A Gold Mine of Myths in the District of Vats, Docks, and Deals

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Loft112CenterSt.2psConstruction of the Art Dock loft, 1980

All the stories concerning the loss of Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse verge on fiction. They project a history that if not yet, soon will be fantasy. Reading the various reports and opinions, I found myself laughing, but not because they were funny, rather because they implied attributes to the Arts District, the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, and the Art Dock that weren’t real. As Sabrina Nucciarone, paraphrasing the writers of the movie “La La Land,” states in her letter to Metro protesting the proposed demolition of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, “Los Angeles…is the city that worships everything and values nothing.”  The statement is basically correct but misses what Los Angeles worships most and values the greatest: box office. To put it another way, profit. The path that leads to the gold mine starts by instilling myths in events, places, and populations. Myths are useful in many ways. They enhance economic value. They foster illusions that can be exploited. They fashion qualities that are best when sanitized and normalized. Creativity is a prime example. I see the blockbuster film, “Springtime for The Arts District,” coming soon, giving the audience tragedy, the fire in the warehouse, and resurrection by the intrepid artists.  Maybe it’s a musical like “LA LA Land.”

The path starts with small inaccuracies: the Arts District as powerful cultural force about to be destroyed, the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse as the first building to become artists’ lofts in Downtown, and the Art Dock as an innovative artists’ collective, the first drive-through art gallery. All three of these ideas are fabrications. The Art Dock was neither an artists’ collective, nor a drive-through art gallery. I ought to know — I started and ran it. I started it as a joke.  The joke took on a life of its own. Never was it a collective, which is a description that implies group control and perhaps aesthetics.  To be a drive-through gallery was an impossibility. A vehicle would have to use my studio as a passageway. The gallery, if you stretched the word enough, was drive-by, more like a sign, a billboard, or a creche, like a lawn display, Jesus’ birth in the manger with the three kings standing worshipping the baby. The only way I could get official recognition of one installation was to say to the City that a sukkah created in the loading dock was a holiday installation. The definition allowed me to keep open the installation and not fireproof the dry stakes surrounding a hammock.

Succoh 3psMargaritaville, a sukkah by Miles Forst, Art Dock, fall 1982

The Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse was definitely not the first warehouse or building in the Arts District to become artist lofts. In actuality, the building was never in the fuzzy boundaries of the Arts District as defined by the City of Los Angeles. Rather the structure was converted in a second surge after a first band of artists discovered that the cheap often-vacant structures could be rented or held through master leases. Part of the group called themselves the Young Turks. They began the swell. The artists included: Marc Kreisel, John Peterson, Steven Seemayer, Linda Burnham, and others. Marc Kreisel was the impresario of Al’s Bar, a run-down hang out that more than any other place defined the Bohemian flavor of the area. He. along with other artists, and some fearless investors bought the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse for not much and rented out spaces to other artists willing to risk building out a space in the building without permits for an illegal use. John Peterson, painter and sculptor, gained media attention at the time through creation of bum shelters that he placed in the district.  With wit about housing and a sense for profit, John and a partner similarly was able to buy another building and lease it out to other artists. His building also lay outside the boundary of the Arts District. What was and still is the Arts District remains without an actual limit.

Bum shelters-1psLos Angeles, Bum Shelter #4, 1979 by John Peterson

 If there is a definable first artists’ building in the Arts District, it is the American Hotel. The American was a shabby tiny railroad-related hotel that began as the only place African-Americans could rent a room. The hotel was the overnight place rail conductors and porters were welcome in racist Los Angeles. This little three-story structure with small rooms and toilets down the hall was the place artists seeking space in the warehouse district found rooms to explore and find more permanent studios. Many artists stayed in the hotel making it their home. Stephen Seemayer, artist and filmmaker, with his wife Pamela Wilson, who lived in the American and tended bar in its drinking establishment, have told the hotel’s story in their film “Tales of the American” www.talesoftheamerican.com. This was where the gritty American Los Angeles Bohemian Arts District began, and where it will die, if it hasn’t already. The American Hotel has been refurbished into a boutique hotel. One night in the hotel costs $150. In 1980 you could probably stay in the hotel for a month for $150.

AmericanHotelexin-1psRefurbished American Hotel, Arts District, Los Angeles, 2019

The Arts District is a place without an association with any art movement, without an edge, and without definition. Arts District is an advertisement providing the area with cachet.  The area east of Alameda, west of the Los Angeles River, south from 1st Street, and with some vague outline around 7th Street, has no buildings in it other than the American Hotel that are essential to its definition. No Left Bank of Paris with its avant-garde Impressionism or Cubism define it. No Greenwich Village or Soho of New York with its Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art make it essential to a certain cultural expression. The Arts District could be said to be the center of 1970s-1980s Performance Art. Linda Burnham, the poet and founder of High Performance magazine, and Rachel Rosenthal, the startling artist who appeared often enough with her rat, Tattywaffles, on her head, and started Espace DBD, lived in the district, but the association is tangential as Performance Art erupted all over the city at the time.

