followed by waves of exiles after the 1979 revolution.

Muslims tended to settle in Orange Country and the San Fernando valley, Jews in Westwood and Beverly Hills.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many Jewish Iranians voted for Trump because he strongly backed Israel and bashed Tehrans rulers. Some are unrepentant.

Yes, Trump! said one 70-year-old man who gave his name only as Kevin. He will stop the terrorists. You know when you leave your house, you lock the door, right? Hes doing right.

Asked whether a blanket ban on Iranian citizens was a good idea, Kevin hesitated. All, maybe not. But you have to lock your house.

Hassan Ali, a 29-year-old engineer from Pakistan who was buying pepper in Tehran Market, said targeting Muslims or any other religion was un-American. This country is supposed to be a melting pot.

The executive order seemed to have a chilling, immediate effect. Of 16 people of Iranian heritage interviewed at random in west LA, not one was willing to have their full name published.

Holly Dagres, a Middle East commentator, discovered the same reluctance among her contacts. Iranians are scared to share.

The community in Tehrangles learned to keep its head down during the hostile atmosphere engendered by the 1979 hostage crisis. Embracing the term Persian evoking carpets, cats and antiquity was a way to avoid connotations of terrorism and fanaticism.

But that linguistic sidestep did not deflect Trump, said Siamak, the physician. He has branded us. The stereotype is back. I fear things will get worse and worse.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/29/los-angeles-iranians-little-persia-trump-travel-ban


‘Learn English’: LA landlords allegedly harassed Latinos to get richer tenants

Exclusive: lawsuit paints disturbing picture of company that targeted Latinos, low-income tenants and those with mental disabilities in illegal eviction scheme

The Latino families all got the same threat posted on their doors: if their children played in the apartments hallways, they would be evicted. When the Spanish-speaking parents asked the Los Angeles property managers for help reading the notices, they were told: Learn English.

According to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Thursday against a major California real estate investment firm, when four mothers inquired about the notices, management threatened to call immigration, social services and the police.

I was in shock, said Carmen Castro, one of the mothers. That really created a fear in us.

The complaint against Optimus Properties paints a disturbing picture of a company that has targeted and harassed Latino residents, low-income tenants and renters with mental disabilities as part of an illegal eviction scheme to replace them with wealthier, younger people.

Civil rights advocates said the suit, filed on behalf of 15 tenants and advocacy group Strategic Alliance for a Just Economy, provides a window into the tactics of profit-driven real estate investors who are aggressively purchasing and flipping older buildings, accelerating gentrification, displacement and income inequality in cities across the US.

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Hilda Deras, 76, has received baseless eviction notices and faced harassment from her landlords, according to the federal lawsuit. Photograph: Joshua Busch

The allegations come at a time of increased anxiety for Latino families and immigrants tied to the surprise victory of Donald Trump. The president-elect has called Mexicans rapists, has threatened to deport millions and in the 1970s was accused of discriminating against African Americans at his real estate properties.

The lawsuit, filed by the not-for-profit groups Public Counsel and Public Advocates, covers five buildings with a total of 150 units in Koreatown, a gentrifying neighborhood that has historically been affordable to working-class people, with a high concentration of Asian American and Latino families.

The complaint alleged that Jerome Mickelson, Optimus director of construction and multifamily asset manager, along with a number of his affiliated real estate companies, have systematically targeted tenants protected by rent control.

For this population, new landlords are barred from raising rents beyond small annual increases and cannot evict them if they continue to pay rent, but the laws havent stopped Mickelson, according to the complaint.

In an email to the Guardian, Mickelson strongly denied the allegations. We take these allegations very seriously and categorically deny each and every such allegation, he said. He added that the lawsuit was filed without proper analysis and investigation and that the companies look forward to working with the Plaintiff to educate them about the real facts and if need be, to exonerate ourselves at trial.

Residents are treated with respect at all stages of their tenancy, he added.

However, according to the complaint, property managers in the buildings allegedly filed a series of illegal eviction notices and have created a hostile and threatening environment for tenants.

The landlords in one building allegedly told tenants that the new managers dont want to rent to people with mental disabilities, that they should move, and that they belong in group homes, the suit said.

Landlords have additionally told Latino tenants that their food smells disgusting and foul and that the tenants need to learn to read English since they are in America, according to court records.

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Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Utilizing a practice that activists say is common for real estate investors who flip buildings, Optimus has also allegedly allowed for uninhabitable living conditions in the apartments with rent control while providing freshly renovated units in good and sanitary condition to new tenants who are English-speaking.

Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint.

Optimus has advertised a Koreatown strategy in its marketing materials, explicitly stating that it is focused on value creation by investing in old buildings and renovating units as they become vacant.

Deepika Sharma, attorney with Public Counsel, said these kinds of campaigns against tenants are not unique.

It is wide-scale, she said, adding that tenants fears of racial discrimination have escalated since Trumps victory. Even before this election, our clients experienced this racism that threatened their ability to live in their homes.

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Arthur Rivera, a 67-year-old tenant with a disability, has received numerous unlawful eviction notices, the lawsuit alleged. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Demetrius Allen, a 45-year-old African American tenant who has a mental disability, was chronically homeless before he moved in to the Koreatown building in 2012. He has received more than a dozen eviction notices since Optimus purchased the property all of which were illegal, according to the complaint.

Im completely overwhelmed, he said. Every day of the week its always something.

