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Curbed’s 10 best West Coast longreads of 2016

Tales of disappearing water, secession movements, hypergentrification, strip clubs, and more

Chris Mueller

Are you looking for something good to read right now or even later? You’ve come to the right place. This year, Curbed launched its West Coast features program, and over 2016 we traveled from Portland down to the desert near the Mexican border to bring you tales of disappearing water, controversial architecture, secession movements, hypergentrification, strange weather, strip clubs, and more. These are 10 of our favorite Western longreads.


The incredible leaning flip of West Oakland by Susie Cagle

“If I didn’t know that house so well I’d feel sorry for it,” says Gabe Santos, who lived for five years at 2523 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in West Oakland. “I’d be like, ‘poor little house, no one wants you.’”

Of course, someone did want 2523, and the profits from flipping what was once a dilapidated, graffiti-covered squat, foreclosed after its owner was convicted of mortgage fraud and money laundering. There’s no trace of the little house’s former life, except for a characteristic that does not make the listing: The house is leaning, pitched several degrees sideways, and not in an endearing way.

The naked city by Kate Losse

In areas like Downtown LA, whose transformation is occurring in part because of the appeal of the gritty industries that once occupied these neighborhoods, is it possible that the grittier establishments can adapt to a new kind of clientele? Or to put it another way, can the new clientele adapt to the existing strip clubs and adopt them as part of their social routine? What is the social end game of gentrification, and is there a better downtown it can imagine than the one that results in block after block of cookie-cutter condos, scrubbed of the last traces of vibrant, colorful, and perhaps risqué culture that first drew artists and then developers?


Vexit: Venice Beach wants to leave Los Angeles by Isaac Simpson

While racial lines between black, Latino, and white Venetians are severe, the larger battle is about space: it’s pro-change versus preservationist. One side supports the upward financial trajectory of the area—the arrival of tech companies, the proliferation of high-end retail, the skyrocketing of property values and rents—and accepts the risks of whitewashing and cultural destruction that come with it. Those on the other side see themselves as the colonized, those who gave the neighborhood its desirable heart and soul, who are now being culturally cleansed by wealthy land grabbers.

The first Malibu beach house by Hadley Meares

May Rindge liked to be in control. Her beloved husband, Frederick Hastings Rindge, had bought secluded Malibu, with its 22-odd miles of breathtaking oceanfront, in the hopes of making it a nature preserve and “American Riviera.” It became the family’s private paradise, and soon included successful cattle ranching and grain-raising operations. After Frederick’s premature death in 1905, the fierce and unfriendly May, who had grown up on a hardscrabble Midwestern farm, fought to preserve Malibu’s pristine beauty and private status, battling squatters, real estate developers, railroad companies, and even the government.


Palm Springs from above by Tess Barker

“You’re going to freeze.” warns a woman at the Valley Station at the bottom of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I’ve passed this place several times on my way into writing retreats or coming home from vodka-soaked girl’s trips. It’s a gondola in the middle of nowhere off Highway 111 that climbs the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. I don’t know where I thought the tram would take me. Maybe a good view to more desert nowhere. Certainly not the freezing cold. I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt. This felt like too much on the walk from the car.

Something uneasy in the Los Angeles air by Adrian Glick Kudler

People who don't know any better like to say Los Angeles has no seasons, but that isn't true; it has five overlapping seasons: the winter rainy season, spring, gloomy early summer (also known as jacaranda season), miserably hot late summer, which lasts through October, and Santa Ana season. For non-Angelenos, the most LA season is that brief spring, when the days are 72 degrees and sunny. But for Angelenos, who have a far more intimate relationship with both nature and apocalypse than the 72-degrees-and-sunny crowd will ever allow, the most Los Angeles season is Santa Ana season.


Deconstructing Portland by Britany Robinson

The swell of Portland newcomers continues to rise. Like me, many of these people want to make a home and a life for themselves here. But with each new person, it becomes harder and harder for lower- and even middle-income residents to find the life they’re looking for. It makes it harder and harder for the ones who already live here to continue the lives they’ve known.

“We’re one of maybe half a dozen cities in the world that are consciously striving to figure out how to behave if humans have a hair’s chance in hell of surviving the 21st century,” Stephen Reichard points out. “Increasing density is part of that. As we’re growing so rapidly, people are experiencing what that feels like, and that’s really hard.”


A desert oasis dries up by Zoie Matthew

Deep below the flats of the Borrego Valley lies one key feature that separates it from the barren desert that surrounds it—an enormous, multi-tiered aquifer that is capable of storing thousands of acre-feet of water. What the town’s early boosters didn’t know was that this “magic element,” once their town’s greatest asset, would eventually result in one of its bitterest disputes. The future of Borrego Springs is essentially dependent on the future of its aquifer, and today, if the town’s citizens don’t find a way to cut their water use by about 70 percent, this small town is in danger of sucking it dry.

Learning to love the ‘Persian Palaces’ of Beverly Hills by Shaya Tayefe Mohajer

The boxy yellow house bears the telltale mark of the now-outlawed style: four of those two-story columns out front. It was erected on this plot of land at the top of Coldwater Canyon in the late 1980s, before the rush of other Iranians building or renovating similar homes in the notoriously wealthy enclave. Pourandokht Banayan and her husband Parviz chose every detail of the home.

In 1989, after 10 tough years in America, the Iranian-American family moved into the house at the end of the cul-de-sac (where one of the other houses has lion-head sculptures on its massive gates). She raised four children in this Persian Palace with a mezuzah on the doorframe and rose bushes out front. Elements of the style eventually spread from that hilltop down to the flats of Beverly Hills, south of Sunset, until it was essentially banned in 2004.


The last artists’ haven in Los Angeles by Jennifer Swann

Located in the far northeast corner of Los Angeles County and known for its conservative values, tract homes, and nearby Air Force base, the Antelope Valley is not exactly the kind of environment that usually attracts creative young people. But that’s changing, with 5 Acres adding to a small but growing community of artists determined not only to spark interest in the Antelope Valley, but also to reshape the way people think about the oft-forgotten, easily disparaged enclave roughly 80 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles. As skyrocketing rents in Los Angeles continue to squeeze renters farther into the outskirts of the city, the Antelope Valley is positioned to become a new frontier for emerging artists—if they can get over its terrible reputation.

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