March 6, 2012

Ugly Persian Houses


If you are a Los Angeles city councilman these days, one issue that you dread dealing with is the controversy over zoning changes to limit the size of new houses. On one hand, many of the single family homes in Los Angeles were built in in roughly 1935-1975 and are small by contemporary standards. So, a lot of homeowners like the idea that somebody rich could someday buy their little house and put up a big house in its place. Laissez-faire would seem to maximize their property values. 

On the other hand, have you got a gander at the houses that the rich people are putting up? They are not intended to fit seamlessly into the neighborhood with polite good taste. The website Ugly Persian Houses (Ruining the Neighborhood One House at a Time) tracks the proliferation of Persian Palaces in Southern California, with their obsession with giant columns that don't even pretend to do anything structurally. It's run by some natives of Beverly Hills, Westwood, and Santa Monica:
It's because we live and work in these areas that the site was born in the first place.  Los Angeles no longer looks like Los Angeles..and pointing this out seemed like a good idea for a website because we thought (and clearly this turned out to be true) that there were others like us who would welcome a forum to bemoan the death of the beautiful architecture that was indigenous to California. 
4.  “You’re Just Jealous…You Wish You Could Live in One of these Houses.” 
Hardly.  But what we do wish is that we had enough money to start buying them up, knocking them back to the ground, and rebuilding the charming bungalow or spanish casita, or whatever that was originally in its place.

Well, I'm not sure that L.A. architecture was all that tasteful even before the Iranians started to roll in during the early 1970s. And Iran has an ancient culture with a strong emphasis on luxury and ornament. A lot of the features that Persians like, like the two story tall front doors, are actually old Los Angeles home favorites. Back in the 1970s, Charles Jencks published a couple of picture books of L.A. architecture with snarky captions, and he had a whole chapter on the "L.A. Door." There are various reasons affluent Iranians picked out Los Angeles as their main destination and one is that they felt aesthetically sympatico.

Still, here's an Ugly Persian Condo in Brentwood:

So, there is a lot of activism right now in areas near the Hollywood Hills to put limits on the size of teardowns. The arguments are framed in terms of aesthetics and neighborhood preservation, but much of the energy comes from unspoken ethnic conflict. 

My guess is that the most outspoken of the preservationists tend to be Ashkenazi Jews who grew up in SoCal, while the newcomers building the gaudiest new houses tend to be Oriental Jews, but I don't have any data on that.

Also, in the San Fernando Valley, there is a growing conflict over a zoning variance between the growing numbers of Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi black hatters along Chandler Blvd. and the declining numbers of old-fashioned Ashkenazis.

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

Browsing through the link, I came across a post responding to claims that the UPH site is racist: "By definition, a racist is “someone who believes that inherent differences among the human races determine cultural or individual achievement. . .”" http://uglypersianhouses.com/?p=251

It's not just "unspoken." These people can't even define the ethnic conflict their website is predicated on.

Anonymous said...

These garish persian buildings of Los Angeles are quite like the gypsy palaces of Romania:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/webtweakers/4913352719/

The nouveau riche iranians and gypsies are basically showing off with their big fat weddings and big ostentatious homes.

Tomas said...

In Sweden, you can tell the Iranian houses by the fact that they turn the front gardens into gravel-topped concrete, in order to have more room for their garishly -colored SUVs.

idealart said...

The condo looks pretty good to me - caveat, from a photo. LA is kind of a fantasyland anyway isn't it? I would think this well-designed, Gaudi-like building would add to the surreal charm. Besides, aren't liberals supposed to like diversity? Why go traditional all of a sudden?

Marlowe said...

T.S. Eliot considered The Brown Derby (Wilshire Boulevard) to be the death knell of Western culture so L.A. has a lot of form in the arena of tasteless architecture. Hearst Castle could be regarded as a piece of good bad architecture along similar lines to these developments but on a vaster plan.

Anonymous said...

Before the Iranians there were the Saudis. Remember al-Fassi and his obnoxious palace that had Beverly Hills up in arms?

Maya said...

The condo could be greatly improved by greenery overflowing from the balconies.

I prefer northern styles, myself, but this building sorta-kinda fits with the Spanish architecture, in colors and rounded edges, at least, no?

Power Child said...

That first picture you included looks EXACTLY like a house in Encino I shot a music video in about a month ago, except that house had a fence/gate type deal and a Porsche in the driveway.

I have mixed feelings about Persian palaces...on the one hand, they're at least nicer looking than Dingbat-style apartment buildings and contain a promise of non-riff raff type people moving into them, but on the other hand they are definitely ugly and upsetting to the aesthetic balance of the neighborhood. (What happens when the whole neighborhood is nothing but Persian palaces?)

