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Lakewood, a "Paradise of the Ordinary" 18 MIN, 11 SEC

DnA is currently exploring the theme of “This is Home in LA: From the Tent to the Gigamansion (and everything in between).”

The premise of the series is that in the boom years of the last century, Los Angeles developed homes that were specific to the region, its lifestyle and the economy.

“When I think about how the lifestyle product called California was marketed to the world, I have to start with the houses of Southern California,” says DJ Waldie, historian and author of “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.”

DJ Waldie stands in the middle of a typical street
in the City of Lakewood. Photo by Avishay Artsy

“These structures embodied before and after the Second World War much of what America thought was the good life. They were homes that were accommodating without being pretentious. They were open to novelty and experiment.”

The question is, are we realizing the same level of novelty, experiment and specificity to place today?

To find answers, so far we’ve looked at contemporary LA homes starting with the very smallest: tents, ADUs and boats.

Today we visit the longtime California ideal: the single family home, specifically the mass-produced tract houses of Lakewood that were built in the thousands in the early 1950s to house young couples who had experienced the Depression and World War II.

These represented a “paradise of the ordinary,” says Waldie, as he tours DnA around Lakewood’s residential streets, recalling the time when you might find as many as 80 children out roaming together, without parental guidance.

These streets of small, three bedroom houses on 5,000 square foot lots make up 94% of the city’s development. When they were built, a typical Lakewood house would sell for about $11,000, or around $108,000 in today’s dollars. Now the cost is nearer half a million dollars or more.

Despite their relative priciness, Lakewood is trying to preserve this lifestyle, even as neighboring cities like Long Beach and Los Angeles are looking to densify and expand mass transit.

One way planners and elected officials hope to achieve more affordable housing while enabling homeowners to pay their high mortgages is through permitting ADUs.

Todd Rogers, vice mayor of Lakewood, tells DnA he would resist ADUs if he could.

“What we're trying to do is is educate our legislators that there's a disconnect between the social engineering that's taking place at the state capitol and how real Californians feel.” He adds, “If you took a survey of most Californians they want someplace where they can go... in their backyard, play with their dog, and play with their kids and have their own little slice of heaven, if you will, and people describe Lakewood as that.”

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, architects and planners gathered at an AIA/LA conference last week to discuss the affordable housing challenge in the region.

Michael Lehrer, John Egan, Larry Scarpa and Angela Brooks share their thoughts on how to square yesterday’s dream with today’s reality in denser housing strategies that keep something of the flavor of Waldie’s “paradise of the ordinary.”

D.J. Waldie, KCET (@djwaldie)
Todd Rogers, vice mayor of the city of Lakewood
Michael Lehrer, Lehrer Architects LA (@LehrerArchLA)
John Egan, principal architect at Egan | Simon Architecture
Larry Scarpa, Architect and principal at Brooks+Scarpa Architects
Angela Brooks, Brooks + Scarpa (@brooksscarpa)

The New York Times review of DJ Waldie’s “Holy Land”
DJ Waldie: A City in Opposition: How History Shapes Tomorrow’s Los Angeles
Is There Space For the Single-Family House in the New LA?

Amidst LA building boom, Trump's steel tariffs take a toll 9 MIN, 8 SEC

Building is booming in LA and that drives up the cost of materials. What happens when you add steel tariffs?

Ron Kong, owner of M&K Metal in Gardena. Photo by Frances Anderton.

After all, steel and other metals are everywhere -- hidden from the eye in steel framing and steel studs in drywall; and very visibly in the wavy, decorative, perforated metal claddings that can been seen on facades across the Southland, from the Petersen Automotive Museum to the Corten facades of voguish single family homes.

DnA delves into the real world impact of the tariffs -- intended to make US steel more competitive -- and learns that when overseas suppliers put their prices up, so do the domestic suppliers.

Gensler Managing Principal Rob Jernigan, whose LA office projects include the Banc of California Stadium and Metropolis residential towers, tells DnA that yes, the tariffs are taking a toll on steel and aluminum prices, but he cautions, “in the construction business and especially with projects of this size, all these items are commodities, and commodities are constantly changing, and it's something we have to consider with all of our projects. The toughest thing is a lot of projects are taking four and five years and it's trying to guess what changes in the commodity market will happen within the next two, three, four years. But we we take our best guess and go for it.”

Metal fabrication at M&K Metals in Gardena. Photo by Frances Anderton.

There is so much instability right now that big builders can add “escalation clauses” into their contracts to account for unpredictable price hikes down the line, explains Ron Kong, director of M&K Metals in Gardena. The smaller contractor has less of a buffer.

“Small business people… don't have that type of language built into there. The general (contractor) is going to make them build it for the price that they contracted and if the price of the steel goes up by 25 percent, they'll have to absorb that.”

Price hikes notwithstanding, metals are in high demand, as DnA found out when it toured M&K Metals.

Pointing out “rows and rows of steel tubing, steel angles, steel pipes, stainless aluminum, brass, copper, in a variety of shapes,” Kong explained that he sells to people that do cabinet making, or it could be people in aerospace who want “to figure out if two things will work. Or they don't want to blow up a satellite, so they blow up models of satellites.”

Then there are the high-rise towers under construction in downtown LA, the Rams stadium in Inglewood and many boutique projects by artists, architects, landscape designers and also “mothers who wish to have an art project in their house for their daughters,” based on “something on Etsy.” After pursuing law and an MBA, Kong joined his father in the metals business. It’s one he loves; he likens himself to a “farmer,” as in “the guy that a master chef would go to” to get the ingredients, in this case metals, to blend into a beautiful new dish.

Rob Jernigan, Co-managing principal for Gensler's Southwest region
Ron Kong, Owner, M&K metal company, Gardena

California steel industry leaders say they would be hurt by Trump's proposed tariffs
Tariffs Imposed by China May Affect Southern California Jobs: Report
US businesses foot the bill for Trump metal tariffs as requests for help go unanswered


Writer and historian DJ Waldie on the street in Lakewood, a planned suburban tract home community built in the early 1950s. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

Frances Anderton

Frances Anderton
Avishay Artsy

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