The Arts District came into existence though the diligence of one man, Joel Bloom, who established the artists’ convenience store. His store was in the American Hotel, and he was a committed promoter of the community. Nonetheless the Arts District had already changed by the time he appeared. Bohemia was fast disappearing. Artists were becoming more a poorly paid professional class, and the developers had moved in. Rents were escalating. Alternative galleries were beginning to disappear, and restaurants were established. No one complained at first. At the very least, you could go out to dinner in the neighborhood, even if the best thing was octopus ink noodles with shrimp. When the trend toward gentrification became a tidal wave, protests began. The artists were being driven from the zone they had established. Martyrdom was declared. The situation brings to mind the myth of Jeanne D’Arc, the saintly heroine of the French resistance to the English occupation, whom noble collaborators burned at the stake in 1456.

The last article in this series is titled “Joan of Art” and looks at what the Downtown LA Art Community as expressed by the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse and the Art Dock signified.

 

 

 

 

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Pickle Works/ Citizens Warehouse Epic

This is the third of five articles about the 130 year old Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, an artist loft building demolished in January 2019 after a fire in November 2018

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Burned at the Stake – Holders

cw-1jpgThe Burned Citizens Warehouse, November 9, 2018, with Firefighter outside The Art Dock

The Citizens Warehouse went up in flames two weeks after it was saved. “Why did it burn?” the fire chief was asked, “Was it arson?” “Not likely,” the chief replied. “Homeless people have been setting fires inside for a long time. The blaze was probably caused by them trying to cook within and heat their squat against the cold.”  I was suspicious.  If fire wasn’t caused deliberately, it certainly fit the description of a purposeful calculation.  Could it have been arson by neglect?  I thought about my previous visit to the boarded-up artist studios.

My belief that the building was vacant when it was locked up in un-openable steel barriers was erroneous.  I let the impression of an empty building buttoned up in forbidding grillwork, and further marked with warning signs that any trespass or even parking on the street would be prosecuted, led me to a visual conclusion that the pull down was intended and purposeful.  I didn’t acknowledge what I had seen and hadn’t accounted for.   The Potemkin-like prison presented to the public street obscured a breach that hid behind. The fire chief’s assessment of a random blaze, not arson, caused me to reconsider an alternative conclusion.

After the release of the DEIR for public comment, I made a final visit to say goodbye to the home of the Art Dock, which had a pivotal role in my life as an artist.  The demolition of the barricaded structure seemed inevitable. The formidable steel coverings over every window, door, and loading dock along Center Street screamed the warehouse’s planned elimination, but I overlooked a jarring visible piece of evidence.

Going around the end of the structure to the rear façade, I saw a flimsy chain link fence with no gate or lock.  A filthy green sheet and worn paisley coverlet were draped over the barbed wire on the fence top.  Hesitating for a moment to see if a down-and-out inhabitant might confront me, I stepped inside the barrier. Along the façade I could see that no provision had been made to seal up the openings. The width of the space between the wall and a second chain link fence that defined the existing rail lines was narrow, perhaps just ten feet wide. The area was strewn with mattresses, soiled clothes, abandoned shoes, boxes, and assorted wrecked possessions.  I was within a sizable but linear homeless encampment. There was no one in the camp. It was creepy. I backed out.  Peering across the empty space, which once was the south end of the Citizens Warehouse, I could clearly see a guardhouse at the primary access to Metro’s existing yards and shops beyond the First Street Bridge.  Situated in the shade of the overhead structure, the guardhouse was occupied.  The occupant could see anyone enter this homeless zone.  He looked at me; I looked at him. He stood and started to emerge from the hut. I scurried away and forgot about what I had seen.

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              Homeless Encampment Behind the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, 2018

24 hours a day, a security guard can watch people meandering along the street, and their comings and goings into the encampment behind the building. Anyone entering could be reported and driven away. They obviously weren’t.  Putting together what was revealed on the site, what the approved plan described, and the timing of the destructive blaze that turned the historic context to ash, I came to the opinion that what had transpired was a brilliant solution to the trouble that would soon appear.  The homeless residents provided a convenient scapegoat for the demolition of the envisioned   preservation project, which I thought was doomed to failure from the first demolition event in 2007.  The fire could be attributed to their careless inhabitation. Arson need not investigated.  No conspiracy is provable; however, the blaze provides Metro with what it really desired.