I will say though that my biggest objection to them is their height. I don't mind their style so much, and I can even tolerate the way they take up the whole lot and leave no room for green space (plenty of other surrounding houses are likely to have interesting, varied, and/or abundant flora), but they tend to disrupt the skyline horribly.

And like many Sailer blog entries, the topic of this one is touched on in a King of the Hill episode: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-Footed_Monster

Chicago said...

Where is the money for these palaces coming from?

Peter said...

Do the Persians in Los Angeles qualify for affirmative action?

anony-mouse said...

Of course things were completely different in old Los Angeles:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Allah_(building)

Anonymous said...

I bet that Alexander the Great's guys already thought of the Persians as gaudy. These sorts of things never change.

ogunsiron said...

Damn it, i thought i was the first to think of the gypsy palaces! The persian house aren't as bad though.

Also, while greenary is great i like the idea of doing away with the lawn. I'd rather see small trees, bushes and various plants.

jody said...

LA is too big to "look like" anything. and besides. it looks like what it is. there is no frozen in time version of LA. or any city. if the inhabitants change, the city changes.

David Davenport said...

Where is the money for these palaces coming from?

Some of these Mexifornia Persians run false front businesses whose real business is shopping for parts and equipment of use to the Iranian military, such as aircraft parts.

Anonymous said...

Ugly houses are a Persian-American specialty. At least in Persia (Iran), the houses and buildings look much better.

Thursday said...

Perhaps they look worse in context, but I'm finding it hard to get worked up about this; compared to the modernist and post-modernist monstrosities, these buildings look positively gorgeous. Even that apartment building looks a million times better than all those concrete blocks they used to throw up.

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a stronger ascetic streak among the Ashkenazim than among the Mizrahim. Occasionally it leads to understated good taste, although I wouldn't call that our hallmark.

Kylie said...

"The condo could be greatly improved by greenery overflowing from the balconies."

Yes, the condo would look better adorned with several miles of kudzu.

Ed said...

(What happens when the whole neighborhood is nothing but Persian palaces?)

Actually a whole neighborhood of these things would be kind of cool. Just sticking one or two of them in a neighborhood of more restrained, more Western architecture creates an eyesore.

Anonymous said...

Steve, since you grew up in LA you might find this article about LA from a 1947 issue of Horizon magazine by christopher Isherwood interesting.

http://www.unz.org/Pub/Horizon-1947oct-00142?View=PDF&apages=0150

Anonymous said...

Still looks better than what I got.

Glaivester said...

A Mizrahim/Ashkenazim fight? How about we put Adam Sandler and Chris Kattan in a cage and let them battle until only one of them comes out?

In this fight, any chance the term "vuz-vuz" will make a comeback?

agnostic said...

Most of those look pretty nice. Nothing mind-blowing, but then they're just snapping random pictures.

They never point out what they don't like, other than OMFG MORE COLUMNS. "Column," "ugly," and "monstrosity" are all that they say.

Their idea of "ostentatious" is a simple fluted column with a visible capital. They flip out like each one is Trajan's Column or something. Lighten up, dorks.

The kneejerk blasting of even slight ornamentation, and the hyperactive tone of voice, suggest a Puritanical and authoritarian streak. Again they never say what their idea of nice buildings are, but you can be sure that they wouldn't look "charming".

Probably one of the spazzes got rejected by a palace-owner's babalicious daughter and is trying to find more constructive ways to deal with his rage than going on a killing spree.

Kylie said...

"Their[Ugly Persian Houses website] idea of 'ostentatious' is a simple fluted column with a visible capital. They flip out like each one is Trajan's Column or something. Lighten up, dorks."

No, I think their complaint is not that the columns themselves are ugly/ostentatious but that they are non-functional and just tacked-on. Columns are supposed to serve a function as supports. The ones here do just look if as someone added them on because...well, if you spend a lot of money to build a big house, it should have columns. Lots of columns.

I thought their complaints about all the balconies were overboard, though. Like columns, balconies are supposed to serve a function and these did--they permitted access from the windows to the outdoors. True, there were a lot of them but they weren't just ornamental excrescences.

The overhangs were horrid, though, no doubt about it.

Matthew said...

My biggest objection to these ugly Persian houses is that their owners aren't building them in Persia. And would the term Garage Mahal apply to many of them?

Another question: why are Mizrahi Jews in the US so rich? I thought non-Ashkenazi Jews were all basically of average intelligence.

