May the Fourth Be With You

Nerds of the world, rejoice! Star Wars has its own national day in May.

As my regular readers know, I am exploring the National Day Calendar this year. And so, it is with great pleasure that I inform you that May, besides being  a graduation month, and mother’s month, and a labor month, is an incredibly important month for space nerds. I’m guessing you might know one or two, given our proximity to both JPL and Hollywood. National Space Day is May 3, National Astronauts Day is May 5 and the holy grail of nerd holidays is May the Fourth, commonly known as National Star Wars Day.

May the Fourth hasn’t been National Star Wars Day for long. It was initiated in Canada for a 2011 Star Wars film festival, and the date was chosen for the play on words — a brilliant move that I can’t believe wasn’t conceived of earlier. On this day, you should greet everyone with “May the fourth (or force) be with you,” and if you are a real fan, you will don your May the Fourth T-shirt, and serve up some blue milk.

Unfortunately, blue milk (served up by Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) is the only real food that can be positively associated with the films. Because, unfortunately for us recipe writers, there is little in the way of eating in any of the other 10 films associated with the franchise. Sure, there are the power-bar-looking things Luke eats on Dagoba (when he first meets Yoda), and there is the magic-towel food Rey eats in Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but there is nothing really significant. No great feast with scenes of our heroes digging in, or extended meal preparation that would inspire a chef-fan. Okay. Aunt Beru does make something with roots; there are incidental fruits (Anakin makes a pear float in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which is supposed to be sexy but isn’t), and there are many creatures eating other creatures (Chewbacca roasts the adorable Porg over a campfire in The Last Jedi).  But if you want to throw a Star Wars Party on May the Fourth (and why wouldn’t you?), you will have to resort to the hackiest method of menu writing — pun foods. There is simply no resource for thoughtful insight into foods of the galaxy.

There is one series of cookbooks officially licensed by Lucasfilm, and it is full of recipes that are amusingly clever plays on words. And that’s totally fine — more power to the authors. They scored gold with that deal, and I would have 100 percent done the same thing. In fact, I have tried and failed to sell franchise tie-in cookbooks over the years. It ain’t easy.

But for me, when creating a themed dinner, I prefer that the recipes tie into the theme’s universe. I want to look into the fictional material and imagine what agriculture would be like, what spices might be available, what cultural cooking methods might be employed. It’s all made up anyway, so why not make it interesting and delicious, rather than simply cute? And for me, a meal must first and foremost be delicious. Wookie Cookies (which are just chocolate chip cookies, and aren’t even hairy), Death Star Cheese Balls, Princess Leia Cinnamon Rolls and Luke Skywaffles are all very amusing, but not really related to the Star Wars universe. And frankly, they wouldn’t make a very nice dinner party.

But that said, I have little to offer because, although it has happened in the past, this year I will not be throwing a May the Fourth party. Mainly because the biggest fan in the family is far away. But also, although my family is incredibly nerdy (which, if you are a regular reader, you’ve already figured out), I’m really not. Once, long ago, I met a guy I thought was cute. I wanted him to like me, so I watched all the sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV shows he liked. They were fine — but I was not moved emotionally by their content to the same extent. I was, however, moved by him. Eventually this nerd fandom progressed to attending conventions and spawning baby nerds. Still, throughout all this I have remained a nerd by association — a contact nerd.

Fast-forward 30 years, and suddenly being a nerd is cool. When we were kids, admitting you were a nerd was super lame, and it almost certainly guaranteed you a swirly (a teenage method of torture too gruesome to describe in a food column). But today being nerdy is sexy. So much so that people just say they are nerds without even really knowing what that means. It is a cultural phenomenon that has lost all meaning because it became ubiquitous — and I won’t do it.

Not really being a nerd, I suppose I ought not be so irked by the appropriation of nerd culture. But it bugs me just as much as sports teams doing Native American chants, and Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It doesn’t belong to you. Find your own culture, then flaunt that. I don’t suppose it is exactly the same thing, but the inauthenticity annoys me. Then again, who am I to say what makes a nerd authentic? I’m no one, that’s who. But it has been interesting to watch the cultural shift from my vantage point. Having caught the my fifth-grader secretly watching all the Star Wars movies back to back in the middle of the night in preparation for the release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces to better understand Luke Skywalker instead of doing math homework, I feel I have at least some insight.

But I suppose that if you are truly a nerd, you’re thrilled that all the cool people are wearing “nerds are sexy” T-shirts. Or perhaps true nerds don’t even notice, or care. And
I think there is something very appealing about people being true to themselves, and liking what they like without the need for cultural validation. Which is why I married one of them.  ||||

The Return of Memphis

The postmodern design dialect from the ’80s lives on in colorful, fanciful furnishings and home décor.

 

Memphis can mean different things to different people. For some it’s the city in Tennessee where strains of blues, soul and rock ’n’ roll were born; for others it’s the ancient Egyptian city of the dead. It can also mean a colorful design style that sprouted in Milan, Italy, thrived internationally in the 1980s and is having something of a revival today.

Two years ago the Met Breuer in New York helped launch the revival with a major retrospective on Ettore Sottsass, the key founder of the Memphis Group. Last year Nordstrom’s flagship store in Seattle threw together a Memphis Milano popup store, featuring various home accessories and furnishings from greeting cards and toothbrushes to colorful tables and chairs, including Peter Shire’s fanciful “Bel Air” chair. Los Angeles–based Shire was the only American among Memphis’ original members, designing for the group’s line throughout its seven years of existence. Loyal followers of Memphis design included David Bowie and Karl Lagerfeld. The latter, who died in February, bought key items in the collection for his apartment in Monaco. He had Ettore Sottsass’ multi-colored “Carlton” room divider, George James Sowden’s plump red “Oberoi” chair and Masanori Umeda’s “Tawaraya” square lounge or “conversation pit,” resembling a boxing ring with striped sides.

The Nordstrom pop-up was initiated by Nordstrom’s VP of Creative Projects, Olivia Kim. “I’ve been a huge Memphis fan since I was a child,” she told Adpro, an online offshoot of Architectural Digest. She herself has a collection of Memphis objects, still being produced through an Italian company.

Furthermore, young designers today are being influenced by Memphis. “There is a lot of revival going on,” says David Mocarski, chair of graduate and undergraduate environmental design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, “around the world with the younger generation — in Los Angeles, New York, Berlin and everywhere else.”

Memphis design was born some four decades ago. Many see it as part of the postmodern movement in design and architecture. In December 1980 Sottsass — a veteran designer who had worked with modernist George Nelson and in the electronics division of Olivetti, where he designed the famous red “Valentine” typewriter — gathered together other young designers for discussion and brainstorming. During the meeting they listened to Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Thus the name, Memphis Group, coined by Sottsass’ wife, Barbara Radice; Shire credits her with a lot of the group’s organizing and success.