An on-site manager allegedly told Allen that the landlords planned to rid the building of persons with mental disabilities, the suit said.

When he first moved in, he said, It was a sanctuary. But he said the nonstop threats from management and the fear that he may be homeless again have taken a severe toll on his mental health.

Its really destroyed my peace of mind. Youre always angry or paranoid. You never know whats going to happen next.

Castro, 31, whose sons are ages five and 11, said that she doesnt know how her family could find another affordable place if her landlord successfully pushes her out. We would end up homeless, out on the streets.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/18/latino-evictions-california-housing-discrimination


‘Anarchy on Sunset Strip’: 50 years on from the ‘hippie riots’

In November 1966, the birthplace of the hippie movement was shaken by a confrontation that was an early salvo in the culture wars to come

Fifty years ago this week, a riot took place on Los Angeless famous Sunset Boulevard. Bemused reports appeared in the days that followed with headlines like Long Hair Nightmare: Juvenile Violence on Sunset Strip, and Anarchy on Sunset Strip. All of them speculating on why middle-class, mainly white, youths should riot on a street better known for elegant Hollywood nightspots. Although the street cuts through Los Angeles, from Figueroa Street to the Pacific Coast highway, the riot, AKA the hippie riots and the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots, occurred right in its heartland, in and around 8118 Sunset Blvd, just off Crescent Heights. The focal point was Pandoras Box, originally a jazz club but since 1962 an independent music venue and gathering place for long-haired and mini-skirted youths in search of music, recreational drugs and casual sex.

From the perspective of local bankers, restaurateurs and real estate moguls, the alcohol-free, purple and gold Pandoras Box, located on a mid-boulevard traffic island, had become a magnet for an unseemly, ie cash-strapped, possibly subversive, crowd. Business leaders railed against the newcomers, claiming they were causing late-night traffic congestion. Their answer: remove the island, widen the road, put in a three-way traffic signal and turn the locale into a high-rise business area. To facilitate their plan, local businesses pressed the city council to pass ordinances that would ban loitering, establish a 10pm curfew, and demolish the building once and for all.

For those who congregated in the area, their soundtrack consisting of Dylan, the Byrds, Frank Zappa, Buffalo Springfield, Love and the Doors, the curfew was nothing less than an infringement of their civil liberties and right to gather in public. This exacerbated by the fact that over the previous months police had arrested thousands of young hippie-types, most of them guilty of nothing more than hanging out on particular streets. Which is why on 12 November, the Fifth Estate coffee house, located a block from Pandoras Box, printed and passed out flyers that read, Protest Police Mistreatment of Youth on Sunset Blvd. No More Shackling of 14 and 15 year olds. Written by two teenagers, the flyers called for a peaceful protest that night in front of Pandoras Box. Local radio disc jockeys announced the event as well. That night about 3,000 teenagers showed up carrying signs with slogans like Cops Uncouth to Youth and Give Back Our Streets. Also in attendance was a smattering of hip Hollywood, such as Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.

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The Sunset Strip curfew riot AKA the hippie riots, outside Pandoras Box. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Faced with a multitude of protesters, the police realized enforcing the curfew might only make matters worse, and so tried to stay calm and out of the way. But when a scuffle broke out, the result of a minor road accident, 155 LAPD officers and 79 sheriffs deputies moved in with teargas and batons, turning what had been a relatively peaceful gathering into a something far uglier. Ordered to disperse, the crowd responded by hurling rocks and bottles at the police, smashing windows and overturning vehicles.

The areas pro-business county supervisor, Ernest Debs, called the youths misguided hoodlums. While Captain Charlie Crumly, commander of the LAPDs Hollywood division, insisted that leftwing groups and outside agitators had organized the protest, going on to say that there are over a thousand hoodlums living like bums in Hollywood, advocating such things as free love, legalized marijuana and abortion. No doubt such statements contributed to the sporadic disturbances that continued on the Strip over the next few months.

Dissatisfied with coverage in the local press and use of the term riot to describe events on the Strip, the Byrds manager and Elektra record producer, Jim Dickson, teamed up with the Beatles and Beach Boys press officer, Derek Taylor. With support from the Woolworth heir Lance Reventlow and Gilligans Island actor Jim Denver, they formed Community Action for Facts and Freedom (CAFF), which, among other things, organized a benefit concert to raise bail money for those arrested and help pay for damaged property. Although the Strip was somehow able to maintain its status as an unofficial counterculture zone, a number of licenses were withdrawn and clubs closed. Later in the month the city council acquired Pandoras Box. It was the same month in which Ronald Reagan was elected governor, an propitious start to his rise to power. The following year saw the demolition of Pandoras Box. These days what was Pandoras Box is nothing more than a triangular concrete slab, while the sleazy appeal of the Strip has been replaced by corporate logos and pay-to-play venues.

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American Graffiti. Photograph: Everett/REX/Rex Features

Looking back, one might say that the November riot was influenced by the infinitely more important Watts insurrection of a year earlier. However, it was probably closer in spirit to the wave of generational and predominantly white challenges to authority which, during the 1950s and 1960s, centered on the right to inhabit the street at night. These came from various quarters, like the cruising subculture, which, in that era of cheap gas and wide roads, took the form of driving down main thoroughfares, as in American Graffiti, and drag racing, as in Rebel Without a Cause. Challenges also came from that eras surfing subculture, whose young legions were set on garnering what freedom they could within relatively restrictive boundaries. For either, occasional confrontation was inevitable. Though the riots on the Strip couldnt compare to the 11 riots that took place in a six-month period in 1961, disturbances that stretched from Zuma Beach, where 25,000 teenagers showed up to pelt the police with sand-filled beer cans, to faraway Alhambra, Rosemead and Bell, prompting articles in the press to the effect that such confrontations must surely have been communist-inspired.

