3748 Baldwin Avenue, El Monte: The Sad Gray Box

3748 Baldwin Avenue, El Monte: The Sad Gray Box
Wendy Gilmartin

This poor excuse for a building has no balconies, no overhangs, no awnings, no shrubs, no front windows, no shade, no hue, no nothing but a big square box of fugly.

In fact, sadly, the off-kilter "NOW RENTING" banner covers the only legitimate opening in the entire front façade. Even the trees out front are trying with all their little leaves' might to stretch as far away as they can from this hideous thing.

On a cloudy day this apartment might just vanish into the horizon. Give the poor residents something to identify their home, for God sakes -- they're going to drive right past otherwise, and don't even think about what living in this block-long gray turd is doing to their collective psyche. On the other hand, the courtyard beyond could hold a treasure of flowing water features, shimmering pools, lounges, shaded cabanas, beautifully tiered redwood decking, Jacuzzis and bathing suit models. But we're betting probably not.

Here's the thing: rent in L.A. is high, jobs are hard to get or keep right now, and on top of that, some struggling folks even have hard-luck relatives or friends living on their couches. In general, living is hard in 2011, but it doesn't have to be this hard. This sad gray box recalls the hideous public housing projects of Stalinist Russia or an experiment in minimalism gone awfully wrong.

But hundreds of apartments like this one dot L.A.'s streets for a reason: In the 60s the city needed cheap, multi-family apartments that could be constructed quickly. Folks were moving to Los Angeles in hordes. Low-cost, freeway-adjacent housing was a must, and developers complied. Today, these same structures are home to immigrants, working class Joe six packs and college students -- but they're in dire need of updating. Even a simple hint of color could help.

Down in Brazil, two ex-pat Dutch artists (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) have teamed up with other street artists, muralists and hip-hop MCs to re-paint the ugliest of the ugliest slums in Rio and Sao Paulo. Their work proves that a well-conceived coat of paint is a cheap and smart way to transform a sad stucco box into a radiant, uplifting space. Owners of this sad gray box and countless others like it in residential L.A. could stand to learn that lesson.

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