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Lyman Village Apartments, where Oscar could have lived

February 24, 2012 |  3:17 pm

Lyman Village Gable
What if an apartment building were styled after Marilyn Monroe? Rudolph Valentino? Cecil B. DeMille? Designer Gene Bramson tackled the task, transforming eight 1948 and three 1928 apartment buildings along Los Feliz's Lyman Place into a renter's walk of fame.

“This building, it just spoke to me,” said Bramson, parking his 1981 DeLorean to tour the block-long Lyman Village Apartments. He gestured to the Monroe building, clad in delicate shades of pink and fronted by a wooden “The Monroe” sign with a lattice work base, patterned after 1940s billboards.

“I know it sounds nutty, but buildings do talk to me. They tell me what needs to be done,” said Bramson, whose firm, Bramson & Associates, oversaw the design of the 74,000-square-foot Holmby Hills estate built for Aaron and Candy Spelling.

The Spelling manor no doubt spoke to Bramson in louder registers; the Lyman Village Apartments clearly communicated in dulcet tones. Except for obvious signage, each building sports a sleight of hand design that speaks subtly of the stars: Bogart, Pickford, Harlow, Fairbanks, Gable, Cagney, Mansfield and more.

Lyman Village ValentinoBramson stood before the Valentino building, right, framed with leaded glass windows. Painted gray with a hint of purple, the post-Streamline Moderne building harbors a double courtyard overgrown with eugenia, Italian cypress and juniper. Balconies are draped with ivy and trumpet vines, turning the burnt gold- and moss-accented building darkly romantic.

“You expect Valentino to sneak around the corner,” Bramson said.

“Uh, yeah, I guess I get it,” Rebecca Husman, a two-year Valentino resident, said in response to a description of her building's theme. “If you put it like that, yeah, I get it.”

The truth? Most residents and visitors to Lyman Place, north of Sunset Boulevard between Vermont and Hillhurst avenues, don't immediately get it either.

Bramson animated each building with understated personality. “A feeling,” he said, “that each could have a different owner. Even all the roofs — they're all redone, but none of them match or have the same material.”

The 2005 renovation also included extensive landscaping, new and refurbished cartouches, pediments and shutters, as well as balcony iron work, vintage lamps and a hefty price tag for new windows alone.

“These are not Home Depot vinyl windows and shutters,” Bramson said. “All original.”

Jeff Scapa and Bill Silverman, who have owned the properties since 2002, declined to state the total
renovation cost. The development won a Los Feliz Improvement Assn. award for best multifamily renovation.

Lyman Village BogartBogart, right, is white with faded burgundy shutters and conveys a Southern feel with columned porches.

The Gable broadcasts a “sophisticated, debonair” style with brick drip and flat panel shutters (“only on the second floor; we didn't want to overdo anything,” said Bramson). Cagney's washed olive walls and bronze trim seem to signal that visitors have stepped into tough guy territory.

The three 1928 “brickers,” as Bramson calls them, line the middle of the block's eastern side. DeMille is flanked by Pickford and Harlow.

“DeMille always struck me as the big guy in Hollywood,” said Bramson, who added a cast stone base to the building to augment its heft. “His is the true powerhouse building on the block.”

Bramson envisioned the trio of buildings to reflect the old Hollywood star system, “with starlets living in brick, studio apartment buildings.” Each building has a street canopy printed with its name in vintage font.

Before renovations, the trio resembled “flop houses,” Bramson said. “The whole block was neglected. Now there's a village feel to it. It's become a destination.”

Manager Paul Heistand said a resident recently screened the 1950 classic “Sunset Blvd.” in a courtyard. “He just moved, bought a house,” said Heistand. “But he really didn't want to leave this place.”

Paired with the dapper, steam and pressed buildings, the landscape (“an organized chaos,” said Bramson) beckons ease and comfort. Such thoughtful detail is rare for rental properties.

Residents in the 184 rent-controlled units pay from $1,050 for a studio to $1,850 for a two-bedroom apartment. Nick Kello has lived in a Pickford studio for four years.

“I grew up in Argentina, where neighbors would visit on the streets and hang out,” said Kello, a guitarist and singer who often plays on a stoop beneath Pickford's canopy. “This is one of the few places in L.A. like that.”

The 11th building, at the block's northern end, remains oddly unnamed. Bramson said he couldn't remember exactly why it was also renovated but not tied into the theme. Perhaps the building is reserved for a more modern star. The Meryl?


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-- R. Daniel Foster

Photos: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times