Chief Seattle said...

Thanks, Steve. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

I like the in-progress contraction photos. Underneath the Persian Palaces are just crappy OSB like everything else built in the last decade.

TGGP said...

The columns are pointless, but other than that they don't seem that bad to me either.

Garaj Mahal is actually a decent fusion band. Their guitarist is Pakistani rather than Persian though.

RKU said...

Isn't Los Angeles an overwhelmingly NAM city? Seems to me that lots of the other really NAMy cities have bigger problems than affluent Iranian Jews tending to build gaudy houses...

eh said...

On the other hand, I guess the fact that about half (and I'm being generous here) of Latinos -- their fastest growing demographic -- fails to graduate from HS is not such a big deal. At least they won't have to worry so much about Hispanics building big houses.

Anonymous said...

I browsed through the homes on the site and while they are certainly ostentatious, and not to my liking, I wouldn't call them ugly.

If you want to see ugly architecture, come here to the Netherlands where every new building is even more monstrous than the last.

This is what they are building in the historic center of one city.

Steve Sailer said...

A lot of the features that Persians like, like the two story tall front doors, are actually old Los Angeles home favorites. Back in the 1970s, Charles Jencks published a couple of picture books of L.A. architecture with snarky captions, and he had a whole chapter on the "L.A. Door." There are various reasons affluent Iranians picked out Los Angeles as their main destination and one is that they felt aesthetically sympatico.

eh said...

...in the historic center of one city.

IMO, Berlin has really screwed up Leipziger Platz. The rebuilding of parts of the city after the fall of the Berlin Wall has not really gone very well.

Beverly Hills Ghetto Dweller said...

Where is the money for these palaces coming from?

We merely invest wisely.

guest007 said...

I suspect that these houses are extended family homes with multiple generations and extended relatives living in the same house.

In the DC suburbs, there is a version of this but with Chinese families. The red door and total lack of landscaping let everyone know that it is a Chinese extended family.

Joseph A. said...

I rather fancy the "UPHs." I especially like the condo complex. It looks like a Disney fantasyland -- and that is pretty fitting for L.A. Besides, southern California is blessed with such a divine climate that allows for so much horticultural diversity, the landscaping on these properties compensates for whatever gaudy excess they display. I wish that my 6b garden could maintain such life!

Anonymous said...

La is more expensive than the burbs in Texas. In fact, both Houston and Dallas are growing faster in hispanics. The old burbs will be heavily MExican but I predict a lot of Mexicans moving from La when the recession ends and heading to the Inland Empire and heavily Mexican states like Nevada and Texas. Arizona unlike the other two did something to discourage the illegal population.

Svigor said...

Still, here's an Ugly Persian Condo in Brentwood

Sweet Jesus that's ugly. But I have to agree with Idealert; more diversity for L.A., good and hard.

Duncan said...

I think the Jews who criticize these homes don't like the fact that they expose oriental bad taste. These look like the same homes that many affluent Irsaeli's build.

David said...

Not limited to Persians. Visit any MacMansion farm. For instance, in Jacksonville, Florida.

The nouveau houses look like a drunk drew them.

Not only purposeless columns (a failing with a very old history), but also windows all out of proportion both to the house and to other windows. In fact, that goes for every single ornament and for every architecture feature such as wings or garages. The hostility to the Golden Ratio is at Geary-like levels. Each house looks like a pile of garbage - something pulled out of the dumpster, but proudly, defiantly. With a half-million-dollar price tag.

It's as if a repressed Victorian architect attempted Cubism in a half-assed way.

Argg. Rant over.

Elli said...

Heh. In NJ it's Indians. They build saffron-colored stucco palaces next to white clapboard farmhouses.

East Indians. You knew that.

Lise said...

I've only been to LA twice but these buildings don't see so out of place from my recolections.

Where did you get your demographic data? Everything I've read about Tehrangeles indicates they are mostly Muslim or former/irreligious Muslims. Other fringe religions (Mizrahi, Bahai, Christians) are just a small fraction.

Kylie said...

"IMO, Berlin has really screwed up Leipziger Platz."

Good god, yes. That is truly horrible, far worse than the UPH, which are ugly in a rather magnificent way. The latter look playful, as though they were designed in Legos by a hyperactive child. The Berlin crap, by contrast, is horrid in a humorless, soulless Le Corbusier "machines for living" way. Truly horrible. I can't even joke about it, the crime is too serious.

Camlost said...

Just imagine what happens to those Persian condo buildings 50 years from now when they're not maintained very well anymore, and turn into low-income NAM housing...

dogzma said...