The next year they debuted their first collection of clocks, lamps, cabinets, sofas and tables at Milan’s famous annual furniture fair, the Salone del Mobile, where they caused a sensation. “The night we launched Memphis, during the Salone del Mobile, we could not believe that the road in front of the showroom had to be closed after an hour because so many people were on the street,” designer Matteo Thun told Wallpaper in 2011. Suzanne Slesin reported in The New York Times, “Billed as the New International Style, Memphis is an outrageous collection of bizarre colors and shapes designed by Ettore Sottsass, the genial guru of Italian design, and a group of international architects and designers… An effervescent, seductive and undeniably sympathetic group, it appalled some and amused others but put everyone attending the fair in a state of high excitement.”

American Peter Shire, who had studied ceramics at Chouinard Art Institute, was already making unusual, angled teapots. “I was making pots and attempting to make something I hadn’t seen before, and nobody else had seen before,” says Shire during an interview at his Echo Park studio. Having heard about the young Los Angeles artist, Sottsass visited him here and invited him to join the group. “He had an approach that wasn’t design-centric, it was art-centric,” says Shire. “It was about emotions and impact, it wasn’t about solutions and dictating a lifestyle. The other thing was that he spoke English and he spoke it well.”

A lifelong Angeleno, Shire was influenced by his father, an illustrator who was also a carpenter. They made furniture together, so he was familiar with the field. He did travel to Italy to work with Memphis but did most of his work for them by remote. “They’d tell me which things they’d be interested in,” Shire says.

In his studio we are surrounded by geometric ceramics and sculpture that reflect the colorful, whimsical Memphis style, though of course each designer in the group had his or her own personal style as well. “I sent them in the mail — drawings, thumbnail sketches. The first year they asked for a vanity, and I sent [a design for] a table, also. The table was a better fit, so they did something they didn’t even ask me for. I took that strategy and would send 60 or 70 designs at a time, I sent dozens on a sheet.” He became known for several pieces of furniture, including the “Bel Air” chair, with a tall back in the shape of a quarter-circle, and arm rests in two different colors. Also iconic was his “Brazil” table with its elongated triangular top in canary yellow — a piece that was in Lagerfeld’s collection.

Shire’s pieces were emblematic of the Memphis style, with its bright colors — often in sharp juxtaposition to another in the same piece — squiggles and stripes and shapes that emphasized geometry. The very titles of the pieces offered at the group’s first Milan show reflect the exuberant eccentricity of their aesthetics: Sottsass’s “Beverly” cabinet and “Tahiti” lamp Sowden’s “Oberoi” armchair and de Lucchi’s “Oceanic Lamp.” A number of critics and design historians have likened Memphis furniture to children’s toys and building blocks.

Design trends are not accidental — they are often a response to something in the sociopolitical fabric. “When Memphis started, it was a really, really serious time for modern design,” says Mocarski via telephone from Milan, where he was attending this year’s Salone del Mobile. “It had been a period of extremely modern design, ultra minimalist to the point where everyone was wondering, What happened to humor, to fun in design? What happened to color? Everyone was living in a super serious world, with all the nasty stuff going on. We had just gotten through the whole Vietnam War thing; there had been a lot of social unrest, just like we have now.” Mocarski adds, “Memphis, postmodern design was very influential on graphics, too. We began to see more fonts, more colors used.”

Due to limited and highly customized production, Memphis items were always expensive, beyond the means of the middle class, and some pieces were impractical — the chairs were comically uncomfortable. The group disbanded in 1988, but new Memphis pieces are still being manufactured in Italy. You can purchase them directly from memphis-milano.com, or visit the authorized American distributor in New York, Urban Architecture (there is no official distributor in California, alas). Auctions occasionally offer vintage Memphis pieces, or you can check out various online sellers such as 1stdibs.com, chairish.com and pamono.com.  


Los Angeles pop-up gallery Furth Yashar presents a special exhibition, Peter Shire: Good Taste, from May 7 through 11 at the new Farrow & Ball La Cienega Design Quarter showroom, 741 N. La Cienega, L.A.

On a Modernist’s Modernist: Richard Neutra

Pasadena architect and Neutra expert Barbara Lamprecht discusses the modern architect’s views on building with nature, his Pasadena homes and much more.

From 1923 until his death in 1970, architect Richard Neutra made Los Angeles his home. The Vienna-born architect rose to prominence designing modernist residences in Southern California, starting with the Lovell Health House in Los Feliz, a 1929 landmark using store-bought materials and erected in a mere 40 hours; his iconic flat-topped Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs followed in 1946. The Health House is a hallmark of International Style architecture, championed by masters like Philip Johnson, and a precursor to midcentury modernism; both movements were characterized by clean lines, geometric forms and the use of mass-produced industrial materials. In Pasadena, Neutra left his mark on two homes: the Clark House (1957) and the Perkins House (1955). That period also saw his involvement with the Case Study House program, which commissioned important modern architects to design affordable housing for soldiers returning from World War II. Their simple designs accenting horizontal planes and incorporating the outdoors were characterized by the same principles Neutra learned from his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright, for whom he worked as an assistant.

But all of Neutra’s projects reflected his philosophy. “For him, modernism was not something you impose on people. The point of his architecture is that it provides opportunities for you to acquit your life in ways you could never imagine. That’s what makes a good architect,” says architectural historian Dr. Barbara Lamprecht, a leading expert on the work of Richard Neutra, who will speak on his use of landscape architecture June 3 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The author of several books on the leading modernist, including Taschen’s Richard Neutra 1892-1970: Survival Through Design (2004) and the art publisher’s comprehensive Neutra: Complete Works (2000), Lamprecht is a trained architect, a referral agent with Deasy Penner Podley and conservation consultant, submitting structures for landmark protection.

Lamprecht sat down with Arroyo Monthly to talk about the midcentury modern master, his work in Pasadena and the ceaseless struggle to stave off the wrecking ball.

Arroyo: Returning from World War I, one of  Neutra’s first jobs was as assistant to pioneering landscape architect Gustav Ammann in Vienna.

Lamprecht: Ammann was in the forefront of modernist landscape architectural theory. Neutra always seems to be in the right place at the right time, meeting Mies van der Rohe and being invited to speak at the Bauhaus in 1930, or growing up in Vienna where he was introduced to Gustav Klimt and Arnold Schoenberg. So, Neutra’s first job with Ammann put him in contact with great figures in landscape architectural history in Germany. These people were investigating why we should use certain kinds of plants rather than others, establishing a theoretical basis for landscape design. You had the idea that gardens were for people, not just the aristocracy, not just the landed gentry.

What were some of the aesthetic principles they were grappling with?

He based his ideas about why human beings needed [to live amid] landscape and nature on evolutionary biology, the new discipline that suggested that we evolved on the plains of East Africa. That meant that in our visual field would have been bodies of water and savannas and the horizon lines, groups of trees — our DNA, our genetic ancestry, had evolved in order to accommodate that. Because it was ingrained in our DNA, because it was part of our genetic ancestry, it behooved contemporary human beings to create that same kind of quality in our environment.

