An Orange Cadaillac, a Stove, and the Venus of Lakewood Gardens

Orange Cadillac, Pink Studebaker
| Photograph by Max Mahon for Columbia Wholesale Supply

Ordinary places are supposed to be so -- well -- ordinary. But enigmas of time or circumstance occupy places as ordinary as mine. Here are three enigmas (as I think of them) that linger ...

An enigma of class. An orange Cadillac Coupe de Ville is parked in the driveway (above). Maybe the Cadillac isn't orange, although that was an optional GM finish. Postcard photos were often retouched in the 1950s. A pinkish Studebaker Speedster is parked on the street. It's probably 1954 or 1955 in the photograph, if my estimation of the height of the fins on the Cadillac and the height of the trees at the curb is right.

The street is in Lakewood Gardens, a 500-house tract built by the developer Paul Trousdale in 1946-1947 and later hemmed by the vastly larger Lakewood Park development of 1950-1954. Both developments were aimed at buyers with moderate incomes, ex-GIs mainly, who could manage a mortgage and the spread of payments for a car, a TV, and appliances on less than $500 a month.

The Studebaker was a low-cost car distinguished in the early 1950s by Raymond Lowey's advanced designs but cheaply built. A Studebaker fits the neighborhood, although a Ford or Chevrolet would be more characteristic.

Two-door Cadillacs of the same period were factory priced at just under $4,000. Who in Lakewood Gardens would buy a car that cost almost as much as a year's wages? What postcard photographer would assume that an orange Cadillac belonged there?

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Closet, Kitchen, Stove
| City of Lakewood Historical Collection

An enigma of representation. She's standing in a closet and looking longingly at a new stove (above). Half a century later, she might serve as an illustration in a blue-collar edition (if one were possible) of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. It's an advertising photograph -- one of a great many from 1950-1951 -- taken by Rothschild Studios of Los Angeles for the developers of Lakewood Park.

At least three of the Rothschild photos -- including this one -- show a woman standing partly in and partly out of a closet. Perhaps because the rooms in the houses are so small, the photographer was forced to closet his models just to get some of the room in the picture's frame. I don't know

Perhaps these photographs have been lost to investigation except as blank surfaces on which contemporary assertions about the past can be projected.

And enigma of desire. There's a statue outside a house in Lakewood Gardens that's a copy of the Venus de Milo. (The one at the Louvre in Paris is in the photo below.) The statue, now painted white, was carved from the still-rooted trunk of a tree -- I don't know which kind -- planted at the edge of the front lawn. There's a circular walk of concrete tiles around the statue's base.

The Venus was once obviously more wooden. It was unpainted and varnished, like a cigar store Indian. Later, possibly under new ownership, Venus was given a coat of white and made to look more like a conventional garden ornament in white plaster. It's a sort of disguise.

Venus faces toward the house, not the street. Outsider art often has that inwardness. It seems to me that the Venus of Lakewood Gardens was made for its creator's enjoyment and not properly for passersby.

I wonder what desire made it. What desires keep it there?

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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