With curfews commonplace in many towns and cities, these disturbances were, whatever the instigating complaint, about who controls public space and the right to congregate in those spaces. At the same time, such events did much to politicize many of their participants, graduating as some would from adolescent disrespect for arbitrary authority to larger issues, such as protesting against the war in Vietnam and supporting jailed Black Panthers.

How important was the Sunset Strip riot? With business interests on one side, and peace and love advocates on the other, it was, if nothing else, an early salvo in the culture wars, a battle which continues to this day, with conservatives continuing to blame societys ills on what they perceive as the permissiveness of that era.

Perhaps the riots most lasting effect had to do with the music that came out of that event. At least when it comes to Buffalo Springfields For What Its Worth, now heard ad nauseam in beer adverts, movies, TV shows, plays and just about any film footage depicting a confrontation between police and demonstrators. But there were other, lesser known, songs, like the Standells ridiculous Riot On Sunset Strip, the hilariously sincere S.O.S. by Terry Randall, the equally fervent Open Up the Box Pandora by the Jigsaw Seen, the plaintive Scene of the Crime by Sounds Unreal, the bathetic Safe In My Garden by the Mamas and the Papas, and, arguably the most interesting of the lot, Frank Zappas Plastic People. There was also the kitsch B-movie, Riot on Sunset Strip, directed by Arthur Dreifuss (whose career went from directing Brendan Behans The Quare Fellow to exploitation mishaps like The Love-In and The Young Runaways), which includes footage of the riot, and, incredibly enough, was released within four months of the original disturbance.

Eventually, business interests would find a way to profit from the peace and love market, exploiting its music and fashion, while co-opting its language for political gain. Within a couple of years a street that had been a fairly benign, even innocent, meeting place had mutated into a mecca for dropouts, acid casualties, bikers, consumers of bad speed, exploitative entrepreneurs and sexual predators. Be that as it may, the Sunset Strip riot is best thought of as a statement regarding the right to congregate, part of a protest movement that continues to this very dayand includes such diverse sites as Stonewall, Zuccotti Park, Tahrir Square and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe what was happening on Sunset Boulevard, as the song says, wasnt exactly clear, but it was certainly part of a process to own the night, reclaim the streets and say no to arbitrary authority.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/11/sunset-strip-riot-hippie-los-angeles


‘They just don’t fit in’: UCLA study links racism and segregation in Orange County

Previous evidence of racism in countys segregation only anecdotal but respondents say parking fees and homeowner association rules support segregation

It was another sun-kissed afternoon in Huntington Beach this week, the seafront a playground. Surfers skimmed the waves. Volleyballers leaped and shrieked. Sunbathers splayed on the sand. Families paraded the boardwalk.

Almost everyone had brown skin, though really they were white, just with tans. Those with permanent brown skin, Latinos, were mostly miles inland, on the other side of the 405 freeway.

Its called life. In this world, no one gets along, so you hang out with your own kind, said Ruben Montanez, 54, in shorts and shades, perched on a bench.

His heritage was Puerto Rican, but Montanez did not identify with, nor yearn to see, the absent Latinos. Huntington Beach was fine just as it was. When a neighborhood goes downhill, people leave.

There is little chance the social services worker will feel forced to flee his home, at least not on account of Latinos.

Orange County, a cluster of cities and freeways tucked between Los Angeles and San Diego, is known for being white and politically conservative. Californias Republican bastion, it helped launch Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who called it the place where all the good Republicans go to die.

It led the states crackdown on illegal immigration in the 1990s. A sub-group of neo-Nazi surfers acquired notoriety for daubing swastikas on boards. The Real Housewives of Orange County, a reality TV show, has bolstered the impression of a white enclave.

In fact, over the past two decades, the county has become diverse to the point that whites are no longer a majority. They make up 44% of the population of 3 million, with Latinos comprising 34% and Asians 18%.

But melting pot it is not. Most whites live in tracts that are at least 60% white, many of them coastal cities such as Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente. The inland city of Santa Ana, in contrast, once predominantly white, is now 78% Latino.

Economics explains much of this. Whites are wealthier and can afford pricey coastal real estate. Most Latinos cannot. Many observers have long suspected racism, too, but the evidence has been anecdotal.

Now there is an academic study bolstering the case that racism does indeed fuel the segregation. Celia Lacayo, a postdoctoral scholar at UCLAs Institute of American Cultures, has published a report titled Latinos Need to Stay in Their Place: Differential Segregation in a Multi-Ethnic Suburb.

It is based on in-depth interviews with 40 white residents in 2010, conducted by two white researchers Lacaya contracted to encourage candour. The random sample was aged 25 to 61 and mostly middle to upper class professionals involved in law, real estate, sales and marketing.

A small sample, but with striking findings. The respondents overwhelmingly characterized Latinos and African Americans as culturally deficient, problematic and inferior, according to Lacayo. They used words like trash, third world and gangy.