How does the 1955 Perkins House here in Pasadena reflect where he was in his practice at the time?

Throughout the entire spectrum of his work, there is a move away from what was called the International Style, which is what you see at Lovell Health House and the Strathmore Apartments [in Westwood], into a more relaxed expression of lines and planes and pavilions with walls of glass. You see less of the white boxy volumes and more natural materials. That’s why the 1950s is called Neutra’s golden era.

He designed the house to the specifications of Occidental College art scholar Connie Perkins, didn’t he?

You asked a client all kinds of questions. You learned about their lives, you learned about what made them tick. You didn’t impose architecture on people. Neutra had designed a discreet bedroom for her in the north end of the house, but she preferred to sleep facing the view. So, where she worked — her office, her desk, her bed — that could be sealed off from the living room. It was an open plan house.

It’s Neutra’s golden era, but it’s also very much in keeping with what has come before.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s old dictum of breaking a box — a Victorian house is very much a solid box, a clearly defined volume, vertically oriented. But if you take that cardboard box and start taking it apart and making it a series of interlocking planes, rather than a big fat volume, you get a different experience of living. When you look at the Perkins House, that is a series of lines and planes that engage
the hill. It’s incredibly graceful and really exploits the incredible view that she enjoyed every day. And she and Neutra designed the pool that goes inside and outside; they designed that jointly and it was
her idea.

At Pasadena’s Clark House, built for a musician and a teacher in 1957, landscape architect Isamu Watanabe did the grounds.

Neutra had a great affinity for Japanese architecture and landscape design and was deeply informed on his own sensibility based on his trip to Japan. In a forward to a book on Japanese architecture, he said when he came to Japan in 1930 he felt as though he was coming home. It confirmed a lot of his ideas about the landscape. For example, with Neutra’s entrances to his houses, they’re sort of zigzag paths to his front door. He designed it in such a way that the body slows down to make the transition from your public persona to your domestic, private self.

As highly regarded and well known as he is, Neutra’s structures continue to be in danger. Why is that?

I was pretty involved in nominating a lot of houses for historic designation. The Kuhns House [in Woodland Hills] is now being evaluated by the City of Los Angeles. I just submitted the application for nomination. We’re going ahead with nominating the Miller House in Palm Springs and the Kelton Apartments that Neutra designed in Westwood in 1941. The Strathmore Apartments were designated a few years ago. That’s a good means of protection, but it doesn’t protect against demolition.

Is that the biggest threat? What is the biggest threat facing these buildings?

A lot of people don’t fully understand modern architecture. And they’re in great danger of being altered in ways that are incompatible with the building. And that’s why a new owner should typically take their time and understand a Neutra house and understand how incredibly rare they are. It’s very difficult to find a Neutra house that hasn’t been altered in ways that are not sympathetic.

Any accounts of what Neutra was like on a personal level?

I think he was probably far more thoughtful and intelligent than people gave him credit for. He could be charming one moment and sometimes very, very emotionally needy for recognition the next. But his ideas — he really mesmerized people. He was so knowledgeable about so many areas. He would be on a first-name basis with prophets of the Old Testament. He knew Greek philosophers and Greek mythology. Wherever he traveled in the world, he appreciated the culture and the people.

And well-roundedness presumably helped him pitch what were radical ideas at the time.

A lot of his thinking is based in neural science, physiological psychology, evolutionary biology. He wasn’t looking at architectural magazines. He was looking at other kinds of sources and thinking about how to better humanity no matter what the income strata.

What would he think of the super-wealthy who today occupy houses he designed for people of more modest means?

He had very wealthy clients too; he had Anna Sten, John Nicholas Brown, Philip Lovell, they are people with a lot of money. But you find the same materials and fixtures in the houses for the wealthy as you do in the houses for the migrant workers.

What would he say about affordable housing today?

I think he would be appalled at how we don’t have affordable housing, because that was a passion in the ’20s, the ’30s. In 1932, he was part of an exhibition on public housing in Vienna. He designed housing for migrant workers out of food crates, but [it was] never built. That was his passion. I don’t think he would mind a celebrity buying his house. But what he would have minded is our total lack of compassion for those less fortunate and the way that we’ve allowed houses to become unaffordable for most of us.   

AN ALL-NATURAL SHOWCASE HOUSE

Descanso Gardens’ flora and fauna inspired this year’s Showcase House of Design

When you’re redecorating a historic house in one of the finest public gardens in Los Angeles County, you’re surrounded by pure inspiration. And the 15 participants in the 2019 Pasadena Showcase House of Design, who overhauled the interior of Descanso Gardens’ Boddy House, found just that, harnessing splendid floral and fauna elements in their designs.
Designed by James E. Dolena in the Hollywood Regency style, the 12,000-square-foot Boddy House was built for the late publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News, E. Manchester Boddy, as a home for himself, his wife, Berenice, and their two sons. Boddy purchased the land that is now Descanso Gardens in 1937 and called it Rancho del Descanso — Ranch of Rest. This is the second time Showcase House of the Arts, which organizes the annual arts fundraiser, has made over the Boddy House; it debuted in 2007 as the 43rd Pasadena Showcase House of Design.
The sprawling botanical gardens in La Caňada Flintridge are particularly known for the Camellia Forest, so Boddy House is peppered with decorative objects evoking camellias. Descanso has the largest camellia collection in North America, designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. Boddy had planted thousands of the Asian flowering plants in the 1930s, to supply the cut-flower industry. Camellias also bloom in the Japanese Garden, which opened in 1966, long after Boddy sold the estate to L.A. County in 1953.

The Living Room
Louise O’Malley’s design for the living room uses dark greens and reds to bring out the colors of the delicate Japanese maple leaves visible from the window beside the piano. For the walls, the Burbank-based designer used a slightly lighter version of Dunn-Edwards Paints’ 2019 Color of the Year: “Spice of Life,” a dark brownish, fire-brick red with orange undertones.
Chinese designs on the curtains give a nod to the gardens’ East Asian influences, as does O’Malley’s custom pagoda pet house, a charming tented pouf beneath a tiny chandelier — for your spoiled cat, small dog or rabbit. There’s also a large chandelier for humans with a clear sphere that magically captures an upside-down image of the room.
O’Malley juxtaposes a pair of brilliant white porcelain phoenixes against a wooden screen to brighten a dark corner and draw attention to a nearby set of six antique wooden chairs reupholstered in leopard-patterned fabric, with hand-carved leopard “feet.”
The bird motif repeats on the back stairway designed by Studio Akiko of Arcadia, where hand-painted cranes fly up the walls. Framed Chinoiserie wallpaper on the upstairs landing, designed by Studio City–based Leila Bick, features well-known feral fowls of Pasadena. And on the outdoor “poet’s porch,” decorative artist Shari Tipich of San Pedro will present real caged birds as nature’s muses.

