rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,
rejectomorph
flying_blind

Lavish

Another storm has quickly followed the first, driving away the cold of recent days. This batch of clouds is not only warmer but considerably wetter than the earlier one, and the sound of soft rain has been steady all afternoon. The birds haven't been reluctant to get out in this milder storm, and my cat spent some time sitting in the window, watching them hop about on the lawn. I can tell that she's displeased, and that she would like to go chasing the soggy avians were it not for her more urgent desire not to get wet herself. If she knew that such things as deserts existed, she'd probably be put out at me for not living in one.

I'm hopeful that the brevity of the late cold snap has limited any damage it might have done to those sensitive plants which had already bloomed. We actually had a couple of lilies bloom last week, and that's about the earliest I've ever seen that happen here. Though we haven't had much of a winter, I'd not be disappointed if it doesn't return this year, just as long as what we get instead is a, long, cool, and reasonably wet spring. I'm just not eager to have the hot days descend soon.


Here's a curmudgeonly old guy rantlet for your Saturday evening enjoyment:

Sometimes, the more things change, the more things really do change. Palm Springs, California's costliest desert resort, has quite a few mid-century modern houses designed by a local architect named Don Wexler. Back in the 1954 when he was one of the town's young visionary architects, very much in demand, he designed a house for himself and his family. This evening I ran across a web site featuring the Wexler house. The house is now available for rent at nightly rates (3 night minimum) during the off-season (summer, that is) for a mere $755, and during the popular season (October through May) for $1079 a night.

The site links to a 1958 L.A. Times article about the house which reveals such interesting tidbits about the place as the fact that it was originally built with 1450 square feet of space and that the original living room floor featured spiffy asphalt tiles. This was a fairly good sized house for Palm Springs in those days, though not as large or as fancy as those Wexler designed for various celebrities who hired him to build their vacation houses in the area (they probably averaged about twice the size.) But Wexler's house was certainly a place that any member of the American upper-middle class of the day would have considered perfectly adequate to any reasonable person's needs. Nothing about it would have been considered low-end-- not even that asphalt tile flooring.

My guess is that in 1954 the building in was probably built for no more than eight or nine dollars a square foot. Adjusted for inflation, that would probably be no more than sixty dollars a square foot today. But who would build such a cheap house now? The articles I read in the paper and the various real estate-related shows I seen on cable television channels such as Home&Garden generally give costs of a hundred dollars a square foot and up for middle class houses these days. Price tags of two hundred a square foot are not rare. It isn't that construction costs have gone up that much, though. It's all the expensive extra stuff they put in houses now, like multiple bathrooms with spas, and professional-grade kitchen appliances, and custom designed cabinets, plus all the costly decorative materials such as stone and exotic woods which are rapidly becoming standard.

Buyers have become size queens, too. I've seen shows in which childless couples in the market for new dwellings talk as though they'd be insulted if their real estate agent dared show them any place with fewer than four bedrooms, or with a (shudder) combined tub-shower in the bathroom. And they absolutely must have walk-in closets. Anything less than travertine marble on the floors of even the entry hall would be scandalous. If the potential buyers saw asphalt tiles on a living room floor, they'd probably look as though they'd been asked to walk barefoot on cockroaches.

I'm also guessing that the Wexler house has been what real estate agents call "upgraded", meaning it would now have things like granite counter tops and marble floors in kitchen and bathrooms (and if Americans are going to put their money into their houses rather than in banks, I guess it isn't surprising that they are building their houses with the materials once used to build banks.) I don't see how they could otherwise get the well-to-do to pay upward of $755 a night to rent even a mid-century architectural icon. The house had already been enlarged back in the 1950s when Wexler added a wing with three bedrooms for his three sons. Guessing again, but I'd bet that the added bedroom wing contained no more than 600 square feet. That would have taken the whole house to a then-luxurious 2000' plus. Today, that would make it a bit below average in size. If it had its original appointments, it would today be about on a par with a cheap manufactured house of the sort you can have delivered and assembled on your lot for about a hundred thousand dollars.

So accustomed have I grown to the extravagance which has become characteristic of American housing that seeing the Wexler house and being reminded that even into the 1960s it would have been considered quite splendid took me by surprise. For the most part, I don't think things change very much. In fact, I'd say that the last half of the twentieth century probably brought less drastic change in most ways than the first half did. But the houses of the 1950s, while quite a bit more advanced mechanically than houses of the 1900s, would still have been much more like unto those earlier houses than the houses being built today are like unto the houses of the 1950s. When I stop and think about all the social and cultural changes I've seen in my lifetime, this burgeoning of the American dwelling is the one I really find most startling. I wonder how long this trend can be maintained?
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