The disappearance of the Halloween house

mansionization-la-example.jpgAn example of mansionization.

Not so very long ago, a run-down, Spanish-style house stood on a corner a few blocks from us. Exterior was dingy white stucco that never, to my notice, had been painted in the many years it was there. Its most outstanding feature--which pulled the eye away from the house itself--was the old black hearse parked in the driveway.

I never saw the hearse being driven, never knew if it was used as a vehicle or simply an item of ornamentation. It rested--somewhat menacingly, I always thought--in the driveway, day after day and year after year.

Around Halloween, pieces of wood were assembled into a crude structure in the house's front yard, only to be torn down when the holiday was over. One day we noticed a sign stapled to a telephone pole. It announced a Halloween night performance at 8:00 pm at an address that turned out to be the house with the hearse.

My husband and I were curious. So, along with others from the neighborhood, we walked over to watch three or four actors perform a Halloween-themed farce in the home-made set. While the play probably wouldn't have won any awards, it was amusing and got some laughs. I never did figure out which of the actors, if any, actually lived in the house.

Fast forward a couple years, and a for-sale sign went up in front of the hearse house. Before too long, the sign disappeared, along with the hearse. For months, nothing happened. The house sat, empty and abandoned.

One day on our morning walk, I noticed something strange. A two-and-a-half story house (odd in itself--what use is a half story?) had appeared where the hearse house had stood only a few weeks before. We went over to investigate.

The new house didn't yet have a garden, but it was a handsomely sleek modern design--two-toned in wood and white stucco. It had two floors with an extra half story (somewhat deceptively fitted out with windows) toward the rear half of the house. This appeared to contain the air conditioning unit and whatever other new fangled equipment was needed operate this futuristic-looking home. There was a for-sale sign in front and another, smaller sign that identified the house as a modular prefab.

Prefab! That explains how it appeared so suddenly. A search of the internet revealed that the house has since sold for almost $2 million dollars, in contrast to the original hearse house, which went for a piddly $812,000. No clue where the hearse ended up. In its place was a tall hedge which, shortly after the new house was sold, was temporarily moved so a swimming pool could be added to the backyard.

This illustrates why our little Westwood bungalows are disappearing, most of them in a slower process. These projects start out with a posted public notice of plans to remodel the house. The sign usually mentions a public hearing, the date of which has invariably passed by the time we read the notice. Plans for a new kitchen are mentioned, perhaps an extra bathroom and enlargement of existing bedrooms. In short order, several rooms are torn apart, usually by day-laborers with pickaxes. Then, a week or so later, all that remains of the house is the front façade. Meanwhile the wooden framework for a two-story house has sprung up. Finally, the front façade--the only remaining wall of the house-- is brought down. The finished two-story house, extended almost to the edge of the property line, looks nothing like the original. How this qualifies as a remodel is a mystery that only Los Angeles's Department of Building and Safety can answer.

But at least the disappearance of the hearse house has been explained. It was simply a new and imaginative twist in the real estate boom that is changing our neighborhood and so many others.

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