When I first looked at the UP yellow house and the UP condo, I didn't like them at all. The second time, I realized that I didn't like the oddly shaped arches over either entrance or the color of the stucco. To my eye these are design flaws ruining what are otherwise beautiful structures.

I have decided that when I win the lottery I'll purchase both buildings make the relatively quick fixes that will make them stunning and sell them to non Iranian Jews for a substantial profit. The yellow house would be easiest. Simply make the arch above the entry level with the roofline and and paint the facade a more subtle color, light brown for instance. The arch could also be reconstructed so that it has the same curve as the upstairs windows. The condo intrigues me most, however. It looks like someone's unfortunate mix of gothic cathedral and adobe mission. Yet the only renovations necessary would be to remove that misshapen trefoil above the entrance and to paint the terra cotta parts the same shade of grey as the background on those patterned sections. What you'd be left with would be closer to the gothic cathedral while also being very modern.

Davis said...

I've been dealing with some of these monstrosities in the DC area. Dolphin fountains everywhere. The problem with these homes, besides their aesthetic hideousness, is that they will never be re-sold once they are foreclosed. Most of these homes are in older, modest suburbs and no normal person will buy these giant 800,000 dollar houses surrounded by traditional 450,000 dollar houses.

These homes prior to being foreclosed on were always occupied by Mestizo or SE Asian Clans.

Charlotte said...

"The kneejerk blasting of even slight ornamentation, and the hyperactive tone of voice, suggest a Puritanical and authoritarian streak. Again they never say what their idea of nice buildings are, but you can be sure that they wouldn't look "charming".

I've been following this Persian House blog for some time, and sometimes I feel guilty that I really don't get why they are supposed to be so "ugly." Some are. Too much extraneous matter that has no function. Way too busy, busy, busy. And definitely too much of a muchness. Still, there is a gaudy beauty to some. Victorian gingerbread, and other fancy-pants architectural styles have been held in derision for their overdoneness. This quasi-Persian style actuall sort of fits stylistically in this mileu. 100 yrs from now, should they escape vengeful wrecking crews, they'll be in demand and protected as historic residences.
Give me UPHs over the US interpretation of Bauhaus anyday. The U.S. hasn't had a strong aesthetic architecture since Art Decco. Where I live, in the past 25 yrs, they have been using some elements of that to make the new buildings more interesting, more something on which the eye would wish to linger in appreciation and contemplation.
I wonder what the locals had to say about the temples in Athens when they first went up? Ruining the neighborhood with those fancy schmancy columns, yada yada yada.

Carol said...

"there is no frozen in time version of LA. or any city."

I know what you're saying, but there are older areas of LA that have lots of greenery and Spanish Revival buildings. Some small parts of Glendale, Pasadena and Hollywood do actually seem frozen in time.

Anonymous said...

my house has nonweigh-baring columns. they look great.

agnostic said...

Columns don't have to do anything. Plenty of ornamental things got started as functional objects. Insisting that functional things stay that way is stultifying.

Not that some of those purposeless columns don't look weird in their arrangement, but most of the pictures don't.

The buttons on the cuffs of most men's suits, jackets, and coats are totally non-functional. They once used to have functioning button-holes to fasten up the cuff, but now they're completely decorative.

Same thing with shoulder straps on a jacket or coat -- it used to hold military decoration, or keep the over-the-shoulder part of a Sam Browne belt from riding up onto the neck. Now they're decorative only.

What about combat boots for people who live in cities or the burbs? Or camouflage patterns rendered non-functional and purely ornamental outside the jungle?

Some people take function too seriously.

Anonymous said...

“I bet that Alexander the Great's guys already thought of the Persians as gaudy.”

After Marathon and Plataea, the Greeks made a fortune taking gold jewelry from the Persian corpses. And yes the Greek perceived the Persian use of gold/silk to be gaudy and unmanly.

Herodotus writes:

“the Greeks dispersed themselves about the Persian camp and found tents furnished with gold and silver, and beds overlaid with gold and overlaid with silver, and mixing-bowls of gold, and cups and drinking vessels [i.e., rhytons]. They found also sacks laid upon wagons, in which there proved to be caldrons both of gold and of silver; and from the dead bodies which lay there they stripped bracelets and collars, and also their swords if they were of gold”


“I thought non-Ashkenazi Jews were all basically of average intelligence.”

Since to my knowledge no one has I.Q tested Iranian Jews, we simply don’t know. Murray is probably right and Cochrane wrong about non-Ashkenazi Jews.