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Laurie Anaya, a Latina with a white husband, laughed off the fact that neighbors used to assumed she was the maid. The maids thought it, too. Her friend Marilyn Johnson, 48, said her children were half-Mexican and had never encountered racism in Huntington Beach. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

Asians, in contrast, were deemed assimilated to white American norms and values. The Asians come in and theyre freaking motivated. Hispanics arent, said one respondent. Asians seem to be more proper, cleaner and conservative, said another.

Many residents, Lacayo found, have split the county between the relatively diverse north and the whiter south, with freeways functioning as a Mason-Dixon line. People made intentional decisions to keep it so, she wrote. Most respondents admit that they made a conscious choice to live in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, and far away specifically from Latinos.

Examples included a 42-year-old repo company owner named Mark. Hispanics, they just dont fit in, he told the researchers. The Mexicans go to the beach, and I dont know why they always swim in their clothes … They have a wet dirty blanket and theyll drag it, and theyll stop on the boardwalk. Theyll just stop there. And its like: Get out of the way. How stupid are you?

In an interview this week, Lacayo said whites used parking fees, homeowner association rules and gated communities to deter unwanted visitors and settlers, even middle-class Latinos. They resisted the transport of Latino children to white-majority schools and expressed willingness to withdraw their children from integrated schools.

Those interviewed by the Guardian on the boardwalk a very unscientific sample of teenagers, fortysomethings and pensioners bristled at any suggestion of prejudice. Its not segregation. We all get on. Its just that people are more comfortable with their own culture, said one 15-year-old girl.

Ask a Mexican and you get a very different perspective. Not just any Mexican – Gustavo Arellano, editor of the alternative magazine OC Weekly and author of the syndicated column Ask a Mexican!, which answers reader queries about Latino stereotypes.

Donald Trumps head the remnant of a piata smashed at a protest rally when the presidential candidate visited Orange County adorns the entrance to Arellanos office. Which is apt, because the papers first Latino editor swings an ax at the countys record.

Arellano, 37, has delighted and enraged readers by denouncing the absence of blacks and referring to Santa Ana as SanTana, the way Latinos pronounce the citys name. Trolls routinely assail Arellano (and still ask about Latinos wearing clothes in the sea), but public discourse has evolved, he said. Were beyond the era of outright racism. No politician is stupid enough to be that blatant anymore. They code it as about illegal immigration.

He thinks the old Orange County is dying, giving way to millennials who were reared by Mexican maids and eat Mexican food. Which makes them half Mexican. Progressive, artsy types who used to flee the Stepford Wives-type vibe were now staying to create a new Orange County, he said. You have to fight the belly right in its beast.

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Gustavo Arellano, editor of OC Weekly, holds the remnants of a Donald Trump piata. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

The Orange County Register recently crunched census data showing the region had become slightly more diverse since 2000, largely due to Latinos and Asians moving into white areas. The median of the Diversity Index, a statistical tool, nudged from 48 to 54, meaning that in a typical neighborhood there is a better than even chance that two random residents will belong to different ethnic groups. But unless whites move to Latino areas such as Santa Ana, which demographers say is unlikely, the metropolis will remain segregated.

Still, even Huntington Beach yields little surprises. Richard, a 35-year-old longshoreman who declined to give his last name, was in a Mexican restaurant tucking into a taco. White male, blue-collar job, from a family of Trump supporters. But he himself loathed the GOP candidate.

So did somebody else in his neighbourhood, he smiled, showing a photo on his phone: a car with a Trump sticker vandalised with spray paint. Fuck Trump. Trump Chump.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/19/ucla-study-racism-segregation-orange-county


A ‘radical alternative’: how one man changed the perception of Los Angeles

In the 1960s, British architectural critic Reyner Banham declared his love for the city that his fellow intellectuals hated. What Banham wrote about Los Angeles redefined how the world perceived it but what would he think of LA today?

Now I know subjective opinions can vary, the journalist Adam Raphael wrote in the Guardian in 1968, but personally I reckon LA as the noisiest, the smelliest, the most uncomfortable and most uncivilised major city in the United States. In short, a stinking sewer …

Three years later, Raphaels words appeared in print again as an epigraph of Reyner Banhams Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies the most exuberantly pro-Los Angeles book ever written. Ever since publication, it has shown up on lists of great books about modern cities even those drawn up by people who consider Los Angeles anything but a great American city.

Somehow, this book that drew so much of its initial publicity with shock value (In Praise (!) of Los Angeles, sneered the New York Times reviews headline) has kept its relevance through the decades, such that newly arrived Angelenos still read it to orient themselves. But what can it teach us about the Los Angeles of today?

An architectural historian a decade into his career when he first visited, Banham knew full-well that his fellow intellectuals hated Los Angeles. How and why he himself came so avidly to appreciate it constitutes the core question of his work on the city, which culminated in this slim volume.

The many who were ready to cast doubt on the worth of the enterprise, he reflected in its final chapter, included a distinguished Italian architect and his wife who, on discovering that I was writing this book, doubted that anyone who cared for architecture could lower himself to such a project and walked away without a word further.

The project began when Banham brought his shaggy beard and wonky teeth to Los Angeles and declared that he loved the city with a passion, in the words of novelist and Bradford-born Los Angeles expat Richard Rayner. Teaching at the University of Southern California, who put him up in the Greene brothers architecturally worshipped Gamble House in Pasadena, Banham had a privileged base from which to explore. But what he went looking for, and the way he wrote about what he saw and felt, redefined the way the intellectual world and then the wider world perceived the city.