Solarium
SoCal gardens bloom year-round because of the abundant sunshine, and designer Tracy Murdock of Beverly Hills celebrates all those sunny days by dressing the solarium in Asian motifs expressed in a palette of whites and Delft blues. Entering from the family salon, you pass through a hallway boasting a glimpse of classic Hollywood style — a lovely photograph of the Roman Holiday princess, Audrey Hepburn, amid clouds of pink flowers. In an installation by Murdock designer Dannielle Gross, antique and contemporary blue-on-white Chinese ceramics adorn the wall, both inside and spilling out of an ornate gold frame, as if making their escape. The work took four weeks to install.
Inside the solarium, small ceramic pagodas house bursts of blooms. The geometric blue-and-white wallpaper by Scalamandre offers a modern take on the Chinese ceramic patterns, and the cut-velvet upholstery used for the circular conversation seat celebrates SoCal’s blue skies while echoing the Chinese ceramic blues.

Morning Room
Carbonshack specializes in sustainable design that reduces clients’ carbon footprints, and the Cypress Park firm’s inspiration for the morning room is both intellectual and instinctive. Carbonshack found fresh designs in magnified images of spores, mycelia (root systems that form a network) and other occupants of the gardens’ hidden world, reflected in hemp fabrics and the overhead light fixture modeled on a diatom, a single-celled alga that produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen. The sustainably produced cork-tile floor mimics leaf cell structures, evoking a forest floor; according to designer Gregory Roth, the material has more give than typical hard materials, making it kinder on the joints. Cork flooring also recalls a past era when this sustainable resource was more popular (1930s and again in the 1950s). The table is recycled wood from a church pew, perhaps from a tree that was felled over 100 years ago. Amanda Triplett’s wall art uses reclaimed textiles to portray an organic cellular structure.
Yet life and living are about motion. Instead of still photography that captures a moment, eight art videos by Rachel Mayeri, a professor of media studies at Harvey Mudd College, use time-lapse photography and digital design for colorful depictions of plants blooming. The effect is mesmerizing and emphasizes rejuvenation or rebirth on an organic level. What better way to start a morning?


The 55th Pasadena Showcase House of Design, benefiting music education, performances and therapy, runs through May 19. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday; Friday hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Parking and shuttle-bus service is at 1919 Verdugo Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge. Tickets cost $35 to $45 online or by phone, $40 to $50 at the ticket office. Call (714) 442-3872 or visit pasadenashowcase.org.

A Crowded Family Tree

Once upon a time, a child in a typical family had two sets of grandparents: a maternal and paternal pair, four grandparents who could lavish attention, tell stories about the old days, provide babysitting duties and dole out extra cookies and ice cream when mom and dad weren’t looking. Through the decades, adult grandchildren were there to assist their aging grandparents, offering help and hands, reversing roles and becoming the new caretakers.

But an explosion in the divorce rate in the 1970s, coupled with a rise in domestic partnerships across the age spectrum, created more blended families that have shattered the traditional unit. Ripple effects have continued to alter family connections and interactions, especially for the 70 million grandparents who now live in the U.S.

Some changes are for the better, others not as much.

“Picture a family tree of a child who had parents that divorced and remarried — it’s possible that a child could have eight grandparents, and even those grandparents could divorce and remarry and then that number is exponentially increased as well,” says Caroline Cicero, an associate professor of gerontology at USC. “[Multiple grandparents are] changing the dynamics of families because there are many factors. Issues also come up even when couples are not married, especially domestic partnerships in older age; these relationships can affect numerous family members in so many ways.”

A family with numerous grandparents can be “a wonderful advantage or a nightmare,” says Christine Crosby, editor of Grand Magazine, a national publication focused on grandparent issues. When families are young, multiple grandparents mean more eyes to watch and positively influence the grandchildren — which can help overworked and exhausted parents. What could go wrong?

Well, there’s a natural friction that arises between grandparents, says Crosby, adding that it’s common even among grandparent couples who get along with each other and are all engaged with kids and grandkids. “I think it comes to down to jealousy and an underlying sense of competition,” she explains. Who gets to buy the First Communion dress? Why did they get to set up the college fund first? Why are they going there for the holidays? Look at them showing off with that expensive gift!

The solution is communication, and while it should originate from the parents, it often doesn’t because parents are overwhelmed or unaware of a potential powder keg. “It behooves one set of grandparents to get to know the other set of grandparents and the third or fourth set,” says Crosby. “I think it’s up to all the grandparents to realize how critically important this is, and how smart it would be to collaborate with one another.”

Crosby tells a story about how her son-in-law’s family kept jealousy in check. “Recently I received two beautiful books of our grandchildren that the grandmother put together not only for Mom and Dad, but she sent copies to me,” she says. “She wrote a note thanking me for the opportunity to share these beautiful grandchildren with her. It’s thoughtful, inclusive; it’s all the right things you want to do.”

But there can be a dark side, especially when it comes to nasty divorces; a parent may
consider an ex’s parents — the grandparents — off-limits, even if they proved to be a positive force in the past. “Those grandparents get the shaft and it can be a very sad thing,” says Crosby.

Indeed, being cut off from grandchildren can be emotionally devastating for seniors. Created in 2011, the nonprofit Alienated Grandparents Anonymous (AGA) reaches out with expert advice and support to grandparents worldwide who have experienced unhealthy behaviors, unrealistic expectations and high emotions that have destroyed or critically damaged relationships with their own adult children and grandchildren. Today, there are 129 support groups (including some in California) throughout 22 countries. During a national conference call each month, grandparents ask questions, tell their stories and help each other navigate the choppy waters of family dynamics.

“Grandparent alienation is all about power and control,” explains the founder, who asked for anonymity. AGA’s mission is to harness the help of professional experts in psychological alienation and offer strategies for rebuilding and healing relationships marred by rage, fear, jealousy and even betrayal from close family members. The founder tells of grandparents heartbroken from being denied access to their grandchildren, especially poignant after an adult child passes away either from an illness, unexpected death or even murder. “Even if you raised a healthy child, it can be who they marry that can be an issue,” she says. After all, when your child marries, “they marry into the dynamics of that other household.” Toxic daughters-in-law, for example, can bring jealousy and insecurities into the marriage by manipulating situations to reduce the influence of grandparents.

In support groups or on AGA conference calls, seniors usually listen quietly at first. But after hearing inspiring stories of others who’ve closed the gap, many become active participants, learning skills to navigate situations for better outcomes. “We encourage them to periodically send a message of love to their adult child, just one or two sentences, and then tell them something about what they are currently doing to get maybe a response,” says the founder, adding that these messages can be sent via text, voicemail, email, postcards or letters. “These messages can be strong, simple reminders.”

Another strategy for grandparents who have been completely cut off is this: Create a memory box filled with photos, stories, pictures of presents sent to the grandchildren (gifts that often are intercepted and not delivered) and other date-related mementos. These boxes have proven powerful, the founder says, citing the experience of a 17-year-old who angrily confronted his grandparents at their house, demanding to know why they “gave up on him as a child.” The grandparents calmly presented the box, and as they went through the materials inside together, the boy broke down, realizing he hadn’t been abandoned.

