Like cars, there are buildings that demand your attention. A special car drives past you and you spin your head around and say, “what was that?” Some buildings can have the same effect in reverse. You drive by but continue to look, your eyes stay locked on the building. Similar to a limited production or coachbuilt car, these buildings are rare. Many times as real estate values rise, these buildings disappear. Sometimes overnight. More rare is when a building’s design is somehow tied to its function. I began to look for these “one-offs” and found one right in my own backyard.
In 1978 I moved to Los Angeles to start a new life. Everything I owned was packed in to my not-yet-paid-for 1978 Honda Accord. My official adult life was about to begin. I had rented a tiny one-room guesthouse in Beverly Hills and joined the small community. Back then, it was much more provincial than you would think.
Since everything in Los Angeles revolves around the automobile, I made my first visit to the local gas station. It was a, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. The Union 76 gas station at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Crescent Drive was like nothing I had ever seen. A cross between the Sydney Opera House and a monolithic concrete paper airplane…
It seemingly held itself aloft by sheer will power. I was hooked. This was my image of living in Southern California. Even the gas stations were cool. I pumped my own gas at the self serve pump right behind a rather non-descript, dusty green Volvo station wagon. Just two guys pumping their own gas making small talk about the always beautiful weather. I was new and very short on small talk topics. I finished pumping my gas, Hondas having smaller tanks than Volvos, and looked up to say goodbye to my pump-mate. I was shocked to see that I had been chatting with the actor Jimmy Stewart while pumping gas. I now knew for sure I was not in Kansas anymore.