My assessment is based on these factors.  Allowing the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse to be accessible from behind made the site vulnerable to occupation by homeless people. These uprooted often mentally ill people can be relied upon to create havoc in an inadequately policed building. The approved plan called for preservation of a very diminished structure. The extent of demolition would leave only a small remnant of the once long and large warehouse.  Finding a funder willing to undertake the many improvements needed to make a viable project of the segment remaining would be very difficult. Efforts to locate a developer or institutional buyer were unsuccessful before, when there was more building available. After Metro sawed off the south end of the building, the project’s financial viability became nearly nil.  For this preservation project to be profitable was a long shot at best. In the revised environmental impact plan Metro committed itself to protect and preserve the materials that defined the vernacular construction, if an appropriate developer or institutional owner could be found.  The fire destroyed that possibility and most of the historic material. The wood column, beams, and flooring were incinerated. All that remained was the masonry shell that enclosed the interior. The masonry, contrary to claims of its importance, was pretty ordinary stuff. In my opinion, the fire cleared the site giving the Metro planners what they originally wanted, a large rail storage yard.  In January 2019, Metro began total demolition of the structure.  As of January 21, most of the structure was demolished. The Art Dock was gone. The bricks and the charred interior wood were being shoveled into a trash hauling trailer.

demoingcw0122119-1ps

Demolition of The Citizens Warehouse as of January 22, 2019

I am not surprised by what took place.  A restoration/preservation project could never be built profitably on the ruins, but I didn’t take into consideration the tenacity of the local arts community.  They had an agreement with the city and Metro to utilize the part of the site that they had agreed to relinquish in the revised DEIR for community use.  They propose holding the stakeholders to their commitment. The properties across the street from demolished building are for sale. If these properties are combined with the area of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse slated for reuse, a large site for artist space can be assembled. This site, including air rights over the ruins, might make a profitable development, that could include affordable artist housing and community uses. Evidence that the affected parties are considering the deal is reflected in stockpiled bricks and salvaged wood beams in the hole in the ground where the vats once were.  The concept is not a done deal.  Attempts to create affordable artist spaces have been proposed in the past, to not avail, but a new Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse provides hope that Arts District will actually include artists in the future.

What I find interesting at this point is how the fire was reported, and how that reporting speaks to the demise of the downtown art community as it was and how it reflects what it is today and will become in the future. This is the subject of the next article, “Making Myth of the Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse and the Art Dock.”

 

 

 

 

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Pickle Works/ Citizens Warehouse Epic

This is the second of five articles about the 130 year old Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, an artist loft building demolished in January 2019 after a fire in November 2018

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Saved by the Vats

The artists living in the Citizens Warehouse never understood what the huge vats were in the building’s basement. The illegal artist community was more amazed that anyone would rent the low-ceilinged space, where a grid of channels surrounding pedestal-mounted large redwood columns spaced about 14 feet on centers ran between the thick brick foundation walls.  In the warehouse’s center on the area’s south edge the channels ended at the pits. The channels were valleys in which a tall person could stand upright next to flat concrete surfaces that provided only a height of five-plus feet to the ceiling joists. Only short people could occupy this huge space; and this was possible for the artist, his French wife, and their four-year old son, Will. Using big black plastic tarps, the family partitioned off the vats and subdivided the rat-shared space for living and working.

will-5ps

Will in the Basement of the Citizens Warehouse, 1980

The artist was paying three cents per square foot for 4,000 square feet ($120 per month), but the family didn’t last long in the basement. For maybe a year, they toughed it out. The shared inhabitants were noisy and fast, darting across the studio at all hours of the day.  The basement didn’t provide light and ventilation for the artist’s fabrication of painted vacuum-formed 5-foot-tall half penguins. The artist, family, and penguins moved to Hollywood. Another artist tried to construct an airplane in the part of the basement next to the bridge, but fire inspectors ended that project when they uncovered flammable paint. The artist and his homemade flying machine were evicted. For most of the Artist in Residence (AIR) history the basement was a place where artists stacked their unsold works.

A building with a basement is a rare phenomenon in Los Angeles. This partially subterranean space with small clerestory windows that provided a soft dull light around the perimeter. I humorously referred to the area as a weird columbarium, where the anonymous were buried beneath the higher platform grids above the valley paths. The brick tubs could have been where the dead were washed. No one in the art community knew these vats were employed to ferment cucumbers into pickles until the LA Conservancy, in its effort to preserve and prevent the south end of this prime example of vanishing Victorian era vernacular industrial architecture with hand hewn redwood square columns and beams covered with milled maple flooring, identified the building as the Pickle Works.

When the first section of the building was constructed in 1888, it was called the “California Vinegar and Pickle Company.”  The spot was ideally situated next to the cucumber fields of the Los Angeles pueblo and river, not far from the ocean with its infinite supply of required salty brine for pickling, and conveniently located along the new railroads for transportation of fermented pickles. As the city grew and the railroad expanded, the Pickle Works grew.  In 1905 and again in 1909, the building was elongated, a second story was added, and it changed use. Pickle-making ended, and the building became a paper box-making plant employing 200 people.