Young parents today often have higher standards on what kind of influences they want for their children, says Joel Coleman, a San Francisco–based psychologist and senior fellow at the nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families. “They demand certain levels of involvement and grandparents often can feel criticized and think that their values are being shunned,” he says. “There is a lot of potential for hurt feelings and misunderstandings.”

Alternatively, Coleman says that today’s seniors have a more active lifestyle than previous generations — and another source of tension can be adult children demanding their parents be “more involved with their grandchildren than the grandparents have the time or energy or resources to do.” Arguments can heat up (Don’t you care about your grandkids?) that can lead to threats (Well, maybe you don’t get to see your grandkids), which could set everyone back to square one.

With more people bonded in family relations — such as multiple grandparents — there needs to be a “lot of maturity and good psychological health for everyone involved,” says Coleman. “Learn how to communicate in a clear, low-key, non-
confrontational way and make sure there is clarity about expectations and sensitivity. Keep criticisms to a minimum.”

Healthy connections among adult children, grandchildren and grandparents can be a life-changing experience for everyone. According to the American Grandparents Association, 72 percent of grandparents say that being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying aspect of their lives. “If grandparents are involved in the lives of their grandchildren, they feel younger and have a renewed sense of purpose,” explains Annette Ermshar, a Pasadena-based psychologist, adding that research has also shown that if grandparents have emotionally close ties to their grandchildren, they have less depression. Hanging around grandkids on a daily basis keeps “grandparents mentally sharp,” she adds. “Studies have shown that grandmothers perform better at cognitive tests if they have regular contact with their grandchildren.”

Grandparents can also feel more comfortable in the modern world when they use technology to stay connected to their grandchildren. “Even simple texting is cognitively stimulating to them,” says Ermshar. If it wasn’t for grandkids, grandparents might not be exposed to social media, Skype and other contemporary communications.

Likewise, grandchildren can have renewed respect and a sense of security when their relationships with grandparents are strong — no matter how many sets of grandparents they have. Says Ermshar: “There is life wisdom and experience along with firsthand historical perspectives that can enrich their grandchildren’s lives and give them a better understanding of the past.”  

The Legacy of Nelbert Chouinard

The name Chouinard has a special place in the cultural history of Los Angeles, and that is because of Nelbert Murphy Chouinard, a dedicated arts educator who in 1921 founded one of the city’s earliest and most respected art academies, the Chouinard Art Institute. Its prominent alumni include such artists as Don Bachardy, Larry Bell and Ed Ruscha; animators Mary Blair and Chuck Jones and costume designers Edith Head and Bob Mackie. The school hasn’t existed as a separate entity since the late 1960s, when it was absorbed into California Institute of the Arts under the guidance of Roy Disney, executing a plan approved by his late brother Walt.

As a young woman, Nelbert (1879-1969) herself had received art training and had at least one gallery show in the Pasadena area, where she lived most of her adult life. Yet few have seen the art she made. Recently, her extended family generously gave the Pasadena Museum of History five of her artworks — three landscape paintings and two preparatory sketches — along with personal effects including old photographs, dresses and her diploma from The Pratt Institute in New York. The paintings are typical of early 1900s California landscapes; one, for example, showing a tall, stately eucalyptus towering over a cluster of plants on a gentle slope, all framed against the background of clear blue sky.

“We’re very excited to get this gift,” says Jeannette O’Malley, executive director of the museum. “It’s especially important because Nelbert was an influential educator. Many people have no idea she had roots in Pasadena.” Currently, the works are part of the exhibition California Women Artists Emerge, 1860–1960 curated by Maurine St. Gaudens and Joseph Morsman. The show has been extended to April 13.

Chouinard was born Nelbertina (or Nelibertina, the family’s not certain) Murphy to Ruth Helen Lawrence Murphy and Dr. Francis Lea Murphy on Feb. 9, 1879, in Montevideo, Minnesota. When she was very young, her older brother, Lloyd, shortened her name, and it stuck. “She was always Nelbert,” recalls Karen Laurence, Lloyd’s granddaughter and Nelbert’s grandniece, who now lives in New York. Her parents had met at Chouinard, and she also attended the school as a child. “Aunt Nelbert was what we were supposed to call her back in the day.”

In the early 1900s, Nelbert’s parents sent her off to New York to study at the Pratt Institute — apparently, according to Laurence, to prevent… what they regarded as an unfortunate marriage to a local Episcopalian minister, Horace Albert “Bert” Chouinard. In 1904 Nelbert received a diploma for a “Normal Art and Manual Training course of two years” from Pratt; that diploma is part of the gift to the museum.

When Dr. Murphy retired, he and his wife moved to the bucolic little town of South Pasadena, settling in a house on Garfield Avenue. In 1909 Nelbert also moved west, to a house at 917 San Pasqual St., Pasadena, which was very convenient since she taught studio art at the nearby Throop Polytechnic Institute (later the California Institute of Technology).

Nelbert was also painting in her studio and had at least one show at a Pasadena gallery, in 1916. At some point, and here the story is murky, she remet Chouinard, by then a retired U. S. Army chaplain living in El Paso, Texas. He married Nelbert in 1916 but, sadly, fell ill and died only two years later.

Nelbert returned to California to live with her parents and teach at the newly opened Otis Art Institute, then the largest art school west of Chicago. With Otis getting very crowded by 1921, the 42-year-old artist decided to open her own school, the Chouinard Art Institute, in a rented two-story house on 8th Street near downtown L.A. Assisting her were Frank Tolles Chamberlin, a painter and sculptor, and Donald Graham, a recent Stanford University graduate. In 1929 she managed to move the school into its own building, designed by the firm of Morgan, Walls and Clements, at 743 S. Grand View St., near MacArthur Park.

Her San Pasqual house is no more, but the Garfield Avenue house still stands, though it’s hard to see from the street. “My mother remembered the originally much smaller house sitting on two and a half acres of land surrounded by empty fields,” recalls Laurence. After World War II, Laurence’s family moved to the area when Nelbert offered her artist/animator father, Harry O. Diamond, the job of directing “The School,” as the family called the art academy. “My mother desperately wanted to go home to California, so Nelbert’s offer to run Chouinard seemed ideal,” Laurence recalls. “But by the time my parents had pulled up stakes, packed up the family and arrived back in Los Angeles, Nelbert, as she often did, rescinded the offer.” The strong-willed woman had second thoughts about sharing control. But Diamond ultimately taught there, on and off, for 18 years. During that time Laurence and her family paid regular visits to Aunt Nelbert. “She was beloved by our family,” she says. “I would describe her as fearless, passionate and completely committed to the importance of art education.”

Nelbert firmly believed in teaching students the three basics: drawing, color and design — with drawing the most important.  She managed to attract highly talented teachers such as Don Graham, who taught drawing to Walt Disney’s animators. “Don was a very educated guy, and in his classes we learned art history along with drawing,” says Laurence. In the 1950s the school became accredited and added academic courses to its raft of studio classes.

