My visit to Los Angeles coincided with the first of a series of lectures and panel discussions sponsored by the National Trust and the LA Conservancy. Called Modern Modules, these programs will be taking place across the country over the next nine months. Each event consists of two parts: a public lecture and an invited panel discussion. In Los Angeles, the lecture also took place as the first event as part of the LA Conservancy’s “Sixties Turn 50” program. Held at the Department of Water and Power Building/John Ferraro Building (1965, A. C. Martin & Associates), the lecture was moderated by Frances Anderton. Anderton noted that in British English, what we here call the “recent past,” is referred to as the “familiar past.”
This familiarity has both advantages and disadvantages. As an advantage, a familiar aspect may be incorporated in with less-familiar parts of a building in order to build community interest in a structure. Andy Kirk explained to me that this is just what happened in my previous stop, Las Vegas, where public interest in the now-historic neon signs of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas was parlayed into an effort to save not just the sign, but the building to which it was attached. Chief among the disadvantages is the reluctance to see one’s own life as historical; however, as Alan Hess, one of the lecturers, noted in his lightning quick overview of modern architecture in California in the 1960s, it was at mid-century that California was at the height of its cultural influence.
While I most often think of commercial structures (or even civic ones, like the Mark Taper Forum pictured here) as being important examples of an architectural style, there’s no reason to forget about residential structures. In fact, Leo Marmol, FAIA, another of the evening’s lecturers, suggested that there is a very real need to move beyond commercial spaces, especially in Los Angeles, a city very much of private spaces. Some of these private spaces were no less experimental than the largest commercial structure – the Case Study houses, for example, are a group of residential properties Alan Leib is working to protect. As difficult as it is to see a structure with which one is familiar with become a landmark, it must be all the more challenging to see one in which you have lived become “historic.”
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