Sunday, July 28, 2013


As it stands, "Ord Court" is a funny name for a street. It really is. Say it and see for yourself. Supplementing the funny name is the high frequency of mid-20th Century San Francisco edifices replete with unctuous facade colors, odd exterior treatments, and just general dingbattiness.

And then there's house number 38, home of The World's Tallest Door.

Over and over my mind turns: who would require such a mythically, illogically proportioned entryway to gain access to this shake-sided brown poop-cube? Is it a tree? Or the tallest, thinnest man ever? Or is this simply the realization of a tasteless, if not somewhat humorous architect's dream? 

The answer is the last of these. Closer inspection of course revealed that there is no 20-foot door, just a normal-sized door set flush with a similar set of paneling above the lintel. 

And this is why I give thanks every morning that the prime of my life was not spent in the 1960s and 1970s witnessing horribly silly structures like this getting built.

Monday, September 24, 2012

L.A. Places: Mid-Century Dingbat Apartments

Some blog love to a very nice set of Dingbat photos taken near Culver City c.2009:

L.A. Places: Mid-Century Dingbat Apartments

I do sometimes miss the ridiculousness of the SoCal Dingbats. They are a class unto themelves.

The Warren Dr. National Dingbat Preserve

All right, class. Pop quiz: where is the photo below from? A) North Hollywood, or B) San Francisco?

If you answered B), you're correct.  If you answered A), don't be ashamed. It's actually pretty difficult to tell, isn't it? Behold the Warren Drive National Dingbat Preserve, situated beneath the shadow of Mt. Sutro.  After all, San Francisco puts its worst housing up on high, for all to see and very much not enjoy.

This block-long collection of miserable midcentury buildings are of course not Dingbats per se given their mass, but they draw upon the same architectural idioms. Note the ubiquitous bland beige-yellow stucco exterior cladding, the cheap single-pane horizontal-sash windows, the overall monotony of the design. The regional adaptation--doors on the carports, window fire escapes, the lack of cheap frills, palm trees and failed actors--give these buildings away as distinctly San Francisco in origin. Walk a bit further down toward the second building on the left:
Notice the wrought iron features on the upper left and right quadrants of this otherwise spackled, water-stained facade? They are big 'S' characters within an iron diamond. Not sure what they stand for, but "shitty" and "stupid" come to mind. I also non-enjoy the twisted, ratty topiary on the left, don't you? But enough of these buildings. What's across the street?
Aah yes, the buildings on the other side sport that brilliant innovation: the courtyard with exterior galleries for accessing the apartments. This way you can easily see and hear your neighbors' comings and goings, domestic disputes and what they watch on TV simply by gazing through your single-pane horizontal sash windows. Not that the thin walls of my 90-year old dwelling hide noises from other apartments, but at least I don't get looked in on all the time. 

Particularly noteworthy in this building is the fact that the courtyard itself is not designed for people. It's for the cars. In other words, be careful entering and exiting this common space on foot because you might get mauled by your neighbor's black Honda in the process. The set of three or four of these courtyard buildings on Warren Drive are virtually identical. How did the architect(s) decide to make them distinguishable? Via use of yet another midcentury trope: painted wooden latticework affixed to the exterior stairwells.
The effect really isn't all that bad, mainly because these specimens are well-maintained. Nonetheless, one can hardly consider this sort of thing craftsmanship or particularly good design. As it is, this decoration serves utterly no function. It barely promotes privacy, isn't structurally integral to the building, and really doesn't contribute to the overall form. If Modernist canon dictates that decoration is subordinate to functionality, then these lattices represent a true contempt for decoration, reduced to a truly non-functional, non-integrated and superfluous status relative to the rest of the structure.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dingbat Still-Life

Like a Tyrannosaurus stalking its prey, so to does Sutro Tower bide its time, waiting to feed upon this dull, heedless modern house.

Bad Renovation, vol. 1

There were two things of note I have seen recently on Stanyan Street. First was a cart fashioned out of a ski pod (the kind that normally is affixed to the roof rack of a car) with wheels and a handle taken from a kids' Radio Flyer wagon. This cart belongs to one of the handier denizens of Golden Gate Park, and it makes a secure place to keep his belongings, and allows him to move his stuff with ease when he isn't listening to Phish and/or Rush Limbaugh (makes me think he lives in the park for a reason) on his portable stereo.

Today I came upon the second thing: what used to be a Victorian-style San Francisco house. People's Exhibit A, Your Honor:

 Yikes! A flat, boring facade stripped of all ornament save for two metal rhombuses. A nonsensical arrangement of windows (though the upper floor does exhibit at least some symmetry) that are undoubtedly smaller than would have been originally installed, perhaps suggesting that the renovation worked from the inside out, with the exterior of the building considered secondary to whatever was supposed to be done inside. No attempt to match materials coloring to historical (or even current neighborhood) norms.  How do I know this isn't just a poorly-concieved modernist shite-cube and not a former historic ediface? Just check the side.  People's Exhibit B:

There, peeking out from the side is an original portion of the house that was not sawed off and renovated away. Just so every observant soul will pass this place and note what a dumb refit this is. Somehow I've managed not to notice this horrible grey guano-box of a building despite passing it for years. I wish I hadn't noticed it today. It's an exterior done on the cheap, and with no thought. I could think of ten ways this building could've been better done and probably without breaking the bank.

The (Other) Painted Ladies of Alamo Square (R.I.P.)

It seems that time has at last caught up with the ugly Monochrome Crack-Whores of Alamo Square. A recent visit found nothing but a gaping empty lot where those unfortunate modern wooden poop-shacks used to squat:

Rest in pieces.

It's fall in San Francisco...

Both the real one, and the toy one:

Also, shitty architecture abounds in both versions, like the craptastic mini houses in the foreground off of toy 14th Avenue.

Toy San Francisco could really use an ill-tempered 3-year old to knock some of 'em down.