According to Census, among Iranians living in L.A. 24% have Graduate or Professional degrees compared to 10% for the U.S average. Due to selection, this group almost certainly has above average I.Q.

The only quibble I have with Sailer’s review is that he doesn’t point out that “A Seperation” is, ever so gently, a subversive movie which criticizes the regime (by showing how hard day to day life is for middle class people, and by showing Islam in a negative light). This is an important reason why Iranians like the movie.

/Victarion

IHTG said...

These look like the same homes that many affluent Irsaeli's build.

No way. Anybody who built a home like that in Israel would be considered to have "Arab taste" (a grievous insult).

helene edwards said...

Thanks for the Isherwood piece. The Horizon people referred to that (month's?) issue as "the number," a usage I've never seen before.

alonzo portfolio said...

So Henry Doelger's finally off the hook?

Anonymous said...

Houses designed to scare Santa Claus away even in low visibility conditions.

Gawdy gold chains, huge bottles of cologne, track suits.

The Shah's hostile elite arrived here en masse after the Ayatollas took over. They immediately bought a million gas stations. No media coverage at the time. I wonder how many savvy gold chain "refugees" are arriving now on our shores due to the Arab Spring.

Diversity Sucks.

David Davenport said...

The kneejerk blasting of even slight ornamentation, and the hyperactive tone of voice, suggest a Puritanical and authoritarian streak.

Please explain to us why Puritanical and/or authoritarian streaks are bad, Mr. Kultur Leftist. Don't merely say Puritanism and authoritarianism is bad, say why.

The buttons on the cuffs of most men's suits, jackets, and coats are totally non-functional. They once used to have functioning button-holes to fasten up the cuff, but now they're completely decorative.

I once met anti-radical chic writer Tom Wolfe up close. He was wearing a canary yellow suit, including vest. His suit jacket had functioning button holes.

Kylie said...

"Columns don't have to do anything."

No, but they do tend to look weird when they're just tacked on to a building. Breasts don't have to do anything, either, but I hear plenty of men complain about obviously fake, non-functional ones stuck on some poor woman's chest. Both columns and breasts tend to look better when they look like part of an organic whole.

"Plenty of ornamental things got started as functional objects. Insisting that functional things stay that way is stultifying."

There's a difference between something that's still put somewhere even though it may no longer serves its original function and something put where you can easily see it would never serve any functional purpose in that place.

I have a brass door knocker on my front door that no one ever uses because 1) I also have a doorbell and 2) I keep the storm door locked so the dogs can't escape. But I won't remove the brass door knocker just as I wouldn't put a brass knocker on, say, an interior door just to dress it up. The columns in the pictures I saw didn't look as though they were holding anything up so to me, they just looked silly.

"What about combat boots for people who live in cities or the burbs? Or camouflage patterns rendered non-functional and purely ornamental outside the jungle?"

It looks stupid.

Some people take function too seriously."

True, but I'm not one of them. I take design seriously. Frankly, for most things, I don't care if they are functional as long as they look functional. Of course, good design can also have playful, fanciful, non-functional elements to it, which is why I described the UPH as magnificently ugly. But tacked-on, non-functional excrescenses are not usually thought of as elements of good design.

jody said...

south park did a spoof of this exact trend, by the way.

http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s11e06-d-yikes

idealart said...

"Frankly, for most things, I don't care if they are functional as long as they look functional."

Are your walls unadorned? If you do hang artwork you either:

1) have a soul, or

2) are engaged in class war.

Or both I suppose.

PS: Some people may have thought I mispelled "gaudy". I did not. I was referring to the great Antonio.

Anonymous said...

The palaces in my corner of Sherman Oaks are Israeli, not Persian. Better looking (Downtown Disney as opposed to Teheran exurban) but shoddier construction.

Kylie said...

"Some people may have thought I mispelled[sic] 'gaudy'. I did not. I was referring to the great Antonio."

But you misspelled "misspelled".

Mr. Anon said...

I heard a spot on the radio advertising a new reality show called "The Shahs of Los Angeles" or something - about young, fashionable persians.

robertw said...

The houses look unproportional and wierd, but no worse than most of the others built today. They are "post-modern" in that they take features that don't go together or are oversized and jam them together in an incongruous way. But most houses built today have that bizarre toy-like look. Don't see any reason to blame the persians for building their own version of post-modern fake "traditional"...

Anonymous said...

Jealous much? Perhaps you all are very jealous because you can’t have a house like that. It’s their house and they can do whatever they want with it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are fucking an idiot racist. Why do you care how other people’s houses look like any way?