Death of a Dorm

So there I was, wandering the Internet for a work project on dorm essentials, when I started to wonder if anyone had posted a photo of my old dorm online. It would be kind of cool to take a look at the old place, maybe inspire me to write a fantastic post, so I typed in A. Richards Hall and hit Enter.

Up popped a Wikipedia article with a tree-shrouded photo and everything. It was just as I remembered it. A two story building made of pale red brick, shaped like a shallow U. Each side held six apartments with a large common area in the center. Each apartment had three bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. A sort of perilous bathroom, meant for multiple occupancy. Sink in the middle, then on the left, a shower and a toilet, on the right, a bathtub. Each of the amenities had a flimsy shower curtain to shield you from the prying eyes of whoever else was in the bathroom at the time. What the designers did not figure into their plan was my crazy roommate who found it hilarious to take a Polaroid of us in the shower or on the pot. She would snap a photo and run through the apartment holding it over her head while the injured party chased after, sometimes wet and dripping, trying to get the picture from her before it could develop.

The walls were made of cinderblock painted in candy pastel colors. The bedrooms were lime green, the hall strawberry pink, the kitchen a warm lemony yellow. Many of the holes in the cinderblock were half full of paint which was a good thing since a couple of my roommates were fond of throwing pies at each other. Luckily their pies of choice had fillings the exact same color as the walls. As long as they threw lemon in the kitchen and strawberry cream in the hall, it didn’t matter if they missed a few spots in the cleanup.

We lived in Apartment 8 which was upstairs on the right front of the building. There was a large tree outside, but since it was Winter Semester, it wasn’t much more than an impressive array of sticks. Which one of the pie-throwing roommates thought made it perfect for festooning with her roomie’s underwear in order to celebrate her birthday. Of course, more pie throwing was required in response.

They also stole a sawhorse. A 12 foot blue and white striped sawhorse. Brought it up the back stairs into the kitchen and left it there for weeks. It was right there for all to see, visible from our huge kitchen window, but the campus police never showed up to claim it. Eventually everyone got tired of going over or under it to get from one side of the room to the other and it disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.

At the end of the semester, we were presented with an award for most spiritual apartment. Obviously the other girls in the building didn’t know about the sawhorse. Or the pies. Or the Polaroids. But we all shrugged and grinned like we deserved it.

Chockful of memories, I went to Images and typed in Heritage Halls, the name of the entire complex of buildings A. Richards was a part of, hoping for more photos.

And got a picture of a steam shovel taking a huge bite out of the side of one of the buildings.

But…but…

I went back to the first photo and there beside the pretty image were some dates. 1953-2012. In fact, most of the images had dates beside them. 2012, 2013, 2014. Big renovation project. Not enough room. Not enough electrical outlets. Everything was being replaced, removed, upgraded.

Apparently A. Richards had been one of the first to go.

More searching, more destruction. I thought of the candy colored walls tumbling down, still embedded with ancient bits of pie. Of those useless bathroom curtains fluttering to the ground. Of all my happy memories landing in a pile of dust.

I found a photo of the new hall, four stories tall, beautiful, modern, rising like a gorgeous young phoenix from the ashes of the old one.

But it wasn’t my phoenix.

Walking Through WeHo

1350bldg

So back in the day, my friends and I were all about going to Hollywood. It was kind of a wonderland to us, a little rundown, but fascinating and full of history. There were theaters that looked like Chinese palaces and Egyptian temples, there was a hot dog stand shaped like a hot dog, there was Famous Amos Cookies in its little A frame cabin with the giant airbrushed cookie on the front. Of course, there was Carney’s, a real train on a real track, and a restaurant that looked like a Russian cathedral.

And there was Tower Records, not shaped like anything really except a large rectangular box with a big lip hanging down from the eaves, literally shoved into the hillside. The Hollywood Hills rose right behind the dumpsters in the parking lot. The building itself was red and the large lip at the top was painted a bright yellow with the name Tower Records in red block italic letters that leaned left instead of right. On the roof and sides of the building were an ever-changing pantheon of the newest albums by the hottest bands, one of a kind artwork airbrushed onto huge canvases that could be seen the moment you rounded the curve on Sunset. You could find anything there. Old records, new records, records from across the sea. Celebrities shopped there too. We never saw anyone famous there though.

At least as far as we knew.

