THE EVER-CHANGING 'HOOD: The McMansion-ification of Studio City

Taking a bath is the last thing I thought I had to worry about when construction started on a new house next door.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm delighted to introduce Ilona Saari's new column to Studio City Patch that will be a regular feature on Saturdays. You can also find Ilona's blog posts in in the Local Voices. Enjoy!)


I don’t know about you, but my Playboy centerfold days are over.  Even sitting seductively in a bubble bath with one leg strategically draped over the edge of the tub is no longer one of my best looks.

So, needless to say, when a bunch of strangers (well, two) find me this way, I’m not a happy camper. But first a little back story:

Remember when those charming California one-story bungalows and craftsman houses in Santa Monica on those tony, tree-lined streets between Montana and San Vicente were bought as "tear-downs," and huge two-story homes (some tasteful, some garish) were built on bungalow-size lots dwarfing the land and the original smaller houses that remained?

Well, now it’s happening in our ‘hood. I call it McMansion-ification… a derivative of gentrification, and whether we like it or not, our neighborhood is being McMansion-ized before our very eyes.

It started on my street a couple of years ago when a neighbor sold his house to a "speculator" who built a 5,500 square foot, two-story, “Mediterranean” McMansion. Right across the street! Right in front of my office window! Nightly I prayed to Gilda, the Goddess of Good Taste that the front lawn would not be adorned with fountains and naked statues.  

Please, no knock-off Davids or armless Venuses! Thankfully, there aren’t… they’re in the backyard (I kid you not).  I use the term “back yard” loosely, since there is no back yard, just a pool and a narrow cement surround with statues. “Pool yard?”

Putting aside the very poor workmanship of this McMansion, it was listed for more than double the value of any house on our street. That was more than two years ago. It hasn’t sold. Rented, yes. Sold, no.  And, now, this overblown, overdone house is empty again. They say it takes a village—well, a village is what it would take to fill that house.

The fact that this house hasn’t sold, however, hasn’t deterred other speculators. Nope. A new McMansion is being built on my block. Right now. Right next door. Right on top of me and my 1941 one-story California “bungalow.” 

Every morning, 7 a.m. sharp, the banging starts, the truck, back-up beeping noise begins, jackhammers jack, steam shovels shake, our windows rattle, and lumber trucks roll as construction workers (and their cars) take over our street.

So what does all this have to do with bubble baths? I love them. I love to soak in my wonderful vintage claw-foot soaking tub. Now, did I mention that this construction going on is not more than 10 feet from my bathroom window which sits very nicely over my wonderful vintage claw-foot soaking tub? And since it is, when I want to soak in bubbles, I’m forced to time this meditative, relaxing experience to the construction workers schedule… their lunch break, or when they’re working on the first floor or in the front of the building. 

Did I mention that I have no window treatment on that window over the bathtub?  Didn’t need it because the house next door used to be only one story… and we had a nice fence… and I didn’t want to block out my sunlight.

So, after checking the whereabouts of the workers the other morning (they were all working on the front façade of the building), I drew my bath, got the latest mystery I was reading and sunk deep into the hot, bubble-bath-y water. Heaven. All my aches, pains and woes were melting away—that is, until I heard loud voices overhead. 

I looked up and there above me hanging over the ledge of the McMansion second story frame were two workmen hauling something up with a rope. I put my book down and sunk deeper into the tub and under the bubbles. Should I wave and pretend this is an everyday occurrence? Should I pretend I don’t see them? They seem to be pretending not to see me.

Should I nonchalantly stand up and get out of the tub? Have you ever tried to nonchalantly lift yourself out of a deep claw-foot tub?  Not a graceful thing (even for an ex-dancer). On the off-chance they didn’t see me, I was afraid to move (remember, being naked in a bubble bath is not a look that I would tweet to anyone)… I felt like a hiker confronted by a bear in the woods. Should I freeze  Roll over? Play dead? Drown myself?

The workers weren’t leaving and my bubble bath reverie was long gone—my water was rapidly fading from blissfully warm to unappealingly tepid – I needed to get out. A light bulb went off in my head.  I reached for my plush, white bath towel and wrapped it around me—yup, in the water, and trickily held it together with one arm while I clumsily lifted myself up and out of the tub and out of the workers’ sight with my other arm. 

Did they watch me struggle to maintain my naked dignity? Well, let’s put it this way—I didn’t hear any applause, but I will always be grateful for bubbles and towels.

So, on this note—a note to all: When McMansion-ification comes to your street… go shopping for shades or take your bubble bath at midnight.

Leah August 29, 2011 at 11:23 PM
WOW CB...What neighborhood do you live in?? There is no public meeting...most of the time we don't even know the house has been sold. And before you know it, as soon as escrow closes ( I mean the exact minute..at least it seems like) the city comes to verify the address to demolish. Trust me...IF there was a public meeting and anyone of the neighbors on Cantura or Hillslope knew about it...they WOULD definitely have gone. These people lie about who buys the house, who the builder is and always give the same story. They are sneaky and underhanded and don't care about anything except to build BIG homes in quaint neighborhoods. They are all connected in some way. We do have a community that has been fighting this for 6 years, ever since Wendy Greuel was the council person.
CB White August 29, 2011 at 11:53 PM
I live in the "poor" part of Sherman oaks, the part that was annexed from Van Nuys! lol. I remember it very well, that there were flyers posted about the hearing- perhaps it was because the double lot was divided, that was why they notified us? In the flyer, the information was listed that two 2 story houses were going to be built, and luckily, only one has been built. The neighbors on the side of the MCMansion were pretty upset! Still are- they even considered selling their home, but reconsidered once their child was on the way.
Skraeling August 30, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Wendy Gruel has a following that denies her close relationship with developers and builders, and her successor krikorian is following in her footsteps. But, the giant problem here, and in LA generally, is the apathy of the vast majority. Don't forget, we live in a city where less than 23% of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls....the road to corruption is wide open.
Mary McGrath September 28, 2011 at 02:29 PM
What a charming article! I live in a condo, so don't have to deal with this, but nearby in Westchester, there have been many smaller homes that have been super-sized to dwarf neighboring homes. And sadly, these homes are hard to sell....
Leah October 05, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Accord Struck to Limit Mansionization in Studio City Mansionization STUDIO CITY - In 2008, as residents throughout Los Angeles sought to contain what many called the scourge of large homes on small lots, the city enacted a set of regulations to curb mansionization. Under the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, a home on a 6,750-square-foot lot (the typical lot size in Studio City) is limited to 4,050 square feet. Previous zoning codes allowed more than twice that mass, with a 7,000-square-foot limit. The ordinance, which applies to 300,000 properties in single-family residential zones throughout Los Angeles, also allowed communities to write their own ordinances to limit mansionization. Recently, Studio City did just with a new ordinance that could soon be approved by the city called the Residential Floor Area (RFA) District. The RFA, agreed on recently after dozens of meetings with hundreds of residents, went further than the city's ordinance to limit mansionization - the phenomenon of tearing down an existing home and replacing it with one that may be much larger than surrounding homes. By controlling mansionization for nearly 4,000 Studio City homes - limiting lots of 6,750 square feet to 3,578 square feet - residents in the East Valley essentially agreed to the widest ranging set of guidelines a community has ever enacted to maintain the integrity of their neighborhood.


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