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Reyner Banham with his shaggy beard and wonky teeth in 1968. Photograph: Peter Johns for the Guardian

Not that he declared his love right there on the tarmac at LAX. Banham initially found the city incomprehensible a response shared by many critics, wrote Nigel Whiteley in the study Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future.

Banham first attempted to publicly explain this cutting-edge metropolis, saturated across its enormous space with electronic devices, synthetic chemicals and televisions, in four 1968 BBC radio talks. He told of how he came to grips with LAs embodiment of the experimental: its experimental shape and infrastructure, the combinations of cultures it accommodated, and the experimental lifestyles to which it gave rise.

But even an appreciator like Banham had his qualms with the result. In Los Angeles you tend to go to a particular place to do a particular thing, to another to do another thing, and finally a long way back to your home, and youve done 100 miles in the day, he complained in the third talk. The distances and the reliance on mechanical transportation leave no room for accident even for happy accidents. You plan the day in advance, programme your activities, and forgo those random encounters with friends and strangers that are traditionally one of the rewards of city life.

Nevertheless, to Banham this un-city-like city held out a promise: The unique value of Los Angeles what excites, intrigues and sometimes repels me is that it offers radical alternatives to almost every urban concept in unquestioned currency.

In his subsequent landmark book, Banham enumerated Los Angeles departures from traditional urbanism, as well as from all the rules for civilised living as they have been understood by the pundits of modernity, with evident delight. It seemed to legitimise a model he had already, in a 1959 article, proposed to replace the old conception of a single dense core surrounded by a wall.

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Civilised living in suburban LA. Photograph: University of Southern California/Corbis via Getty Images

Banham foresaw the city as scrambled egg, its shell broken open, its business yolk mixed with its domestic white, and everything spread across the landscape, its evenness disturbed only by occasional specialised sub-centres. A visitor to Los Angeles today might hear the city explained in just the same way: as a network of nodes, a constellation of urban villages, an exercise in postmodern polycentrism.

Banham put another finger in the eye of traditionalists who insisted that a city should have just one strong centre with his short chapter A Note on Downtown, which opens with the words, … because that is all downtown Los Angeles deserves.

From its fetishised structures such as the Bradbury Building and Cathedral of Saint Vibiana to its brand new office towers in their standard livery of dark glass and steel, Banham wrote that everything stands as an unintegrated fragment in a downtown scene that began to disintegrate long ago out of sheer irrelevance, as far as one can see.

The books contrarianism reflects the contrarianism of Los Angeles itself, which, insofar as it performs the functions of a great city, in terms of size, cosmopolitan style, creative energy, international influence, distinctive way of life, and corporate personality [proves that] all the most admired theorists of the present century, from the Futurists and Le Corbusier to Jane Jacobs and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, have been wrong.

Filled with photographs and diagrams, Banhams book on Los Angeles divides its subject up into the four ecologies of its subtitle: the beaches and beach towns of Surfurbia; the Foothills with their ever more elaborate and expensive residences; the utilitarian Plains of Id (the only parts of Los Angeles flat enough and boring enough to compare with the cities of the Middle West) and the famous, then infamous, freeway system he dubbed Autopia: a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind in which Angelenos spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives.

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The 1893 Bradbury Building in downtown LA was an unintegrated fragment in Banhams eyes. Photograph: Michele and Tom Grimm/Alamy

Between chapters on the citys ecologies, Banham examined the buildings found in them. Populist, stylistically promiscuous, tradition-agnostic and often deliberately impermanent, Los Angeles architecture has, of all the citys elements, drawn distain the longest. There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime; nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, wrote the novelist James M. Cain in 1933.

More than 40 years later, Banham saw a stylistic bounty of Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-line Moderne, from Cape Cod to unsupported Jaoul vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian Gabled and even in extremity Modern Architecture.

He discussed at length the LA building known as the dingbat a two-storey walk-up apartment-block … built of wood and stuccoed over, all identical at the back but cheaply, elaborately, decorated up-front, emblazoned with an aspirational name such as the Capri or the Starlet.

In defining dingbats as the true symptom of Los Angeles urban id, trying to cope with the unprecedented appearance of residential densities too high to be subsumed within the illusions of homestead living, Banham diagnosed the central and persistent tension, then as now, between wanting to grow outward and needing to grow upward.

Banham drew out the meaning of Los Angeles ostensibly disposable buildings not by venerating them, nor denigrating them, but simply by seeing them as they were. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour would advocate the same approach in their own urban classic, Learning from Las Vegas, published the following year: Withholding judgment may be used as a tool to make later judgment more sensitive. This is a way of learning from everything.

Still, even appreciators of Los Angeles might take issue with this method when Banhams non-judgmental attitude at least toward the aesthetics of American commercial culture starts to look like advocacy for bad taste.

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The self-absorbed and perfected Watts Towers. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Non-appreciators of Los Angeles certainly did. The painter and critic Peter Plagens, author of an 11,000-word excoriation in Artforum magazine entitled The Ecology of Evil, went so far as to label Banhams book dangerous: The hacks who do shopping centres, Hawaiian restaurants and savings-and-loans, the dried-up civil servants in the division of highways, and the legions of showbiz fringies will sleep a little easier and work a little harder now that their enterprises have been authenticated. In a more humane society where Banhams doctrines would be measured against the subdividers rape of the land and the lead particles in little kids lungs, the author might be stood up against a wall and shot.

