Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chaparral Chateaux

It's easy to forget that Los Angeles is a city bisected by a mountain range, and surrounded by some of the wildest, roughest, driest terrain you'll ever see. Drive through the canyon roads in Malibu, and you'll see rock formations that demonstrate the heaving and tilting of the earth's crust. You'll also see what grows on this land without the aid of mankind's hand. The natural growth here is called Coastal Chaparral. Even drier than the oak forests nestling in the meager streambeds, these hills are home to dry scrub with small leaves that can survive the summer drought.

It's a desert out there, folks. Chamise, chaparral, California buckwheat and sage grow here. It's no wonder the film industry came here to shoot Westerns.

I'm not sure what the reason is, but Southern Californians seem determined to deny the land's true nature, and strive to create fantasy worlds. Are mansions built to remind people of the ones they envied while growing up in South Boston or Baltimore or Des Moines? Are these homes the embodiment of storybook dreams? Can anyone explain why there are so many English Tudor manors, mini Taj Mahals, and Cape Cod saltboxes-on-steroids here?

It can get downright goofy at times, like this motel near Disneyland, designed as a snow-covered log chalet, complete with icicles dripping from the eaves, surrounded by high-power lines and palm trees. Not a ski-lift in sight.

Call it Environmental Denial.

There's a lot of money in Southern California, and a lot people with more money than taste. If you have enough money, you can afford to alter the natural environment that surrounds you.

Here in the Santa Monica Mountains, there are some pretty funny examples of this.

One house on a Saddle Peak Road hillside is planted all around with a forest of white-barked birches. Yes, you heard me. The property's owner has nothing better to do with his money than vainly attempt to change California Coastal Chaparral into New Hampshire.

This home occupies an entire hill off Saddle Peak road. The round, glassed-in room you see on the right of the picture faces east. Across the canyon, at our house, you can just see the round room cresting the peak. From our deck, it looks like a flying saucer just hovering over the canyon.

What is it? A massive living room? An auditorium? An enclosed swimming pool?

I have to give the house's designer props for using color that blends into the surrounding, and shapes that mimic the boulders and outcroppings surrounding the house - on the other hand, surrounding the property with an 8 foot high fence topped with razor wire, posted with signs showing vicious guard dogs, doesn't exactly say "Hi neighbor!"

Who lives there? I don't know. But I'm not going over to borrow a cup of sugar anytime soon.

Many homes are built of stucco with tiled roofs, in a vaguely Spanish style, perhaps a nod to California's heritage. Some of these are nice, while others are mega-mansions surrounded by sodded lawns and flowerbeds planted with gaudy azaleas and magenta petunias.

Until recently, there was an actual medieval castle on a hillside in Malibu, complete with battlements. The castle was lost in the Thanksgiving, 2007 Malibu fire.

One of my favorite examples of Environmental Denial is this chateau, nestled not in the lush, fertile vineyards of the Loire Valley, but high on a dry peak in Malibu.


The plaque on the gate proclaims this place the "Chateau Belvedere." My name for places like this is Chaparral Chateaux.

4 comments:

Pleasant Drive said...

I'm in Texas, but I got hot just looking at your pictures. It looks like it's sweltering!

CONNIE said...

Would love to see them someday but If I have tons of moola I would love to have a cottage built in a country where it would be more appropriate. Thanks for the tour.

Jason said...

I would love to ride around in your back seat while you go to all of these fantastic LA places.

g said...

Aw, Jason, you can come riding with me anytime!!!!