As the years past, the building then became a storage facility. The Pickle Factory became the Citizens Warehouse. Finally, in the late 1970s the empty structure became artist housing. In 2005, the Pickle Works Building was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a rare-for-Los-Angeles surviving 117-year old brick industrial building.  In 2006, The Library of Congress described and made a photographic survey of the structure. The black and white photographs showed the unique character of the building, then occupied by the downtown art community.

Yet registration as a historic place didn’t take place.  The City of Los Angeles bought the building, evicted the artists, and demolished the southern 75 feet for construction of the Gold Line expansion into East Los Angeles, and the widening of the First Street Bridge to accommodate the light rail line down the center of the bridge. The initial proposal called for only 35 feet to be destroyed, but that number was increased to allow for a construction staging area.  Pressured by the art community, the City agreed to resurface the lopped-off end and seek a developer to restore what was left. It didn’t happen. For ten years the warehouse remained vacant as the Los Angeles Conservancy and the art community struggled to find an investor to restore and reuse the Citizens Warehouse. Community advocates finally got the reluctant City to fulfill its promise to refinish the eyesore plywood-surfaced south elevation. The effort was a pathetic parody of phony windows and shutters made of thin sheet metal pinned to the façade. The sheet metal distorted and twisted exposed to the sun.

cw cut down-1ps

         South Wall of the Citizens Warehouse before and after Restoration

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Draft Environment Impact Report (DEIR) released for public comment in March 2018 called for total demolition of the remaining part of the warehouse. The authority’s planners stated the warehouse area was needed for storage of rail cars for the Red and Purple Lines. During the allotted time for public comment, the MTA received 49 comments regarding the project’s plan. The majority of the comments were about the intended destruction of the Pickle Works aka the Citizens Warehouse. The preservationists reiterated the arguments for keeping the building because of its construction character and it long 130-year history.  Judith Randall in an email, April 27, 2018 wrote:

“How could anyone even think of demolishing a structure called the Pickle Works Building? From its vintage shutters still proudly adorning the windows after all these years to its rough knobby stucco walls and its floors worn down from the souls of boots of workers who couldn’t possibly conceive of today’s electronic age.  And that is why preserving as much of Pickle Works Building is so vital to our connection to the past. Its not just Los Angeles history, it’s hanging onto and protecting the innocence of that period when things were so much more on the human side.”

 The importance of the Pickle Works to the culture of Los Angeles was referenced in several comments. Artist George Herms lived in the structure, Paul McCarthy exhibited there, and Michael Blake, the author of “Dances with Wolves,” frequently visited the building to shower, since the abandoned gas station, now gone, where he resided was nearby. Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy for the LA Conservancy, wrote a long letter in support of saving the building. He states, mentioning the artist and writer of these comments:

“By the 1970s, the building was known as the Citizens Warehouse. As is typical of buildings in this district, this one was left vacant as a manufacturing moved out of the center city. The large, empty spaces were ideal for artists, who bought the building and rented out space to other artists for studios. Citizens Warehouse, … has a particularly noteworthy connection to the Arts District. It was the location of the Art Dock, an ever-changing feature of the neighborhood from 1980 to 1986, in which local artist Carlton Davis used the loading dock of his rented portion of the building as an innovative drive-up gallery space.”

The effort to save the warehouse was successful. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was altered to preserve part of the building, and on October 25, 2018, the report was accepted by the Metro Transportation Authority’s Board. The report’s Mitigation Measure CR-3 was “expanded to not only protect and preserve portions of the building not needed for the proposed project, but to also preserve the opportunity to restore portions that were removed by a prior project.” The qualifiers are important to note in this decision.

The Metro team also concluded that the location of the storage yard and the geometry required to connect the tracks made it infeasible to avoid demolition of the warehouse’s east wall. Metro would saw-cut through the first floor, second floor and roof along the eastern and northern sides of the structure. They would salvage and store the original materials to rebuild the previously-demolished 75 feet of structure, if the reconstruction were proven to be financially viable, and an appropriate use could be found that meets the approval of the local community.