Uncowed, Banham followed the book by starring in Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a 1972 television documentary that followed him through one day in the city that makes nonsense of history and breaks all the rules, and inspired within him a passion that goes beyond sense or reason. Stops on the tour included Simon Rodias handmade Watts Towers (a totally self-absorbed and perfected monument) to Los Angeles characteristic fantasy of innocence (prominently marked on all the maps in his book); the overgrown sections of the old Pacific Electric Railways rusting rails that once tied the whole huge city together; the decrepit canals and beachside bodybuilding facilities of Venice; and a Sunset Boulevard drive-in burger joint.

There, Banham asked the painter Ed Ruscha, plainspoken and painstaking observer of American urban banality, what public buildings a visitor should see. Ruscha recommended gas stations.

Banham pre-empted objections to Los Angeles urban form by claiming the form matters very little, having already written that Los Angeles has no urban form at all in the commonly accepted sense. Yet whatever it does have, he argued, has produced a fascinating, and sometimes even efficient, set of emergent urban phenomena.

Come the day when the smog doom finally descends, he narrated over aerial shots of Wilshire Boulevards double row of towers and frame-filling neighbourhoods of detached houses, … when the traffic grinds to a halt and the private car is banned from the street, quite a lot of craftily placed citizens will be able to switch over to being pedestrians and feel no pain.

Cyclists
Cyclists on Venice Beach … though much of LA is not bike-friendly. Photograph: Alamy

The end of the car in Los Angeles? Bold words for the man who called Wilshire Boulevard one of the few great streets in the world where driving is a pleasure after having, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.

But just as the languages heard on the streets of Los Angeles have multiplied, the language of mobility has changed there, as has much else besides. How legible would Banham, who died in 1988, now find it?

The smog that supposed bane of the citys postwar decades which he always downplayed has all but vanished. The time of apparently unlimited space to gratify an obsession with single-family dwellings has given way to one of construction cranes sprouting to satisfy the new demand for high-density vertical living. They stand not just over a downtown risen miraculously from the dead, but the specialised sub-centres scattered all over greater Los Angeles.

Though the ban on private cars hasnt come yet, no recent development astonishes any Angeleno who was there in the 1970s more than the citys new rail transit network, which started to emerge almost 30 years after the end of the Pacific Electric. It ranks as such as a success of funding, planning and implementation (at least by the globally unimpressive American standard) that the rest of the country now looks to Los Angeles as an example of how to build public transportation and, increasingly, public space in general.

Readers might scoff at Banham calling the Los Angeles freeway network one of the greater works of man but he has demonstrated more of an ability to see beyond it than many current observers of Los Angeles. Even though it is vastly better than any other motorway system of my acquaintance, he wrote, it is inconceivable to Angelenos that it should not be replaced by an even better system nearer to the perfection they are always seeking.

Los
Banham felt downtown Los Angeles only deserved a short chapter dedicated to it. Photograph: Alamy

Banham also foresaw the rise of the self-driving car, so often mooted these days as an alternative solution to Los Angeles traffic woes. But cars that drive themselves (as distinct from Baede-kar a then-fantastical voice navigation system dreamed up for Banhams TV doc, that bears an uncanny resemblance to those every American driver uses today) come with problems that Banham also predicted all those years ago. The marginal gains in efficiency through automation, he wrote, might be offset by the psychological deprivations caused by destroying the residual illusions of free decision and driving skill.

Under each outwardly celebratory page of Banhams book lies the notion of change as Los Angeles only constant: no matter how excitingly modern the car and the freeway, their day will come to an end; no matter how comfortably idyllic the detached house, it too must fall out of favour, or into impracticality, sooner or later.

Some of the elements that drew Banhams attention have, after their own periods of disrepute, turned fashionable again. Even the humble dingbat has found a place in the future of the city, becoming the object of critical study and architectural competition.

Banham also saw the future of Los Angeles in other unprepossessing buildings, especially one striking and elegantly simple stucco box on La Cienega Boulevard. Its architect? A certain Frank Gehry, then almost unknown but now one of the most powerful influencers of the built environment in not just Los Angeles (his current high-profile project involves re-making the citys famously dry, concrete-encased river), but other cities as well. The Toronto-born starchitect became his adopted hometowns architectural emissary just one of the myriad ways in which Los Angeles has influenced the rest of the urban world.

These days, the rest of the urban world also influences Los Angeles. No longer labouring under the delusions of total exceptionalism that prevailed in Banhams day, it has, with its towers, trains, parks and even bike-share systems, made strides toward the liveability so demanded by 21st-century urbanists. It now even resembles (if faintly) New York, Boston, London, and Paris those thoroughly planned, non-experimental cities where, Banham lamented, warring pressure groups cannot get out of one anothers hair because they are pressed together in a sacred labyrinth of cultural monuments and real estate values.

In its impressive bid to incorporate older metropolitan virtues and play by the rules of good urban design, modern Los Angeles ignores the possibility of becoming a similarly sacred labyrinth at its peril. Keeping Banhams Los Angeles: the Architecture of Four Ecologies on its syllabus will hopefully protect against the dire fate of losing its rule-breaking experimental urban spirit.