Despite its success, the school was running on a shoestring. With Nelbert’s declining health and the school’s diminishing financial resources, the Chouinard board sought out Walt Disney’s help. Nelbert herself passed away in 1969 at age 90, and the last class to graduate from Chouinard was in 1972. Some graduates went on to art-related careers, others did something completely different, but many came away with fond memories of their days at Chouinard. “She wanted to show people the possibilities,” Laurence says. “And she would say this to anyone: ‘No matter what you do later in life, you will all be the better for having studied art.’” 

Chouinard’s artwork can be viewed in California Women Artists Emerge, 1860–1960, which runs through April 13 at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena. Exhibition hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission costs $9; members and children under 12 are admitted free. Call (626) 577-1660 or visit pasadenahistory.org.

The Bambino, Bats and Snacks

There is nothing I look forward to more than baseball season.

Well… that’s not true at all. I look forward to a lot of things more than that — payday, kids coming home for a visit, Jeopardy at 7 p.m. — but I do really enjoy baseball. If you read this column regularly, you already know this, as I have written about it at least a hundred times.

Baseball is the one sport I really enjoy watching, live or on TV. For one thing, you can multitask and not miss a thing. Many wrong people consider baseball boring, and I get it. There’s no blood, no concussions, no brawling (usually) and no spectacular half-time show. There is, however, skill and strategy, and statistics, and rivalry, and seemingly endless anticipation.

For me, it’s the anticipation that I love. Anticipation for the season, for each time at bat, for the playoffs — the entire game is one long sequence of high hopes. And to be honest, for me the anticipation of everything is always better than the actual thing. The excitement of upcoming holidays, dessert, even weekends, is always better. Once they start, they’re almost over, and that’s just a bummer. Baseball season, thankfully, will last over half a year, which means the depression won’t set in until November — which is good news for the rest of my team. 

So you can imagine my excitement, when, while perusing this month’s National Day Calendar (yes, I am still doing that), there were a couple of baseball-centric days. First and foremost is National Babe Ruth Day on April 27. To celebrate I plan to watch The Babe Ruth Story from 1948. (Not 1992’s The Babe, which received two thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert.) William Bendix plays the Sultan of Swat in all his child-curing, dog-rescuing glory. I will probably also watch the overly schmaltzy biopic Pride of the Yankees because, although it’s not National Lou Gehrig Day, Gary Cooper is fun to look at, and the real Babe Ruth plays himself, as do a handful of other real Yankees. (Gehrig doesn’t have a National Day, although Major League Baseball does celebrate Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day on July 4 — as if we had nothing else to do that day.)

And because April 6 is National Caramel Popcorn Day, I will watch The Babe Ruth Story while snacking on my very own secret recipe for homemade Cracker Jack. The song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is responsible for my enduring love of this snack. It was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, two Tin Pan Alley composers looking for a hit. They got the idea from a poster on the subway advertising a baseball game at the Polo Grounds, then the Upper Manhattan home of the early Mets and Yankees. The duo had never been to a game, but that didn’t stop them. The song hit it big in vaudeville but wasn’t heard in the Major League until the 1934 World Series. Norworth didn’t make it to a game until 1940, when he was honored at Ebbets Field by the … wait for it … Dodgers!

I was also very excited to see that April 17 is National Bat Appreciation Day. Except it turned out to be about flying rats (bat aficionados probably won’t appreciate that I called them that) and not about the Louisville Slugger (MLB’s official bat, incidentally, was created in 1884 by Bud Hillerich, whose prototype pulled the Louisville Eclipse star Pete Browning out of a slump). 

Play ball! ||||

A Lasting Legacy

When Lucille Rader died in 2015 at age 92, she left a large portion of her estate to an eponymous foundation she’d created in 2000 to fund college scholarships for girls.

The Lucille Rader Education Foundation Scholarship Program was founded in memory of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who devoted their lives to excellence in teaching. Rader, a former nun who left the religious order and married, taught at Immaculate Heart High School for girls in Hollywood and other schools. Scholarship candidates must be senior Catholic high school girls in good academic standing, with “good moral character” who have participated in team sports. The values that informed Rader’s life — Catholicism, education and team sports — moved her to create a lasting legacy with the wealth she and her husband had amassed in life.

“She left almost everything to the foundation when she passed away,” said Timur Berberoglu, a Santa Monica–based attorney and partner in Deering, Sands & Berberoglu who specializes in trusts, estate planning and litigation. “She created it while she was alive, and one of the board members was one of her former students. We had to get a conservatorship for her. When she died, we were able to sell her house in Pacific Palisades and put the funds into the scholarship.”

Making plans for what happens to one’s estate, or whatever is left over at the end of life, falls to the bottom of the to-do list for many of us. For some reason, it is a dreaded task. Even Aretha Franklin, who died last August with an estate reportedly valued at $80 million, never got to it. She died with no will. And she is hardly alone.

About 60 percent of adult Americans have no will or last testament, according AARP.org. That’s not surprising since it means pondering your own death. It requires planning. Gathering documents. Tedious record-keeping. But the alternative — your hard-earned savings going to probate court, where it goes before a judge who distributes it if there is no will — is a time-consuming process that can be even more dreadful. In order to control where your assets and funds go when you’re gone, you must put your desires in a will. Creating a legacy is a way to dedicate hard-won funds to a principle, value or mission that has lasting meaning, value and significance.

“My view of legacy is that you actually design legacy every day and it is a reflection of your values and who you are,” said Patrick Renn, a certified financial planner based in Atlanta and author of Finding Your Money’s Greater Purpose: How to Make your Legacy Count (Advantage; 2015). “Once you get past the stage of, do I have enough money and will it run out, then the question is, now what?”

If there are children, to what extent do you provide for them in your estate plan? That can be complicated, although most parents want to leave everything to their children, according to estate planners and financial planners interviewed for this story. But there are a number of parents who don’t want to give their children so much that they miss out on the gratification and sweat rewards of earning their own way in the world.

Similarly, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both of whom have pledged to give half of their estates to charity, have said they want their children to work for what they have. But some context is in order here: Gates and wife Melinda are reportedly giving $10 million to each of their three children (a paltry sum compared to their total wealth, but to most of us unimaginable riches), and Buffett is said to have funded a $2 billion foundation for each of his three children. Sting, however, has said that his six children won’t receive most of his fortune, reportedly calling it “albatrosses round their necks.”

Plenty of people feel the same way about money spoiling their children’s ambition, drive and values, according to  Pasadena attorney Ali Smyser, a certified specialist in estate planning, trust and probate law. “I do have a number of clients who are either self-made and they want to make sure their kids have a work ethic, or they have an experience with a peer who had a trust fund coming so did not do much,” said Smyser, a senior associate in the Donald P. Schweitzer law firm. “Or they just want their children to work for what they receive.”

