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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Postman's tour of the tract homes of LA

This is a Saint Etienne fan video for the song "Postman," featuring photographs of renowned American tract homes I took just after dawn along Meier, Beethoven and Moore streets in Los Angeles on April 14, 2008.


The north-central tract of Mar Vista upon which Gregory Ain, Joseph Johnson and Alfred Day built three blocks of cost-efficient housing exemplify modern architectural design circa 1947. These buildings are now preserved by the city's Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.

For other great photographs from the Mar Vista Tract and of other Los Angeles tract housing, see this gallery.

For a look at interior photographs and floor plans, check out Gregory Ain Model Home Redo & Add On.

(In fact, the only indoor shots in my clip are of my motel bathroom at the Marina del Rey Hotel, which, though modern and stylish, was probably not contemporaneously built, seeing as Marina del Rey -- today's largest man-made marina in the world -- was constructed in the late 1950s and formally commemorated in 1965.)


"Postman" is a suitable soundtrack for the route I followed that morning among the tract houses -- residences famous for their mid-century simplicity and streamlined design.

For one thing, the song title could be taken as a reference to the postwar modern era that the homes were a direct descendant of. A postwar dwelling for the "post" man.

Secondly, as I already mentioned, I did not get a tour inside the homes. My route around the tract was much like a postman's so there's a very literal connection too.

And finally, there's the sleek shiny cool of the band...


Though a British band with a French pop element, Saint Etienne sing many songs that evoke or pay homage to postwar California.

"Downey, CA" is about the town that Karen Carpenter grew up in; on an album focused on urban planning and architecture (Finisterre), the track "The Way We Live Now" is introduced as Los Angeles Armageddon.

Earlier in the band's career, Saint Etienne made frequent use of sound collages taken from Hollywood cinema, while at the same time cranking out idyllic ballads like "California Snow Story" and Beach Boys covers.

And much of their 1998 album named Good Humor (with its characteristic US spelling), evokes California living and chasing the American dream. It's the collection of songs from which "Postman" comes.

Despite whatever connections you might find between viewing the work of Gregory Ain and hearing this Saint Etienne song, "Postman" is above all mood music, plain and simple. And so, like many Saint Etienne compositions, it might sound as if it were written to accompany a film (something the band is seeking to do more by collaborating in filmmaking).

That's really why I put this track on top of the tracts I walked around that morning -- its jaunty beats, verses like "walked down our street" and an overall retro shimmer seemed to gibe with the visuals quite nicely.


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