The usable space remaining to this lopped and sliced off building would be minimal compared to what it originally was — just 26, 000 square feet would be left or recreated on three levels: a second floor, first floor, and an uninhabitable basement, which conceivably would still include the vats. Finding an entity to invest in such a bastardized building would be difficult. The preservation and restoration project for the Citizens Warehouse sounded good. Everyone celebrated a community and preservationist victory, but the win was Pyrrhic, more elusive than feasible and more a feel-good political stunt than good faith possibility. Sabrina Nucciarone summarized her take in an email comment dated April 27, 2018 regarding the Pickle Works Building:

“In the words of the writers of the movie La La Land, Los Angeles has the long-suffering personality of being the city that “worships everything and values nothing.”  It is a long-standing joke even in commentaries in movies, television, shows, and documentaries. Don’t be the one that says, “Tear it down.”cwdemo&vats011319 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse Epic

This is the first of five articles about the 130 year old Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, an artist loft building demolished in January 2019 after a fire in November 2018

Article 1

Locked Up and Condemned to Die

Preamble

The Pickle Works/Citizens Warehouse, perhaps the oldest brick warehouse in the city of Los Angeles had a long history. Since its construction in the 1880s, the two-story structure with mysterious large open tanks in the low-ceilinged basement stood near the railroad tracks next to the river. Over its 130 years’ existence, the building was enlarged and served many different uses. It was most associated with the railroad, for which rail cars were unloaded and filled through the loading docks on the building’s east and west sides. The second Los Angeles railroad terminal, Santa Fe Station, called Le Grande Station with its Moorish central dome, was a block away across First Street. Goods shipped on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe were stored in the warehouse When the station was demolished in 1946, the warehouse went into decline. The new freeways ended the demand for rail spur-accessible storage; and concern arose about the earthquake safety of unreinforced brick buildings. In the late 1970s, the vacant structure became illegal loft spaces for artists. Legalization by the “Artist in Residence,” ordinance made live/work spaces popular. Residential use continued through 2006, when the city purchased the facility, evicted the artists, and demolished the south end for construction of the expansion of the Gold Line light rail line over the 1920s-era First Street Bridge. Afterwards, for more than ten years, the Citizens Warehouse remained vacant and was constantly threatened with demolition.

Destruction seemed inevitable after the March 2018 Draft Environmental Impact Report (D.E.I.R.) for the Division 20 Portal Widening/Turnback Facility Project by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) was released. The report recommended the demolition of the Citizens Warehouse in order to accommodate the new train facility’s rail car storage. A final decision would be made by the transit board October 25, 2018, , after a period of public comment.

The following article was written in support of the effort to save the building instigated after publication of the D.E.I.R. The article was published on Esotouric LA’s blog on October 17, 2018. Kim Cooper introduced the guest post written by Carlton Davis, the proprietor of the 1980s Art Dock Drive-by Gallery in the historic building in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, stating:

“What a tragedy that the City of Los Angeles is actively erasing the history and culture of the Arts District, a neighborhood that no longer supports working artists, while capitalizing on their reputation.,,  The final decision on its fate will be made at the Regular Metro Board of Directors Meeting on Thursday, October 25.”

This article is the first of five articles written by Carlton Davis about the fate and the meaning that can be attributed to the Citizens Warehouse epic.

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artdock2018 copyArt Dock and Doorways, Citizens Warehouse aka Pickle Works, Los Angeles, CA, August, 2018

Steel bars, angles, and heavy mesh imprison the Art Dock, all the ground floor openings, and doorways of the Citizens Warehouse. No Trespassing signs declare violators will be prosecuted for parking on the street. The once-vibrant artist residences and studios are vacant and have been since the city of Los Angeles purchased the building in 2005 for construction of the Gold Line light rail extension into East LA. A 75-foot section of the old warehouse next to the First Street Bridge was demolished for bridge widening and construction staging. The extensive destruction was needlessly large. By October 2018, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) eagerly awaits planning permission to demolish what remains of this 1880s brick warehouse with its hand-hewn redwood columns, beams, and oak plank floors. The Division 20 Environmental Impact Study (DEIR) has declared demolition necessary. This is after the city’s earlier promise to preserve the building.

The City and MTA lied for almost 18 years about their intentions. After the 2007 demolition Community and preservationist pressure caused LA City’s Bureau of Engineering to promise to “restore” the south end of the building as part of a good faith effort to save the historic structure as one of the few, if not the only remaining, brick warehouses dating from the 19th century, and to make it usable by the art community because of its significance in the flourishing art community of downtown Los Angeles from the late 1970s to 2000. The Potemkin Village reality that hid the true intentions of the Metro’s transportation planners is obvious from what was ultimately created on the south end of the structure. The wall was given a plaster veneer, and included in the stage set were sheet metal “windows” with shutters flanking and flower boxes below bolted to the wall. The phony windows became curled and bent from the sun because of the shoddy method of their construction and installation. The few bolts attaching the painted sheet metal resulted in a strange tableau of twisted metal like crushed pieces of chewing gum slapped to the façade. It is comical, but revealing.

The proclivity of Los Angeles development is to disregard the past as impeding process to the future. While mass transit is desperately needed in a city choked with traffic, it too often comes with the price of bulldozing the city’s existing context. This is nothing new. The fate of the Citizens Warehouse follows the honored stance of development over everything else. Now locked up inside steel bars, the empty building seems haunted by the ghosts of wild spirits it once held. The warehouse/pickle works is condemned to death for being too full of creative energy. Once an important element of a burgeoning art community, the lost lofts become a metaphor for the loss of the art community in the Los Angeles Arts District. A neighborhood of rambunctious energy turns into a tame zone of cell phone-preoccupied and latte-sipping crowds of wannabe artists and fashionable professionals.