People who do want to leave everything to their children can accomplish that in a number of ways, and Renn said that parents should look at each child individually and not necessarily give each child an equal share. For example, a well-to-do child who is a doctor should not receive the same inheritance as a child who is a divorced teacher with a special-needs child. Some children don’t need any help. Some parents decide to leave college funds in trusts for their grandchildren, but very little for their affluent children. Once people decide on what to do about their children and grandchildren or extended relatives, then charities and legacies can be considered.

Some clients have what Smyser calls a “philanthropic heart,” and she encourages them to carve out a legacy and use their estate planning to make their lives and legacies more significant. She said that in these tumultuous political times where civil rights have been under siege, she has clients who changed their wills to include funds to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. “I make my clients aware of the possibility that if they would like to make a charitable gift, that now is the time,” she said. “Do they go to church, do they make regular gifts to a hospital or an animal rescue? Then I facilitate it.”

One client who inherited considerable funds from her parents and has no children set up a family foundation, Smyser said. Her parents then donated $1 million to the family foundation. She set up her own estate so that one third of it will go to fund the family foundation, which is dedicated to helping women and girls impacted by poverty and human trafficking. The Pasadena Community Foundation (PasadenaCF.org) helps many families establish and manage their charitable endowments.

But before anyone can consider creating a legacy or family foundation, Renn, the financial planner, said people have to figure out whether or not they have enough money to see them through to the end of their expected lifespan. After that, if  there are enough funds left after parents’ bequests to children or grandchildren, the balance can support a legacy inspired by values, principles and betterment of others.

“Typically, our clients are first-generation wealth, folks that did not come from well-heeled families, and they have some mileage on them,” he said. “They care about their church or school or hospital, or they feel some tie and they want to make life better for others.” The desire to improve things in their community is part of their DNA, he said.

One of Renn’s clients who’d never married and worked all her life was introduced by her parents’ friend to volunteering at the Salvation Army, a Christian human services nonprofit. When she died, she left everything to the Salvation Army — more than $1 million. “She had enough to live on, and she decided that other than a few requests from cousins and a couple of friends, she would leave everything to the Salvation Army,” he said. “She was a nice little lady, very self-sufficient and lived in a home by herself.”

Once an estate plan is drawn up or a will written, the task isn’t necessarily complete. It needs to be revisited again and again -— refreshed, if you will. That is because over time, elements in estate plans and wills change: Children grow up and guardians are no longer relevant. Money set-asides for the inheritance of a child who may now be an adult with a drug, alcohol or gambling problem, may warrant a change. Ongoing legacy donations can be impacted by tax law changes. And every two years, when Congress convenes, laws change. Many financial planners, some estate-plan attorneys and certified public accountants will calculate the impact of new tax laws on tax returns and estate taxes. So you’ll probably have to update your will and estate plan.

“We don’t want any surprises,” said Renn. “We hate surprises.” 

Managing the Elder Explosion

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that the country’s senior population is booming. By 2030, the number of American elders is expected to outnumber the population of children for the first time, according to U.S. Census projections. Here in the L.A. area, between 2010 and 2030, the population of people over 60 is expected to double, from 1.8 million to a whopping 3.6 million.

Is metro L.A. ready for the elder explosion? How residents in a vast county that encompasses 88 cities and 140 unincorporated areas be served most effectively?  How do you effectively connect with a economically and culturally diverse region that speaks in 200 languages?  What’s the best way to reimagine the region as a place where everyone wants to stay and grow comfortably old with adequate support? Can L.A. adult?

Currently, L.A. County and city are participating in a three-year action plan to tackle some of the biggest issues facing seniors who want to live out their golden years in the Golden State. The roots stretch back to 2008, when L.A. County Supervisors created a Seamless Senior Service task force to explore how to best integrate services. In 2016, the county shifted into higher gear and instructed the Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) to collaborate across 20 departments on the Purposeful Aging Los Angeles initiative (PALA), with the goal of targeting specific ways to make the L.A. region more senior-friendly. County staffers also reached out to coordinate their efforts with the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging.

The goal is to “improve not just the lives of older adults, but Angelenos of all ages,” says Joel Diaz, public information officer for WDACS. “Everyone is aging. We don’t want people to move out of the Los Angeles area, but stay here happily and engage with their community and families.”

An extensive research phase took place in 2017; WDACS launched a countywide survey with folks from AARP, the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and UCLA’s Los Angeles Community Academic Partnership for Research in Aging. Presented in nine languages, the survey was designed to learn more about the needs and realities of older people; more than 14,000 respondents answered questions on a broad range of topics. Stakeholders, advocates and professionals who work with older adults reviewed the results and developed recommendations; 300 older adults helped prioritize them.

The result? The countywide Age-Friendly Action Plan for 2018 to 2021 promotes 34 recommendations on how to make the following sectors more age-friendly: employment and civic participation, housing, emergency preparedness, social participation and use of outdoor space, among others. The emphasis is on practical and innovative ideas that unite public and private leadership, resources and strategies.

During its three-year lifespan, the Action Plan encourages and directs organizers at all levels to take greater advantage of resources and connections. Since its kick-off, new activities and programs have been launched. Here are just a few:

Dementia Friends/L.A. Found

An estimated 147,140 Angelenos currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2030 that number could reach more than 290,000. Research shows that the number of Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders experiencing dementia will triple; among African Americans it will double.

In partnership with Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles, PALA launched Dementia Friends L.A., part of a worldwide campaign started in the United Kingdom to create dementia-friendly environments and encourage a deeper understanding of individuals with dementia. The public can attend in-person talks or watch informational videos that offer instruction on how to detect certain dementia symptoms, along with practical advice on interacting with afflicted loved ones. More details at: alzheimersla.org/los-angeles.

There’s also the new L.A. Found program, a spinoff of the county’s Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force, which tackled the problem of wandering seniors with dementia. L.A. Found was implemented last year, providing families with a more direct connection for help with wandering elders who get lost. Individuals are fitted with a lightweight electronic wristband, called a Project Lifesaver. This radio-frequency tracking device allows the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to coordinate a countywide response when someone goes missing. Since its inception, two wandering individuals were successfully located within hours of the alert. “It’s incredible to see the effectiveness of this program,” says Diaz. He adds that the LAPD and local fire departments are also working together to respond to 911 calls and find wandering family members, sometimes even via helicopter. At the program kick-off last summer, more than 100 wristbands were handed out to caregivers. There is a $325 fee for the devices, although there are financial breaks for those with qualifying incomes. More details are at lafound.com.

New Freedom Taxicab Service Program/Volunteer Driver Mileage Reimbursement

Getting around L.A. County is a hassle at any age. For disabled seniors, it can be complex and frustrating. As of this year, the New Freedom Taxicab
Service Program offers eligible disabled seniors 60 years and older a monthly maximum of four free one-way trips covering a grand total of 40 miles. Rides must begin and end in L.A. County and can be arranged seven days a week; seniors can also request special wheelchair vans and/or ramps. Rides can be for medical appointments, shopping, banking, senior centers visits, volunteer sites and other reasons.

