A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing LA and NYC
Global client presence makes Manhattan-based consulting firm HR&A Advisors, Inc. (HR&A) a compatible career fit for principal, architect and urban strategist Thomas Jansen, who one year ago purchased his top-floor condo in Park Slope following five years in Los Angeles where HR&A also has offices (which Jansen refers to as an “outpost”).
The D.C. native moved to a 1920s apartment in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2014. Although Echo Park once glittered as the center of early silent film production, by 2019 the hipsta haven enshrined in the Warren Zevon song “Carmelita” had become the flashpoint for LA’s homelessness crisis. The 600-acre park itself was closed in 2021 to clear the encampments of the unhoused from the edge of the area’s manmade lake.
His coastal comparison immediately centers on the primary vice of the West (car-culture) and virtue of the East (walkability). Jansen says, “I didn’t love driving around LA. Not because of the traffic (my commute was short) but because you saw all of the ‘ugly’ parts of LA. The freeways, warehouses, etc. My two-minute walk to the subway now is down leafy streets, and even in the winter when the trees are bare, you get a sense of life through the windows of the brownstones. Every block has life to it, and I can prepare for a whole dinner party just by stopping into the small businesses on my neighboring block - food, wine, flowers, etc.”
(Okay, we’re officially BK-coveting. Some of our favorite stops in the Prospect Park-adjacent area include Café Rue Dix on Bedford, Chaveas on Franklin, Allan’s bakery on Nostrand, and Names on Rogers.)
While Echo Park and adjacent Silver Lake have their charms, especially if you like pupusas, Los Angeles has a harder time than New York in claiming, much less retaining, its spotty history. Case in point, in 2019, Michael Taix (pronounced “Tex”) sold his family’s eponymous 1927-founded restaurant to developers Holland Partner Group of Vancouver, Washington who planned to replace the French country-style eatery with a six-story, 166-unit apartment building, with 24 of the units planned as affordable housing. Preservationists squawked loud enough to slow demolition plans, and as we go to press only three portions of the restaurant versus the entire building are currently recognized as a historic monument, allowing the developers to cherry-pick these key features and install them into a new structure.
Existential interruption defines Los Angeles, where an earthquake can dislodge any notion of permanency. And this is the very sort of compromise that has always defined the Echo Park corridor in particular, where long-time residents objected to freeway construction. The result: instead of the Glendale Freeway (2) meeting the Hollywood Freeway (101), the unfinished 2 ends in an isolated, Didion-esque stub, sending commuter traffic thundering through residential neighborhoods via Alvarado Street. A similar dream deferred: the Red Car of the Pacific Electric Railway which once served Echo Park, beginning in 1906 as part of what was then the largest and most advanced public transit system in the world. Acquisition of the Red Car by a General Motors-funded investor abruptly halted the trolley service in 1955.
By contrast, Jansen says that Park Slope” …feels like a complete neighborhood.” Persuaded in part by the rooftop garden which effectively doubles his living space, he purchased his 950-square-foot home in a four-unit co-op housed in a 1889 brownstone for $975,000. The home is located on President Street one block from the patinaed arches and 19th century masonry of Prospect Park. “I had a long list of criteria that included a fireplace, washing machine, outdoor space, and room for guests. It was a long haul,” he says. “My home search took a while and getting started on renovations” -- (Jansen refinished the wood floors in the entryway as part of his co-op agreement) -- “was a bear because of supply chain issues and everyone else renovating.” However, he adds that COVID made his move “seamless.”
“My place has great original details and fantastic light (it's on the top floor!). I love being above the treetops, and as a 130-year-old building, the spaces are divided up in a really great way with a separate living room, dining room and kitchen. No open floor plan where you see kitchen clutter, and room to entertain. It's cozy because of the detail but feels and is spacious because of the light and high ceilings.”
Not that Los Angeles is all bad. Although most of Jansen’s work is centered on the east coast, and he enjoys being close to his parents in D.C., HR&A projects occasionally bring him west where he observes more than architectural differences. “Something I do appreciate about Los Angeles is the lower barriers to entry,” he says. “There is experimentation and innovation in Los Angeles. A great art gallery may pop up in a strip mall.” And let’s not forget the comparatively easy parking. And the pupusas.