Clinton Manor is an apartment complex located at 5184 Clinton Street in the Larchmont neighborhood of Midtown Los Angeles. I visited yesterday for what my be the last time, to help some friends and tenants prepare for their move to Portland, Oregon. I’ve always thought that it had a certain charm and decided to write about it for Homes Fit For Heroes.
At roughly 7,250 people per square kilometer, Larchmont is one of the most densely-populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles — itself the most densely-populated city in the nation’s most densely-populated urban area. A plurality, 30%, of Larchmont’s residents are Asian-American, mostly Korean. About 25% are non-Latino white. 3% are black. 56% of residents were born abroad. 37% of the residents are Latino of any race, mostly of either Mexican or Guatemalan ancestry.
Clinton Manor was constructed in 1940 on land subdivided by I.A. Weid. I’m not sure whether or not it’s its original color but today Clinton Manor is painted a soothing pale pink — the color of soothing products like calamine lotion, pink bismuth, and some brands of adhesive bandages. Both the buildings and courtyard are in the American Colonial Revival style. Their are bay windows and pretty stairway tiles. The units’ themselves are modest — the brass peepholes in the front doors are the most interesting detail, literally connecting the exterior to the interiors.
Although the sign in front refers to the complex as “Clinton Manor Garden Apartments,” they’re more properly courtyard apartments. Garden apartments
developed from courtyard apartments but are much grander in scale. Wyvernwood, a celebrated garden apartment in Boyle Heights, was constructed a year before Clinton Manor and is comprised of 1,187 units situated on 28 hectares. By comparison, Clinton Manor has just 54 units and occupies about half a hectare.
Courtyard apartments represent a step forward from bungalow court apartments, which along with duplexes and fourplexes, dominated multiple family housing in the years before the Great Depression, when only the working class typically lived in them. By the time courtyard apartments appeared, middle class and wealthy urban dwellers increasingly chose to live in multi-family housing and the detached house surrounded by a grass moat was increasingly banished to the bleak, suburban outland. Located as it was within walking distance of the studios of RKO, Columbia, United Artists, 20th Century Fox, and CBS, Clinton Manor was early on likely to have been home to many Angelenos involved in the film industry.
I asked Tim (one of those moving and frequent traveling companion on many episodes of California Fool’s Gold) whether or not he ever sees any of his neighbors broach the hedges to sit on the lawns and he said that he occasionally sees people lug folding chairs over the manicured hedges onto the manicured, grass lawns. I asked whether or not he ever socialized with his neighbors and he said no, and added that he didn’t even know any of their names — but this probably says more about Tim than the intention of the complex’s designers.
Gardens in the Colonial period, which this landscape seeks to evoke, were typified by rectilinear beds with straight pathways. Clinton Manor’s maze-like hedgerow-bordered walkways force residents to take indirect paths and increase the likelihood of their bumping into neighbors. Patios, too, are shared and staircases are located outside. It seems like a fair amount of thought went into forcing neighborly interactions.
On the other hand, whereas the beds of Colonial gardens were used to grow ornamental flowers, fruits, herbs, and vegetables; the hedge-quarantined areas of Clinton Manor’s courtyards are entirely non-productive — surrendered to drought-intolerant, upkeep-intensive, pretty much useless grass.
The saving grace of the grass “gardens” is a lone, stately magnolia. Although impressive, I’ve never in all my visits seen it used for social gathering, solo meditation, or otherwise demonstrably enjoyed. I did, however, enjoy the site of what looks to me to be a parasitic plant of some sort apparently enjoying the company of one of the palms in front of the complex. It certainly doesn’t look to me like the plant’s flower.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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