Sunday, February 9, 2014

A stroll down memory lane

Yesterday I met a friend in Santa Monica for lunch in the vicinity of a neighborhood I lived in for eleven years as a renter.  My husband and I moved into a rent-controlled apartment there when he started graduate school and we remained there through my own graduate school period and beyond.  Although this area of Santa Monica was (and remains) densely inhabited, it was a very pleasant place to live and something I remember with great fondness.  I haven't been there in quite awhile so, before meeting my friend, I took some time walking around the old neighborhood, beginning with the site of our old apartment.

Sadly, I have no pictures of the place as it looked when we lived there.  It was built in the 1930s and, for an apartment, it had character - hard wood floors, a curved entrance into the dining area, built-in shelving, and an upstairs wood-lined room with windows on 3 sides.  It also had the tiniest bathroom you've ever seen and a cramped kitchen but, at the time, it was perfect for us.  One of 8 units in 2 buildings with a shared backyard, it was the closest experience I've had to communal living.  We'd regularly have impromptu meals with neighbors in the backyard or share a glass of wine sitting on the back stoop.  Our neighbors were family and I miss them.  I also miss the building, which was torn down to construct condos.  Although the footprint of the property is the same, it looks very different.

What is now a courtyard between the 2 buildings used to be our communal backyard

The unit shown here was the site of what was once our apartment


Back alley, where our old building had 3 tiny 1-car garages - we turned ours into a communal gym used by all the tenants



Before we bought a house in the South Bay, we looked at our options in Santa Monica but, even back in the early 1990s, condos - not to speak of single family homes - in Santa Monica cost a fortune.  The condos across the street from our old apartment, built before we moved out of the area, are still going for almost a million dollars even though the units themselves are small and there are no yards whatsoever.

The only outside spaces available to these condo owners are balconies and patios a few feet wide



There's very little space to garden anywhere in the area.  The owner of our apartment building allowed me to garden in a small space in front, a border maybe 8 feet long and 3 feet wide, and a similarly sized patch in the back.  Half the residents piddled about with other small garden patches and pots.  We shopped at a neighborhood nursery a few blocks away.  It was a sad day for all of us when the nursery was sold for development of more stores along trendy Montana Avenue.

Walking in the area was always very pleasant.

This building, catty-corner to our old building, is much the same as when we lived there.  A flock of wild parrots would roost in the palm tree every summer when the dates were ripe, making the loudest racket you've ever heard.

This condo down the street shows you how much locals try to cram into their small outdoor spaces

As I recall, this was one of the places my husband and I looked at before choking at the price

This building is typical of the houses and apartment buildings that once dominated the area.  Many, like this one, were converted into condos, perhaps to circumvent rent control limitations.



One of the nice things about the neighborhood was that there were restaurants and services (dry cleaner, laundromat, shoe repair, market and even a small movie theater) just one block north.  Many stores came and went but there were always nice places to shop for gifts - I did half my Christmas shopping there at one time.  During the holiday season, all the stores would stay open late one evening in early December and the street would take on a festive air with bands playing and treats available wherever you went.  This block, Montana Avenue, became very trendy over time and many of the charming old stores disappeared, presumably as rents escalated.




What struck me yesterday was the number of chain outlets that have replaced independent stores.  To name just a few, Whole Foods now occupies the space that formerly belonged to Fireside Market; Peet's Coffee occupies what was Twigs, a great source for unique gifts; and William Sonoma took over a home goods store.

I used to walk north of Montana Avenue in the early morning before school with one of my neighbors, a close friend I lost to cancer years ago.  The homes in this area, between Montana Ave and San Vicente Boulevard, were all unique and many had beautiful front yards.  The "mansionizing" of these properties had begun even then and has continued to the present day but they're still far from the cookie-cutter homes that populate many nearby areas.



The trampoline cage and basketball hoop in the front yard here is further indication of how little yard space even the single family homes in the area have to offer

This house is closer to the older style of homes that were once common here


One of the few lawn-less front yards I saw



Dog-walkers are a common sight in the area.  However, in the evenings and early mornings, one has to be careful of coyotes.  One morning, when I was out walking without my friend, I came across 3 of them.  The woman in high heels I saw running in the opposite direction with her dog should have been my first clue but my first thought was "wow, 3 look-alike dogs out without leashes."  When I realized they were coyotes and that they were headed straight for me, I turned the next corner and walked - quickly - in a different direction.  Coyotes won't usually bother people but pets are fair game in their books.  My cat was always locked up tight in the evening.