The engineering-trained author regarded Los Angeles as a kind of machine. Though it has come in for a badly needed overhaul of its interface in recent years, nobody has yet written a users manual more engaged in the city on its own terms as Banham did 45 years ago.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/24/radical-alternative-reyner-banham-man-changed-perception-los-angeles


Meet Donald Trump’s biggest donor (he also loves to build walls)

Property developer Geoffrey Palmer has made his fortune building luxury fortresses in LA microcosms of Trumps vision for a sealed, affluent America

Even on balmy days in downtown Los Angeles, Americas second-biggest metropolis, the sidewalks around the Da Vinci luxury apartment complex are deserted.

You can tramp around the entire perimeter of the 75,000 sq ft, seven-storey complex, which promises a unique lifestyle in the heart of Americas most dynamic city and encounter not a soul.

The medieval brick buttresses which ring the complex, combined with the absence of shade or anywhere to sit, plus the forbidding black-tinted glass doors, all locked, suggest the absence of people of outside people is a design feature.

By his own admission, the builder, a tycoon named Geoffrey Palmer, is in the fortress business. He has erected half-a-dozen similar faux-Italianate citadels across LA, all facing inward, acting as bulwarks against outsiders.

Da
Da Vinci apartment complex in Los Angeles. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

The complexes have made Palmer the citys biggest developer and may help explain why he has just become Donald Trumps biggest donor, giving $2m to a pro-Trump group known as Rebuilding America Now, according to Federal Election Commission data. Palmer, estimated to be worth $3bn, is not well known in donor circles and has not previously made donations of that size, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the donation.

Why now, and why to Trump?

Palmer declined an interview request for this article, saying in a brief email: We dont do interviews.

Having made his fortune walling off chunks of LA to insulate his tenants from undesirable locals, perhaps it is logical to fund a Republican presidential candidate who wants to deport 11 million undocumented people and wall off the USs southern border to insulate Americans from supposed disease-carrying thieves and rapists.

Like Trump, Palmer enjoys his wealth. The headline on an Architectural Digest profile of his Beverly Hills estate, a $16m pile which boasts Louis XIV Boulle commodes, was Affinity for opulence.

Like Trump, he rewrites history: he claims Italians settled LA before the Spanish.

Also like Trump, Palmer has a reputation as a bulldozer who smashes through obstacles and does things his way. His company owns about 10,000 apartments in Los Angeles County, a third of them downtown. Admirers call Palmer a visionary who led downtowns revival.

Critics call him an ersatz monster who destroys heritage and displaces the poor. Such is the loathing some cheered when an arsonist burned down Da Vinci, then half-built, in 2014, causing $100m in damage.

Investigators say the alleged arsonist, Abdulwali, wanted revenge for police shootings of African Americans. Little is known about Abdulwali, who is due to go on trial later this year, but that did not stop Pamela Geller, a far-right blogger, branding the arson fire jihad committed by a Muslim convert.

The first phase of the complex, which has 526 apartments, opened in 2015. The second phase opened in April and is already mostly occupied.

Street
Street view of the Da Vinci apartments and skybridge. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

Palmer discovered profit in safety, or perceived safety, in the wake of the 1992 LA riots, putting him ahead of a political curve which made make America safe again a slogan at this weeks Republican convention in Cleveland.

Step inside any of the Renaissance Collection complexes Da Vinci, Medici, Lorenzo, Visconti, Piero, Orsini and a blanket of security and comfort enfolds you, keeping the city outside at bay. They are arguably microcosms of Trumps would-be America: sealed, affluent strongholds.

Weve had no major incidents. Its very secure, said a Da Vinci leasing office agent as she showed a prospective tenant around this week. We have convenience cameras all over. And convenience guards who patrol on the hour.

A lobby of white tiles, cream walls and piped classical music led to courtyards with fountains and rooms with recessed lighting, Italian marble vanities and double-paned windows.

A skybridge over Temple street connects two wings of the complex, allowing residents to remain in the Da Vinci bubble and walk over any pedestrians, including homeless ones, who may appear on the sidewalks below.

Street
Street view from the Da Vinci complex skybridge. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

The website and brochure, illustrated with a castle logo, underline security by highlighting the complexs electronic door entry, closed-circuit camera system and 24-hour doorman.

Those who can afford to live here a single bedroom unit starts from around $2,240 a month enjoy bountiful amenities, including a business centre, an ATM, a cinema, a basketball court, swimming pools, gyms and jacuzzis.

With so many security layers Palmers buildings can be difficult to get into but once youre in its very welcoming. You understand why theyre filled up, said David Abel, publisher of the Planning Report, an urban planning trade publication.

The property magnate pioneered his citadel model in the wake of the Rodney King riots, which left 55 people dead and $1bn in property damage, and continued with the same design even as the riots faded into history and downtown became a gentrified hub for business, arts and entertainment.

Twenty years on, the whole experience in downtown LA is the difference between night and day, said Abel. Yet he continues to build the same fortress-type complexes. Every one of [his] projects outwardly has no connection to the street. Its a unique model. The residents are focused internally.

Palmer himself has reportedly referred to his complexes as fortress-like, but he also says they possess timeless beauty and award-winning classical designs.

Impact on street life can be dramatic. While the rest of LA hummed during afternoon rush hour this week there were only fleeting signs of human presence on sidewalks near Da Vinci, which fills an entire block.

Rappers
Rappers use empty streets to shoot video in front of Da Vinci. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

On Fremont avenue some youths used the empty cityscape to shoot a rap video. On Dewap road, Albert, 55, a homeless man who declined to give a last name, complained of an urban desert. Theres no life here, no way to tell what season it is. You dont see people, just cars going in and out.

