Nest­ing in Echo Park

Los Angeles Times - - HOME & DESIGN - BY LISA BOONE lisa.boone@latimes.com Twit­ter: @lis­a­boone19

As devel­oper Casey Lynch leads a tour of the new 18- unit Black­birds hous­ing pro­ject in Echo Park, he stops in the cen­tral court­yard for a mo­ment. ¶ “We call it a liv­ing street,” he says, tak­ing it in. “It feels good to be out here.”

Black­birds, named for the im­age of a com­mu­nity of birds rest­ing around a pool of wa­ter, is the latest ur­ban in­fill de­vel­op­ment built un­der the city’s Small Lot Sub­di­vi­sion Or­di­nance, which was de­signed to al­low de­vel­op­ers to build sev­eral de­tached homes on a sin­gle par­cel of land. In this case, 18 homes have re­placed five di­lap­i­dated sin­gle- fam­ily homes. Res­i­dents will own their house and the land and will have no home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion fees. Trash dis­posal, mail­boxes and gar­dens will be com­mu­nal.

The medium- den­sity, two- and three- story homes on 27,776 square feet, de­vel­oped by the Los An­ge­les­based Lo­cal Con­struct and de­signed by noted ar­chi­tect Bar­bara Bestor, of­fi­cially hit the mar­ket on June 12, with move- ins sched­uled for Au­gust.

The homes’ pitched roofs and black- and- white ex­te­rior cladding are a strik­ing ad­di­tion to the steep hill­side. “Echo Park has a tra­di­tion of be­ing a bo­hemian en­clave with in­for­mal wooden houses and hunt­ing lodges,” says Bestor, who has lived in the neigh­bor­hood sev­eral times since the 1990s. “That ver­nac­u­lar works in those hills. The ques­tion for me was, can I bring that to a dense form of habi­ta­tion?”

Even crit­ics of small- lot de­vel­op­ment would prob­a­bly ad­mit the lay­out and open court­yard re­tain the char­ac­ter of the ur­ban but rus­tic hill­side neigh­bor­hood.

Rather than de­sign tra­di­tional sin­gle- fam­ily homes in which each one has a garage, Bestor de­vised an open cen­tral­ized area where cars can be parked un­cov­ered. Or not. Stand in the park­ing court, and you can imag­ine the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a flex­i­ble public plaza. “It’s a nice way to cre­ate a third space,” Bestor says of the shared out­door area.

When the cars are gone, the court­yard be­comes some­thing else. “Maybe only one home­owner has a car?” Lynch sug­gests. “Or per­haps you want to have a bar­be­cue? You can ask your neigh­bors to park on the street to give you more space.”

Bestor’s com­mu­nity- cen­tric de­sign is in­tended to pro­mote en­gage­ment. “Ev­ery­one faces their neigh­bors. When you come in, you see each other. You can have more day- to- day in­ter­ac­tions with your neigh­bors.” Adding to the sense of in­ter­con­nec­tion, Bestor placed all of the kitchens along the perime­ter of the court­yard where peo­ple en­ter and exit as a way to “set up a com­mu­nity.”

In a whim­si­cal touch, sev­eral of the homes are sep­a­rated by a 6- inch gap that Bestor calls “stealth den­sity.” The sliver of space be­tween homes is cov­ered by a zipper- like flap nor­mally used for wa­ter­proof­ing. This “con­ceals” den­sity by cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion that two houses are one and three units are one and a half.

Black­birds has four ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els rang­ing from a 1,360- squarefoot two- bed­room, three- bath home for $ 795,000 to a 1,930- square- foot three- bed­room, three- bath house ( with a two- car garage) for $ 1.1 mil­lion.

The in­te­ri­ors, which are nar­row and range from 18 to 24 feet wide, have a spa­cious feel­ing due to vaulted ceil­ings and sky­lights. The first f loors have an open floor plan that in­cludes the kitchen, din­ing and liv­ing rooms. Some units have white oak floors, oth­ers pol­ished con­crete. Drapes are in­stalled in place of closet doors to add soft­ness. Three of the sin­gle- fam­ily homes have en­closed garages and ground- level of­fices; smaller units have can­tilevered bal­conies, sunken court­yards and pri­vate back­yards. In a nod to Mod­ernist ar­chi­tect Ru­dolph Schindler, Bestor in­stalled built- ins, such as book­cases, and f lex­i­ble spa­ces where you can place a desk at the top of the stairs. “We tried to do as many Schindler- like Aha! mo­ments as we could,” she says.

These are the kind of de­tails that devel­oper Lynch thinks will ap­peal to prospec­tive buy­ers. “They will be pur­chas­ing a new ar­chi­tec­tural home in Los An­ge­les start­ing at $ 795,000,” he says, adding that they could have built more units on the site.

But can in­fill de­vel­op­ment, as Lynch sug­gests, help L. A.’ s hous­ing cri­sis?

At press time, three units have sold and one is on hold. Five are avail­able and nine have yet to be re­leased. Nearly 500 visi­tors came through the first open house on June 14.

A VIEW OF Black­birds, a new hous­ing com­mu­nity in L. A.’ s Echo Park neigh­bor­hood.

Pho­tog r aphs by Anne Cu­sack Los An­ge­les Times

A LIV­ING ROOM and kitchen are part of an open f loor plan on the f irst f loor that also in­cludes a din­ing room in a two- bed­room unit. Some units have white oak f loors, oth­ers pol­ished con­crete.

AL­COVE in a Black­birds home. In a Mod­ernist touch, the units have f lex­i­ble spa­ces.

MASTER BED­ROOM in a two- bed­room at Black­birds, which has four ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els.

A PA­TIO AREA in the 18- home de­vel­op­ment. Smaller units have pri­vate back­yards.

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