These small dogs would be dinner - or breakfast - in a confrontation with a coyote



Time was short.  I turned back to Montana Avenue to meet my friend.

Cafe Montana, a place where I've often seen celebrities and celebrity wanna-bees, replaced what used to be the Sweet 16 diner



After lunch, on my way back to my parked car, hoping that I'd avoided a parking ticket for exceeding the 2-hour limit on street parking, I passed a few other nice homes and townhouses.







I managed to avoid a ticket.  While I miss the old neighborhood for many reasons, I don't miss the parking hell of Santa Monica, the horrible traffic of the west side of Los Angeles, or the miniscule yard space.

Giant Phormium planted along the curb to block views of the cars parked all along the street 24/7


Have you tried going home again?  Was it a pleasant experience?


16 comments:

  1. Loads of beautiful, and expensive looking properties with the only disadvantage of the lack of space. It must have felt bittersweet seeing the area where you used to live where you had so many happy memories attached to and seeing hot it has evolved since then.

    Looking back is not always easy as there are aspect of ones life that somehow becomes better in ones memory than it is in reality and sometimes revisiting can ruin a previous good impression...

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    1. I miss the people more than the place itself, I think. Actually, seeing how the area has evolved (or devolved), I'm glad we didn't bankrupt ourselves in order to stay there.

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  2. Santa Monica looks like a very charming and expensive (and cramped) place. Very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

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    1. It is all those things, SweetBay. Thanks for visiting!

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  3. What a pretty neighborhood, but whew! those prices. We have coyotes in the 'hood too, and they're getting to be a problem.

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    1. Housing costs in coastal SoCal is the trade-off for our pleasant temperatures, although Santa Monica prices are particularly eye-popping, especially in the area north of Montana Avenue, where even tiny houses go for multiple millions of dollars.

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  4. I adore Santa Monica! Years ago when I worked for IKEA (1995?) I had to go to LA for training and spent most of my free time wandering around the area. So beautiful. I was surprised when we visited in 2009 how different it was, yes very chain-store oriented.

    I frequently drive by my former apartments in Spokane and Seattle, but it took me years before I was able to drive by my house in Spokane, the one I left to move to Portland with my (now) husband. I left part of my heart there and was afraid to see it ruined. Luckily I waited long enough the wound had healed and it was easy to see both the good and the bad without being over come with emotion.

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    1. There are definitely places that tear at our heartstrings, aren't there? It wouldn't even occur to me to visit the places my (now) husband and I lived (mercifully briefly) in the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles but the Santa Monica place was different. I wouldn't ever visit my childhood home either, except that my brother's living there. And all I really miss of our last house is the garden.

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  5. What a lovely area. But I was shocked at the price of the condos. Another shock was the coyotes. I just assumed they would leave such a populated area. How scary! It's sad that chain stores are taking over. That happened in Galveston, too, after the hurricane. I preferred the mom and pop places.

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    1. The coyotes in the Santa Monica Mountains have apparently adapted to living in a populated area - I guess the ready availability of food (in the form of peoples' pets) keeps them there. People who move into the area quickly learn to keep their pets inside at night. Although I was told there were no coyotes in the area I currently live in, it turns out they're here too and they're aggressive, hunting well into late morning and sometimes reappearing in late afternoon.

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  6. Thank you for the tour of Santa Monica, it all looks very exotic and interesting to me. Parrots in the date palms! I couldn't deal with all the cars and coyotes so I'd rather let you show me than go myself.
    Going back is always hard because of course everything changes. It is painful to find that the fields and woods of childhood have been built on.

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    1. The flocks of wild parrots are the byproduct of escaped pets. They travel in large groups and the noise they make, especially at sun-up and sundown, is truly incredible. Needless to say, the novelty of their arrival wears off very quickly. Fortunately, they move on once the dates are gone.

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  7. What fun to go on a photo tour and see all the lovely small gardens.
    regards
    Mariana

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    1. I'm glad you came along for the stroll, Mariana!

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  8. An enjoyable walk down memory lane with you Kris! The homogenization of our cities and towns is sad as there was something wonderful about the mom and pop businesses we used to love! Maybe that's why nurseries are so appealing, they're still (many of them) owned and operated by folks in our communities. One more reason to support our local independent garden centers!

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    1. I wish we had half as many independent nurseries/garden centers here as you have in the PNW, Peter. I've seen one after another of my favorites close - and not for lack of help from me!

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