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Karnak Apartments: Live like an Egyptian (or at least Hollywood's version of one)

June 22, 2011 |  7:51 am

Karnak-relief
Curiosity for Rent: The Karnak Apartments, Hollywood


Sitting like matching tombs one block apart, the Karnak and Ahmed apartments are the work of architect J.M. Close, known for his Egyptian-inspired buildings.

Close was so keyed to Egypt during the revivalist 1920s that in "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles," authors David Gebhard and Robert Winter suggested that a pyramid be built in Close's honor.  

Karnak-wide The Karnak’s faux stone façade suggests the angled base of a pyramid.  Two white, fluted columns rise three stories to either side of the entrance at 5617 La Mirada Ave. The building is named for the Karnak temple ruins near Luxor, Egypt -- not for Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent act, as believed by one tenant.

Unfortunately, much of detailing on the 1925 building’s face has been cemented over. Archive photos show finer tailoring on the columns along with blue and gold etchings on the flutes and top ledge. The current owner (and possible cement mixer?) could not be reached.

Karnak-sign Leopoldo Martinez has lived for one year on the Karnak’s third floor with his wife and three children.  “Everyone is very friendly here,” said Martinez, who works in Osteria la Buca’s kitchen on Melrose Avenue. As he stood before two arched niches in his living room, a detail repeated throughout the building he added, “But I like newer buildings. Here, the walls tend to crack.”

The first floor’s metal crown moldings, now painted white, are stamped with bare-breasted Egyptians, staffs, fans, mummies and what may be dogs or depictions of the cat goddess Bastet.  

The 30-unit Karnak still has its name above the entrance, spelled in raised white letters. From the back fire escape, more lettering can be seen in the distant Hollywood sign. To the right towers greater fantasy: the golden fairy-tale cupolas of the newly restored Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, perched on the edge of Little Armenia. 

Next week:  The ruins of the Ahmed, stripped of its name, murals and moldings.

-- R. Daniel Foster

"Curiosity for Rent," a new series on the novel apartment buildings of Southern California, will appear here every Wednesday. You can send nominations to daniel@rdanielfoster.com. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page for California home design.

Karnak-door
Photos:  R. Daniel Foster

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