When I first read the reviews, I was intrigued by the idea that a person who would write the memoir titled Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House would live in Echo Park, which wears its imperfections so ostentatiously. I am talking about the neighborhood before the last couple of years, before it reached what looks like to me a tipping point in its gentrification, for better or worse. I was pleased that Meghan Daum, who could pull off a book about being compulsively nesty and picky, would choose Echo Park; it was like a Caldecott seal of excellence on my own choice of residence nearby. Then, the week that I bought the book, I learned that its author had just written an op-ed piece about selling her house in Echo Park, which she had bought about six years earlier. I remember a sinking feeling as I lost a little bit of interest in the book. Of course, I know the perfect house could be found anywhere. And the reason people are paying so much attention to Daum's book is that most adults in our demographic -- college educated, not rich, older than 30, sometimes way past 30 -- can relate to all kinds of issues Daum confronts in trying to settle into a comfy nest, particularly the effort to balance one's taste with one's budget, and of course the existential difficulty that moving -- or staying! -- can introduce. My disappointment in the rejection of Daum's house notwithstanding, I read Life Would Be Perfect at the end of June, and it inspired an ongoing rumination about people and houses. It made me aware of the fickle relationship I have with my own domicile, though I am a devout homebody. Life Would Be Perfect made me conscious of a lot of habits of thought I have regarding homes and houses, the alternate life-shopping I do so constantly without even being aware that "living somewhere else" is constantly in my thoughts, which doesn't mean I actually want to move.
In any case, reading Daum's book deepened my appreciation for houses like "Villa Deborah" in Elysian Heights (see photos below). Lots of people love this small house on a quiet off-park street, but I doubt that anyone who passes it nowadays tells themselves that life would be perfect if they lived here. Villa Deborah's current owner knows it's a special place. During the bubble he talked about selling (he lives around the corner in a different home), but his ambivalence was obvious.
It needs repairs. The weight of the hillside behind it is pressing down, not to mention the weight of altogether too much concrete. But it seems that at some point someone embraced the drama of living in this odd mix of neo-classical and craftsman styles, with country cottage "stone" facing and an uncertain future. It's a place that inspires wonder, beyond the confines of the thought "what if I lived there?"