The blog LA Curbed has branded Palmer the citys worst developer. His squat, nearly-identical fortresses, with embarrassing names … arent just ugly (although they are very ugly), theyre vacuums designed to suck the life out of a neighborhood that has worked so hard to become lively in the past decade.

Housing advocates bristle that Palmer has twice overturned city rules about including low income units in his complexes. We think that Palmers developments are exactly the kind that add to, not alleviate, the citys displacement and housing crisis, said Walt Senterfitt of the LA Tenants Union.

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a non-profit, is fighting to change Palmers Lorenzo complex, said Joe Donlin, the groups director of equitable development. Architecture has an impact on the community in terms of how people feel. They see a building and can think, Im not welcome here.

Albert,
Albert, a homeless man, dislikes the empty streets around the Da Vinci complex. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

Palmer started his career developing land tracts in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys in the 1970s.

Notoriety followed. Employees of his company, GH Palmer Associates, unlawfully contributed funds to a political action committee and to an LA city council member, prompting a $30,000 fine, according to LA Magazine.

While clearing land for the Orsini complex downtown Palmers workers demolished an 1880s Queen Anne cottage, the last original building on Bunker Hill. It was supposed to be moved but workers said they had to destroy it after a bulldozer accidentally backed into it. Palmer paid $200,000 to settle the suit.

That pales beside a $20m lawsuit the city filed earlier this year for not having an adequate fire protection plan for the Da Vinci. The blaze was so intense it melted signs on the 110 freeway.

Abel, publisher of The Planning Report, said Palmers generosity towards Trump reflected a willingness to gamble and follow instinct.

Hes an iconoclast and libertarian in his approach. He bet on downtown when no one else was betting on downtown. The tycoon had a pragmatic relationship with LAs Democratic-dominated city authorities, said Abel, but in backing Trump he possibly had some scores to settle. He doesnt like being muscled by liberals and activists who have ideas about what he should do.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/22/donald-trump-donor-geoffrey-palmer-los-angeles-property


Playboy mansion sold to billionaire Hostess owner who lives next door

Daren Metropoulos plans to conjoin his property with Hugh Hefners infamous home, which was purchased for about $200m, a spokesman confirmed

The 32-year-old billionaire owner of Twinkies has added the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles to his collection.

Daren Metropoulos, the son of Greek American billionaire and private equity tycoon C Dean Metropoulos, has bought the infamous home of celebrity pornographer Hugh Hefner for about $200m. He currently lives in a $18m mansion next door and plans join the two properties together to create a 7.3 acre compound.

But, theres a catch. Metropoulos wont be able to move into the 29-room Playboy mansion in the exclusive Holmby Hills neighbourhood until its current tenant, Mr Playboy dies. Hefner is 90.

Evan
Evan and Daren Metropoulos at the Playboy Mansion on 19 October 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. Photograph: James Lemke Jr/Getty Images

We can confirm that the Playboy Mansion is in escrow with Daren Metropoulos as the buyer, a Playboy Enterprises spokesman told the Guardian. Due to confidentiality restrictions, we are not able to comment on any specifics, including what contingencies need to be cleared to close the sale.

Metropoulous, whose private equity firm bought Twinkies-owner Hostess Brands in 2013 and previously bought and soldPabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer, did not respond to requests for comment. He told the Wall Street Journal that: The heritage of this property transcends its celebrity and to have the opportunity to serve as its steward would be a true privilege.

The young entrepreneur is no stranger to the Playboy mansion. In 2013 he and his brother Evan hosted a party with Snoop Dogg in the mansions grounds where they partied with Hefner and the Playboy bunnies.

The mansion, which Playboy Enterprises bought for just over $1m in 1971, boasts according to its $200m listing, 12 bedrooms, a wine cellar, home theater, separate game house, gym, tennis court, a swimming pool with a large, cave-like grotto and, of course, an official zoo license and pet cemetery.

A
A view of the Playboy mansion. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Playboy put the property up for sale earlier this year as part of the magazines restructuring as it struggles in an age of boundless free internet pornography. At the time Playboys chief executive Scott Flanders promised that Hefner would not be asked to leave the property until he dies. The Playboy mansion has been a creative center for Hef as his residence and workplace for the past 40 years, as it will continue to be if the property is sold, Flanders said.

A-list celebrities are regularly invited into the estates gates, past the Playmates at Play sign, to extravagant parties where alcohol flows freely and scantily clad women abound. Leonardo DiCaprio, Rihanna and Naomi Campbell attended a party there last year.

There is a rumor that John Lennon put a cigarette out on a Matisse there while separated from Yoko Ono. And in March 2015, Playboy reporters found blueprints that showed tunnels built from the mansion to the homes of celebrities including Jack Nicholson and Kirk Douglas.

Hefner said in 2011 that he paid young women living at the mansion with whom he was sexually involved a $1,000-a-week allowance in cash and held them to a 9pm curfew.

One of Hefners ex-girlfriends, Izabella St James, wrote in her book Bunny Tales about the mansions dirty carpets and stained mattresses. Although we all did our best to decorate our rooms and make them homey, the mattresses on our beds were disgusting old, worn and stained, she wrote. The sheets were past their best, too.

Then there was the health scare in February 2011, when more than 100 people fell ill after a party at the mansion. Health authorities said it may have been caused by bacteria identified in the whirlpool spa.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/06/playboy-mansion-sold-daren-metropoulos-hugh-hefner


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