Designated the “Arts District” by the City, the area east of Alameda celebrated and declared Los Angeles’ rise to be a world class center of multi-faceted culture. More than just a cinema capital, LA matured into an art Mecca rivaling New York, London, and Paris. The Arts District, however, is no longer a realization of art’s importance in LA; it is now a very profitable real estate venture. The district became a developer’s dream. Cheaper land close to the government and business centers of the metropolis invited capital investment in new apartment buildings replacing the low-density lofts. A few lofts remain, but the monthly square foot cost rose from 12 cents paid in 1980 to an estimated 2 dollars or more currently. Artists can no longer afford to live in the Arts District. Many of the loft warehouses have morphed into restaurants and chic shops. Others warehouses have been demolished or soon will be. This is the fate of the Citizens Warehouse. The change is inevitable.

In New York City, what was once a viable loft scene, affordable live/work spaces have become the habitats of the rich.  Soho has galleries and fancy restaurants, but not many working artists. Galleries pander to the acquisitive desires of the well-off who can afford the rents. LA Artists have dispersed into other neighborhoods and cities. The Arts District became attractive to others. Where there once few restaurants, the area now has some pretty expensive eateries. Internationally-renowned gallery Hauser & Wirth established itself on Third Street in the heart of the Arts District. It is the punctuation mark on the change that is and will become the icon of another reality about art zones. It’s all about money and who gets it. Except for a few, most artists don’t get the money, but many artists attract the money to where they were. Culture evolves from creativity to financial gain.

The Art Dock installations in the 1980s. Karen Kristin’s “Wolf at the Door” and Drew Lesso’s and Neal Taylor’s “Means to a Natural Order,” the last of their five installations. “Wolf at the Door” created a visual statement of the precariousness of artists in the neighborhood, where wolves in various guises could bar entry through the gateway I ching that represented the beauty of change. “Means to a Natural Order” resurrected another I ching that asked the question, “How can mankind find peace within itself?” Neal Taylor’s other pictorial elements included a pile of leaves in the dock and a broad line of coal dust in the street. The musician Drew Lesso composed a synchronized score played as a continuous loop in which a piccolo sounded like the passing wind and wood blocks and horns provided a counterpoint crescendo of burning coal fireworks. The installation emphasized the temporal nature of art.

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgotten F * * kers

brettkavanaugh-600x402-2-2-2-1

Yale DKE Fraternity Members in the  1980s

I am a sexual assault survivor. When I was a little over five years old, I was attacked in the foster home farm by two boys at least ten years older than I. Rape was a nearly nightly occurrence for months. I can’t say for how long, but like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I remember trivial things: the bunk bed, the room, the window, the clothes dresser, the teddy bear who was silent witness to my terror, the crew cuts of two teenagers and their threat that if I talked they would gut me like a chicken. Like many who are abused by the older and more powerful, I erased from my conscious mind the incidents for 46 years. The intervening years I spent in anger at society and self-destructive behavior. The root cause of my self-hatred and distrust of authority was unknown to me.

 

The trolley clanks up the San Francisco hill toward Alamo Square. I am on my way back after work to the halfway house for drunks and addicts thinking about my screwed-up past when the vivid memories surface. I am lying in my lower bunk bed in the small room with one other bunk bed. All four beds are occupied by boys of a similar age. A window looks out to the chicken coop, where I have the task of feeding the chickens daily. The grimy view separates the two bunks that face each other across a space of maybe five feet. We boys have to keep this space clean. No toys or clothes can litter the floor, or the fat old woman running the home would yell at us. All belongings are required to be kept in two drawers of the two four-drawer dressers placed at the ends of the two bunks. Only my beloved teddy bear shares my bunk. Teddy sits propped up against the wall next to my pillow, and I whisper and cry to him every night.

 

I didn’t remember any of this until a burst of recollections on the trolley.  I was 51 years old. My grandparents drag me kicking and screaming to this place outside Rochester, New York. Grandmother tells the big woman they can’t deal with me. I must stay at the farm until my father can take me after his divorce and remarriage.  Standing among a dozen boys, the big lady tells me I will like the farm with its chickens, goats, cows, and the white horse. The farm is a fun place. The two biggest boys with crewcuts, wearing blue jeans and white tee shirts, stand on either side of the lady with white hair piled up on the top of her head in her print dress. They look at me with crooked smiles. One remarks, “What’s with the long hair? You look like a girl.” “Hush up,” the lady admonishes to the boys she then apologizes to my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa depart, and I am led to the bunk bed room, where I cry all night for my mother.

