Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Saint Andews Place. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saint Andews Place. Show all posts

Friday, November 25, 2011


Earlier this year the Art in the Streets exhibition at L.A.’s MOCA (the first big show curated there by new director Jeffrey Deitch) was a huge popular success, despite being criticized in some quarters as being too much like a theme park.  

A forgivable sin, I thought.  In order to give the feel of the streets, the gallery contained installations, or you might even call them “sets,” that recreated the feel of walking through graffiti-scarred neighborhoods. 

The best, for my money, was a work titled “Street” (and sometimes known as “Donut Time”) created by Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy, and Alexis Ross.  A section of the gallery had been turned into a fantasy urban enclave, litter strewn, tagged, hemmed in by dead ends and chain link fences, complete with a dubious-looking convenience store and tattoo parlour, the whole place duded up with faux advertising signs and neon. The piece had wit and humor, and yet there was something edgy and creepy about the environment.  You had the vicarious thrill of knowing you were safe in an art gallery, while walking through a place that would make you pee your pants if you’d encountered it in the real world.

Less successful, it was generally agreed, was an installation by Neck Face, a recreation of a scary alleyway with a lifesize model of a sleeping bum. It seemed a little too Madame Tussaud’s.  Neck Face was reported by the New York Times as saying his family ran an “unofficial trade constructing haunted houses” – whatever that might mean.

Hollywood is supposedly awash with ghosts, and there’s a brisk trade in tours to visit the sites.  Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift haunt the Roosevelt Hotel, that the ghost of Harry Houdini lurks in the ruins of some house or other (scholars disagree about which one) in Laurel Canyon, and that the wraith of Peg Entwistle still lurks under the Hollywood sign.  Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the Vogue Theater, the Queen Mary in Long Beach have all been claimed as places where spirits are want to walk abroad.

Only recently however did I discover that there’s a place in my own neighborhood known locally as the Haunted House (that's it above).  The actual address is 5672 Tryon Road, and its owners seem to have abandoned it about a decade ago, which is surely a mystery in itself.  Who abandons a house in L.A.?  Even if it’s one that looks like it belongs in the swamplands?

It’s at the top of a flight of 150 steps, the kind you get in some parts of LA, here officially named Saint Andrews Walk (no apostrophe as far as I can tell).  This is a pretty swank part of the neighborhood, far swankier than the part I live in.  Across from the steps is a vast, much crenelated house that used to belong to Nicolas Cage.  

But Saint Andrews Walk is less than swank, a place which, according to an article by Adam Kear in a recent Oaks newsletter, “is a favorite hangout for drinking, drugs, and other nefarious activity.  Tagging, litter, and loud late night noise are a continuing problem.”

To be honest I don’t walk down Saint Andrews Walk very often – I’d lived in and walked around the area for a few years before I even knew it was there.  The problem with walking down 150 steps is that at some point you tend to have to walk up them again,  but I do use the stairs once in a while, and I console myself with the knowledge that I can break the ascent halfway up where there’s a level area, a bench and a kind of balustrade. This however seems to be ground zero for bad, and possibly criminal, behavior: arrests have been made. 

I’ve only ever seen a few people hanging out there, and I’ve never witnessed criminality, but there’s plenty of evidence that at other times some drinking, drugging and partying must go on.  Litter gets strewn on the steps, bottles are thrown into neighboring gardens, and there are some low-level graffiti that are very almost certainly not art, though this one might be construed as an example of psychogeographic mapping. 

The bad behaviour all looks fairly small time, but even so it must be hell to have it happening on the other side of your garden fence.  Kear reckons that the “Haunted House” is “the major reason problems on the stairs have continued.  It is a classic case of ‘broken windows’ theory.  It sends a message that no one is watching and no one cares: just inviting criminal activities on the stairs.”  I don’t know enough urban theory to be sure if this is true or not.  But it’s an intriguing idea, isn’t it, that people are so attracted to haunted houses?  You might think that sinister, neglected, ruined, potentially dangerous houses would repel people, but in fact people, people just like us, in fact us, we're inexorably drawn to them.

I’m assuming the people who hang out on Saint Andrews Walk are young, because once you reach a certain age, drink, drugs, partying and other nefarious activities are more enjoyable when done in private.  Tagging and graffiti, on the other hand, are obviously public forms.

When MOCA had its street art exhibition, lots of graffiti appeared in the streets around the museum.  Director Jeffrey Deitch was blamed.  His exhibition was just too darned inspiring.  This seems just slightly unfair.  Would you blame the director of the Van Gogh Museum if somebody looked at the pictures and then cut off his ear?  Well maybe you would.  Anyway, both the graffiti and the outcry seemed entirely predictable.

Now, I discover that Jeffrey Deitch lives right in the area, barely stumbling distance from Tryon Road and Saint Andrews Walk, but his house remains free of grafitti.  It’s free of ghosts too, I think, though Cary Grant was once a resident, and in the picture it does look as though the ghost of Jesus is lurking on the wall behind him.

During the street art exhibition Deitch got into further trouble because he painted over a mural he’d commissioned for the side wall of the gallery, from the artist Blu.   The art was too “political” apparently.  A supporter of Blu claimed to have been at a party in Deitch’s house, and painted this on the bathroom wall:

I suppose its heart is in the right place, but it looks pretty fake to me: that T looks all wrong, just a layer of Photoshop, right?  And the lack of apostrophe?  Well, that could be real or feigned illiteracy - who can tell anymore?  But as a matter of fact I think Jeffrey Deitch would have a much swankier bathroom than the one in the picture.  He commissioned the artist Richard Woods to turn one room of the house into a “super-Tudor Pop environment,” so that he can do his partying in private.  Well you would, wouldn't you?