In the City of Angels, you can live in a hillside house where the courtyard juts into the sky and spills out over a precipice. There are walls made out of glass, creating the illusion that what lies outside—trees, a thousand city lights, or the yellow desert hills—is a part of your living room. Houses manage to encapsulate a sense of spareness and solitude in the midst of a city with almost ten million inhabitants.
I grew up a few miles south of Los Angeles’s famous east/west artery, Sunset Boulevard, down the hill from the types of celebrity homes that best demonstrate a classic Los Angeles aesthetic. Brentwood, a wealthy enclave between UCLA and the Santa Monica beach, is home to some of the earliest examples of modern architecture. Our apartment is on the second floor of a brown, two-story building just on the borderline between Brentwood and West Los Angeles. It is not particularly chic, but there were jade plants, pollution-pink sunsets, and olive trees outside our windows. Before the cream-colored condominiums arrived, anyway.
When I return home I spend time at a coffee shop that stands on an odd block: outdoor seating spills onto a concrete triangle that sticks out between San Vicente Boulevard and Gorham like a peninsula. Some time before the café arrived, there was an Italian restaurant that faired poorly after one of its waiters was found murdered alongside Nicole Brown Simpson just a few blocks away. Today, espresso machines reflect light with the sophistication of a black-and-white photograph in the noisy coffee bar. The bright blue day makes a lovely backdrop for the coral trees that stand parallel to the café’s wall of north-facing windows. An elderly woman once told me that when she first moved west, this part of the city consisted of little more than a grove of orange trees.
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