 

The next night, the door to my room cracks opens. The two big boys slip in and close the door behind them. All four young boys turn to look at them. The crew cuts put their index fingers to their mouths and stare at three of the scared boys. The three turn their heads away and pull the sheets over their heads. They turn to me. One rips the blanket and sheet off and jumps on my back, pinning my arms to the bed, while the other grabs my legs tugging my lower body off the bed. They smell of beer and manure.  I try to scream, but the first boy pushes my face into the mattress. The second boy pulls down my pajama pants and spreads my legs. “Nice ass,” he says, “just like a girl’s. Now you are going to be a girl.” He steps between my legs and forces his erect penis into my rectum. It hurts, but I can’t yell. All I can do is twist and shake. “Good,” the rapist declares, “I like it when the pig wriggles.”  Pumping furiously, Two finally stops and pulls his penis out. Number one leans down over my back and whispers in my ear, “Tomorrow night is my turn,” and lets me go. As they open the door and sneak out. Number One, warns me, “if you squeal on us, we will hurt you bad.”

 

The rapes went on for several months. Not every night; but every night I lived in terror, until my father came and took me away. I never said anything to anyone. My father never knew; nor did my stepmother. As the years went by I hated my parents for allowing this to happen to me, and my grandparents for causing this to happen, and an uncaring society. The anger stayed; the memory faded. Sex I saw as an ugly experience. Society, I believed, was corrupt and full of liars. Alcohol was a way of avoiding conscious feeling. I went to Yale and found many others who masked their emotions in booze. I disliked myself and most of the arrogant and privileged students. In my junior year I attempted suicide. I left the prestigious university, spent a year away, where I grew up and able to see the good in life instead of seeing only the bad.  Coming back to Yale, I finally experienced the wonderful aspects of the university — the intellectual challenges, the  cultural exposure, and the students, who were creative, not all full of themselves, and didn’t all aspire to be inducted into the elite that separated themselves in the tombs of secret societies.

 

I stopped drinking, not because I had insight into its destructive results, but because I witnessed my stepmother become a disabled alcoholic.  I discovered another way to avoid reality. I became a pot head and a cocaine junkie. After a stint at the Betty Ford Center and the time up in the San Francisco, when the realization occurred that I had been sexually assaulted, I began to heal. Restoration took a long time. It began after I stepped off the trolley, and staggered up the mound of Alamo Square. Sitting on a bench looking out over the city of San Francisco, I wept for hours as I recalled the room of the rapes, how I had gotten there, and the terror I had felt. My delayed return to the halfway house that day got me into a lot of trouble. This catharsis was the first event that lead to my eventual ejection from the halfway house.

 

Many relapses occurred after I was thrown out.  I thought I was doomed in the negative hateful mental place I inhabited. Only later did I realize that my recovery required allowing horrid memories to surface, accepting their reality, and forgiving myself.  I finally become free of most of the resentments and all of the resultant addictions that were ruining my life. I still seethe with anger sometimes, especially when I see women and men who have been victims of unthinking egoism that makes it OK to abuse others. “Boys will be boys,” isn’t an adequate excuse for demeaning others because you are rich, white, and bright. The Forgotten F * * kers do not get a free pass for bad behavior. They need to express the truth, to accept their weaknesses as part of abused humanity, to accept their responsibility for abusing other people, and to forgive themselves. Then I will forgive them, as I have forgiven myself for my failures to be decent.

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Vraylar Vagaries & Verities

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Television Advertisement for Vraylar, 2018

A great pile of aluminum foil-wrapped sandwiches surrounds the manic mother who stands at her kitchen counter atop a pyramid of playing cards in beautiful suburbia.  Bipolar I Disorder could topple her reality, perhaps smothering her in ham sandwiches, but there is a solution in Vraylar, a drug from Forest Laboratories Holdings Ltd, an Allergan affiliate. In a second video, a woman in her office on top of a similar stack of playing cards, madly posts “Post It Notes” to a window wall. Vraylar will calm her down. Bipolar Disorder is endemic in 21st Century America. If you’re going to have a mental health issue, this is a good one to have.

 

Celebrities have admitted to being bipolar, and “Silver Linings Playbook” portrays a bipolar man who falls in love with a depressed woman. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the woman in this offbeat romantic comedy, won the Academy Award for Best Female Actor in 2013.  The entertaining attention and the Vraylar commercials trivialize a serious mental condition. They make Bipolar I Disorder an attractive alternative if you are going to be crazy.  Patients eager to improve their perceived or diagnosed screwed-up lives can ask their doctor to give them Vraylar.  No more sandwich marathons. No more blizzards of “Post It Notes.”  You can live happily ever after with the help of a pharmaceutical.

