For the first nine years I lived in LA I was at war with a driving range. I have nothing against golf, mind you. Rather I hated the bloated bubble of green mesh that contained the driving range, a ragged box of netting that billowed in the breeze, ostensibly to prevent the wayward balls from tapping on the roofs of its neighbors.
The green monster was taller than anything in the surrounding area. It began to loom on the horizon from miles away as I’d drive the 101 towards Hollywood, growing bigger and gaudier and dingier as I got closer to the Melrose exit. As even more of an affront, it was next door to my favorite ice cream parlor, and I’d have to walk by it every time I got my scoops of salty chocolate and olive oil gelato.
Why did I hate it so? Like much of Los Angeles, it was ugly.
Los Angeles is definitely in the running to be one of the ugliest places I have ever been. 75% our buildings are made from exposed cinderblocks. The stucco we’ve swabbed over the other 25% isn’t making matters any better. The freeways lacing through our basins cut wide, cement gashes in our once-scenic neighborhoods. The streets are too wide. The trees are too few. I mean, would you just look at this photo I took of downtown? Ugly apartments, reflected in an ugly hole in the ground, in an ugly vacant lot!
Of course, the optimist in me says that living in an ugly city is good. Without any ugly we wouldn’t have anything to make prettier. We can have a hand in shaping our own cities, seeing the flaws and improving upon them. But this positive thinking often leaves me exasperated and depressed. How can I work to fix a city that can’t see past its own wrecking balls? When did shoddy landscaping become acceptable in a city where our weather is perfect? What kind of a place values cars over people? Why did we tear down an entire downtown and build another one—yet one that still has ugly holes in ugly vacant lots?!
That’s why I hated the driving range net so much. It cast a shadow over an entire neighborhood, yes, but it mostly represented to me how LA has no respect for itself. I walk around the city moaning about our lack of sculpted parks and Beaux-Arts buildings (which are, by the very nature of their names, beautiful). I fret about the unshaded sidewalks and mourn the crappy bus stops. Why us?
What LA needs is someone to take control of our ugliness. I’m not talking about some powerless Ugly Council that hands out tickets. I’m talking about some Robert Mosesian dictator who would sweep his hands over the city and instantly de-uglify it. I will gladly volunteer for the job. In fact, here are a few things I would declare ugly immediately:
- Vinyl signs
- Parking lots
- Transit-Oriented Developments with Bright Colors and Bad Retail
- Freeway onramps
- Freeway offramps
- Hollywood & Highland
Note that I believe ugly is an equal opportunity characteristic. I’m not calling for that loaded word “gentrification” here. The worst offenders when it comes to ugly are the homes of the very rich. The best and most beautiful signage—the handpainted kind—is often found in lower income neighborhoods. Very few things over 100 years old can be considered ugly, yet very few new buildings escape being whacked by the fugly stick. Example: Nothing can help these ghastly new houses I found in Silver Lake.
Dude, they have GOLD TRIM.
One day, while riding my bike home, I realized the evil net had vanished. And not just the net, the driving range itself. It had been replaced by a coming-soon, non-golfing facility for Los Angeles Community College. How long had it been gone? How had I not noticed that it was no longer spreading its evil green tentacles of tackiness over Hel-Mel?
When I went to get ice cream one week A.N. (After Net), I stopped in front of the former driving range to celebrate the newly blue sky, unencumbered by fraying green mesh. As I looked at the architectural rendering of what was to come, I felt a twinge of loss for the regulars who I used to watch chainsmoking between swings. And the Korean pop music that blasted well into the night. And that weird restaurant on the second floor. And the fact that, hilariously, you could play golf in the middle of the city, aiming your drives for the Hollywood sign. I looked up at what now was a hole in the neighborhood. It was only then that I realized how much I missed it.
Ugly is in the eye of the beholder, of course. One man’s driving range net is another man’s Disney Concert Hall. The best parts of LA make us feel proud to live where we do. But the worst parts of the urban environment—the chock-a-block apartments, the cracking liquor signage, the seedy vacant lots—are what make LA so interesting. And the fact that we get the entire spectrum, all stacked on top of each other, sometimes on the same block, scattered across this wide basin, makes us the best worst-looking place on the planet. And maybe that’s the beauty of living in LA.
What about you? Do you think LA’s ugly?
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