Anyway, when I read that there was going to be a walking tour of West Hollywood, I wanted to go. So much history packed into such a small amount of space and most of it I had just whizzed past in a car without appreciating what I saw. Now what you need to know about West Hollywood is that it is far and it is crowded.

Which led to me being late and having nowhere to park.

Spanish style
Spanish style
Blanche studies the tile outside of Clark Gable's
Blanche studies the tile outside of Clark Gable’s

I stashed my car in the big parking garage at the huge shopping plaza on Sunset and hurried to catch up with the small group making its way down Laurel Ave. There were about fifteen people and a white silkie chicken named Blanche. I’m not sure how much Blanche actually got out of the tour, but she seemed to be having a good time.

Our guide Roy led us up and down the neighborhood, into secret courtyards where Gable and Dietrich once lived, past Jim Morrison’s last LA address and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s upstairs apartment, pointing out architectural features unique to California, fine work by famous architects. A little gem here, another gem there. History you could touch.

Saved
Saved
Valentino Courtyard destined for destruction
Valentino Courtyard destined for destruction

But interspersed with the beautiful architecture and fun stories were little eulogies. Roy would point at some huge faceless apartment complex and say “This used to be a gorgeous little Craftsman home.” Or he would point at another building, still standing, but restored in a way that totally destroyed its original beauty. The saddest sight of all was a small L-shaped courtyard which had been built in the silent film era. Its days were numbered. The residents had already been evicted. The grass had been left to die. Soon it would become just another four story apartment building.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's apartment
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s apartment
Jim Morrison's place (note the photo of him in the lower right window)
Jim Morrison’s place (note the photo of him in the lower right window)

Now I get that property in this part of Southern California is hard to find. I know that businesses come and go and owners die or move away. I know that places change hands and the old owners have no say in what the new owners do to them. I get all that, but every time one of these little bits of history disappears, Hollywood loses a little bit of its soul. If everything that is unique about Hollywood disappears, it isn’t really Hollywood anymore. It becomes no different than anywhere else. And it was different. And it is still different here and there, if you know where to look.

Storybook Style
Storybook Style
Marlene Dietrich's balcony
Marlene Dietrich’s balcony

Hollywood architecture used to be like a wild, brightly colored Dentzel carousel, the kind of carousel where the traditional horses had been replaced by cats and bears and dragons with an occasional ornate bench for those who preferred not to ride. But as time went on and property values grew steeper, the exotic jumpers started to decline. You can fit more people on a bench than on a seahorse. So the seahorse was replaced by a bench. And then the stag and then the lion disappeared, each replacement bench becoming a little shoddier than the last. The day is coming when that last zebra will be replaced by a pair of lawn chairs zip-tied together and no one will remember what it was like to ride at all.

Cheers to the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance for trying to do something before that last zebra is gone.

On the way home, I drove past what used to be Tower Records. The building looked empty. The glowing yellow and red lip had been whitewashed out, the huge airbrushed albums were all gone. All that was left was an anonymous white box with the word “LIVE” written on the corner.

It was anything but.

Fine Dinning

Green Water Blue Sky

So every year, Lisa and I and whoever else we can drag along go to the Irish Fair in Pomona. They hold it at the L.A. County Fairgrounds which they make a bit more festive by adding Irish banners to the flag poles and green dye to the fountains. Half a dozen little stages are scattered around outside the huge concrete commercial buildings. Little food stands line the main thoroughfare hawking hamburgers, hot dogs, bangers and mash.

But we never eat at those places.

Not that they’re bad. It’s just that after you’ve spend $12 for fish and chips and another four bucks for a drink, you’re left standing in the sun with a plate in one hand and a soda cup in the other with no place to sit and no way to eat your meal.

Enter the buffet. Where, for twenty dollars, you get not only a seat, but bangers, mash, salad, corned beef, shepherd’s pie, peas, potato salad, corned beef, cabbage, dessert and a drink. All you can eat, in the shady cavernous interior of one of the commercial buildings.

Perfect for a warm day, especially if you’ve left your third arm at home.

I checked the website the night before to make sure that the buffet was happening this year. And there it was. “Fine Dinning,” it said. Ha ha.

Except that it wasn’t a typo.

Because this year, right next to the tables with their little white tablecloths, was a stage.

With a Celtic rock band playing on it.

Loudly.

With every decibel reverberating through the big concrete jet hangar-sized building around us.

We ate there anyway because we were starving and the food was good. But next year I’m bringing my earplugs.