 

The trouble is that Bipolar I Disorder is a serious mental condition. Many afflicted with Bipolar Disorder commit suicide. Many engage in behavior that is extremely dangerous. Illegal drug use, extreme risk taking, violent irritability, and a grandiose sense of self can lead to living on the edge of disaster.  The thrills of these behaviors are far more problematical than excessive “Post It Notes,” and creating too many sandwiches.  The person who loves to be besieged with ideas or gets off in marathon lunch-making is but a tip of the iceberg. Bipolar Disorder people love the up of mania. They want to go even higher, which can lead to psychotic behavior and dangerous actions. Still they love the up.  Unfortunately, I know. I have been there. The illness came close to destroying my life. The ups are followed by severe downs that are characterized by severe depression, isolation, and morbid thoughts of death. I call this the “Bipolar Coaster.” Once I attempted suicide but was saved in a hospital where my stomach was pumped. Many times, I have been close to killing myself. A particularly close encounter was the thought of jumping off a bridge into on-coming freeway traffic. Standing on the bridge, I decided I couldn’t risk someone’s else life by my body falling on or in front of their car. The Vraylar commercials fail to portray this other side of manic/depressive illness. The iceberg crushes the unwary.

 

This is not to say Vraylar is useless. I discussed Vraylar with my psychiatrist not to use, but to understand the effectiveness of the drug. She prescribes the drug for patients who have a combination of anxiety and depression. For these people, Vraylar has a calming effect. However, like all psychiatric prescriptions, one size does not fit all. What works for one person doesn’t for another, and could create conditions of undesirable side effects. I know because it took a long time for me, working with my doctor, to find the right drugs that worked long term and did not make me gain excessive weight or increase my manic behavior. Taking one of the first drugs prescribed for me, my weight escalated by 60 pounds. The Vraylar commercial doesn’t reveal that the use could be ineffective, or counter-effective.

 

The side effects of Vraylar can be catastrophic like:  stroke in elderly patients with dementia, tardive dyskinesia,  a condition in which the patient experiences uncontrolled movements of the body and face, muscle stiffness, or feelings of restlessness that can become permanent, problems with metabolism, Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS) (a potentially fatal condition in which high fever; stiff muscles; confusion; changes in pulse, heart rate, or blood pressure; or sweating that can lead to death. Per government regulation these side effects and more common ones are verbalized in the commercial, but they are quickly passed through as the benefits are extolled and visualized.

 

There is the question of cost. Vraylar is very expensive. A month’s supply is over $1,000. Contrast this with Lamotrigine, which costs about $7 a month with insurance. The high cost of Vraylar would force most health insurance companies to try to demand the patient take a drug of lower cost.  Unless you have a good plan or are rich, Vraylar will set you back more than $14-1/2 grand a year.

 

Then there is the issue of “Big Pharma,” which may or may not be a problem for you.

It is for me. Allergan, the company marketing Vraylar, is the world’s 20th largest pharmaceutical company with revenue at $15.9 billion in 2017, an operating income of $5.9 billion, and a net income of $4.4 billion a year. This translates into 27.6% profit per year.  Pharmaceutical Companies are very profitable. Allergan’s most important drug now is Botox, the beauty treatment popular from Hollywood to Bollywood. Sales were $3.2 billion, and Botox’s market share is 70%, but the drug is under pressure.  A new competing drug is coming to market, and its effects last longer.  The treatment, called RT002, lasts six months compared to three or four months for Botox. Thus, Allergan is seeking new money makers.

 

Vraylar is one of the new money makers. Vraylar’s net revenues grew 72.2% in the second quarter of 2018 to a $114.2 million increase from the prior year’s second quarter. Allergan, an Irish-headquartered corporation, with its affiliate Forest Laboratories, licensed Vraylar from Gedeon Richter PLC, who developed Cariprazine for the treatment of schizophrenia.  Allergan, renaming the drug, is looking to expand the use and develop a large American market, of which the television advertisements are an important part. However, the corporation’s reputation is not very good.

 

Allergan ranks in the middle of the twenty best and worst pharmaceutical companies according to the Reputation Institute.  Its Rept Trak score is 71.8. Its affiliate Forest Laboratories, headquartered in New York, was sued for systematic gender unfairness. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found Forest Laboratories guilty, after six years of litigation, of discrimination against its female employees. This is the court in which Michael Cohen (Trump’s lawyer) pleaded guilty.  I guess his pockets were not deep enough to sustain six years of lawyers’ fees. In 2018, Allergan, along with several other drug manufacturers and distributors, was sued by several municipalities and states in the U.S. owing to the company’s manufacture of opioids. After Trump’s tax cut, Allergan’s Board of Directors authorized repurchase of its stock. No benefits were given to its employees.  Allergan is driven to strong growth, i.e. profit. Vraylar patients beware.

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Filed under Allergan, Article, Mental Health, Uncategorized