Greg Goldin, the architecture critic for Los Angeles magazine, thinks outside the box in today's West and defends the McMansions that have been altering Los Angeles neighborhoods for awhile now. He writes, in the cover story illustrated with Gregg Segal's photograph, that "Here, in two words, is the architecture that Los Angeles, the city that loves and hates architecture, currently loves to hate: Persian Palace. No other coinage so immediately evinces dismissal and revulsion. It is the ultimate form of 'mansionization,' taking a small lot and building the largest possible box on it.
"A compleat Persian Palace—there are many minor variations and lesser imitations—is distinguished by its exaggerated moldings, numberless layers of cornices, elaborate grillework and columns galore. A Persian Palace brazenly combines motifs and wantonly disregards proportion and scale. A giraffe could glide through the front door without stooping, then turn around and peer out the clerestory window while grazing on a crystal chandelier."
He defends the giants on several grounds, including that Los Angeles is a palimpsest—"a city that is constantly stuccoing over itself. Such relentless re-imagining is the source of its energy, its inventiveness, its cultural cache."
Who can deny that Persian Palaces speak to this aura of never-ending possibility?
Like the strip mall—L.A.'s last great urban innovation, maligned since its inception in the 1970s—Persian Palaces are a source of outsider cosmopolitanism. Mina Zahiri, who is building a home on Hamel Drive, on the eastern edge of Beverly Hills, says, "This is a new urban phenomenon. Beverly Hills was so quiet, and now you've got a mix of Middle Eastern, American, European. It's an architectural fusion, and it's bringing new life to the city."
The owners of Persian Palaces aren't striving to keep to formal rules of architecture—not Classical order, Renaissance perspective, Baroque composition or Beaux Arts historicism. There are no hidden symbols in their design choices, either. Nor do many of the owners mean to announce class status by deploying all those columns and balustrades. They merely want to enliven the street, and their own surroundings, by plucking familiar images from the glories of architectural history and turning them into a kind of gold-leafing.
As preposterous as this might sound, a Persian Palace is intended to be a palace in the way that the originals once were...
Photo: Gregg Segal