Still, some seniors (especially those who are more ill or frail) may feel more comfortable being driven by someone they know personally, such as a spouse, caregiver, neighbor or friend. The new Volunteer Driver Mileage Reimbursement program will financially reimburse these volunteers who drive a senior to needed destinations such as doctors’ offices and therapy centers as well as social outings. Seniors create a list of approved volunteers who can drive them and they receive mileage reimbursements for their approved trips (also within L.A. County) on a monthly basis, which they pass on to their drivers. The program has no limit on the number of monthly trips, but it caps out at a total of 250 miles a month, at a rate of 44 cents per mile ($110 maximum).

For more information, visit newfreedom.lacounty.gov or call (888) 863-7411.

Aging Mastery Program (AMP)

This free 10-week program offers core and elective classes that incorporate expert speakers, group discussions and resource materials. Each week features a different discussion topic related to health, finances and other concerns. Currently, the program is currently being offered at a select number of senior centers in the county, but more are being planned for the spring and summer. The participating center closest to Pasadena is the L.A. LGBT Center Anita May Rosenstein Campus at 1116 N. McCadden Pl. in Hollywood. Find out more at https://wdacs.lacounty.gov/amp/

Meanwhile, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted in February to explore the feasibility of creating an entire new department (working with? Los Angeles city? services) focused solely on serving older adults. This stand-alone county entity — which may be dubbed Seniors Advancing Gracefully Everywhere (SAGE), a moniker suggested by Supervisor Janice Hahn — could integrate services and provide an overarching strategy with perhaps a bigger focus on job training, employment and social services. Officials are researching the feasibility of such a standalone department and targeting what county programs and services could be included in that consolidation; a final report will be presented back to the board by year’s end.

No doubt, there will be many more chapters in local governments’ push for greater age-friendliness. Stay tuned.  

The bank of Mom and Dad

Like many comfortable parents of millennials, Jenny and Steven Lagos want to help their children get established as homeowners.

Both daughters, 37 and 35, are successful and live in San Francisco where astronomical home prices spike wildly in bidding wars. It is an expensive place to live, but neither daughter has plans to leave. “Once our grandchildren were born, we thought it would be so great if our kids could have a place to live [that they owned],” said Jenny Lagos, whose older daughter and husband have two young sons. “So we thought if they were willing to go in [together] on a duplex, they could afford it.”

So the retired couple secured a home equity line of credit on their San Diego house. They hoped to assist with the hardest home-buying stepping stone — the down payment. Their daughter and her husband, and their younger, single daughter, prequalified jointly for a mortgage in the mid-$900,000 range. The trio looked for a duplex, but right-priced duplexes were selling weeks later for up to $200,000 over the asking price. They are resigned to renting for now. Still, the Lagoses are keeping their home-equity line of credit, just in case the housing market takes a dive — even though Jenny Lagos acknowledged that’s unlikely. “It’s pretty laughable when you talk about the market going up and down in San Francisco,” she said.

More millennials (ages 23 to 38) are tapping their parents’ resources for help with a mortgage down payment because scraping up enough is an enormous challenge. Young adults have some unique financial disadvantages: They have lower incomes than baby boomers had as young adults, according to a Federal Reserve data analysis conducted by the nonprofit group Young Invincibles. Most of them also have skimpier assets, particularly those who are burdened by student loan debt. Indeed, just 30 percent of millennials are current homeowners, a historic low for the under-35 demographic, according to a recent Harvard University study.

Additionally, slow wage growth and a high cost of living makes squirreling away enough cash for a down payment next to impossible for many first-time homebuyers. Then there are the twin challenges of housing prices still rising year over year — though the pace has slowed — and higher mortgage interest rates that make buying a first home more expensive. Many millennials are waiting for the housing market to cool off before attempting to jump in.

“To put things in perspective, the median housing price in Pasadena is $800,000, but nationally the median housing price is $220,000, “ said Earl Jordan Yaokasin, CEO of Wealtharch Investment Services in Pasadena. “So Pasadena housing prices are about four times as much as the national average. But the income of millennials is not four times as much as the average national income. That is what is causing the affordability problem.” As a result, many millennials either have to borrow from their parents or have their parents cover the down payment outright, said Yaokasin, who is also a chartered financial analyst.

Home buyers typically need to put down 20 percent of the purchase price for conventional loans (more than 60 percent of buyers use a conventional loan) and pay closing costs of 2 to 5 percent of the home purchase price, said Yaokasin. A growing number of mortgage loan borrowers are making smaller down payments that range from 5 to 10 percent of a home purchase price; borrowers putting down less than 20 percent have to pay Primary Mortgage Insurance (or PMI), according to myhome.freddiemac.com, an information website exploring renting versus buying and the mortgage process. Millennial buyers need to factor in the additional costs of property insurance and property taxes when considering the entire cost, said Yoakasin.

But with high rents and payments for a car, insurance and gas, just saving for a 20 percent down payment on an $800,000 house — that would amount to $160,000 — is an incredibly difficult challenge. “Two-thirds of people I speak with who are millennials have debt and their saving habits are not great,” he said.

So many millennials turn to their parents for help. More than 26 percent of borrowers got help from a relative to make a down payment from September 2017 to 2018, up from 22 percent in 2011, according to the Federal Housing Administration’s 2018 annual report. The FHA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, insures lending institutions against riskier loans. First-time homebuyers with imperfect credit often secure FHA loans because they cannot qualify for standard loans that require a good credit history. Likewise, FHA homebuyers can put down as little as 3.5 percent of the home price, compared to conventional mortgage loans that require 20 percent. Riskier borrowers now make up about one-tenth of all home loans, according to the FHA.

Enter Mom and Dad. “Parents who want to help their adult children should really talk to an advisor before they do it,” said Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner at Wealth Resources Group in Westlake who specializes in guiding millennial clients. “You have to look at the whole situation, and there is no single, right decision for every situation,” added Frankle, who also counsels millennials in his creditpilgrim.com blog. “But the best way to do it is to have the children make payments immediately on the loan; the second is to defer payments until they get settled, maybe in 10 years, and the third is to make a gift, the worst alternative versus a loan.”

Unless parents are willing to gift it freely with absolutely no expectations, they should reconsider bankrolling the down payment, said Frankle, who is the father of three daughters, two of whom are millennials. If you are not clear about expectations, he notes, it could open the door to resentments and other family problems. .

Kathy Miles, a real estate agent for Keller Williams in Pasadena, has helped a number of millennials buy their first house in the past year. In her experience, young doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants or tech workers did not tap their parents for a down payment — but they did move back in with their parents until they’d saved enough to pay for it themselves. “I have worked with six millennials in the last 12 months and about half needed help from their parents and half did not,” said Miles, 31, who owns a house with her husband and bought it without parental assistance. “Two needed help with the down payment and those parents also cosigned onto the loan. The third millennial assumed the house from her parents who had dementia. But all of my friends who purchased a house in their 20s did get help from their parents.”

Homebuyers who need help with a down payment have been viewed as riskier because they have less of their own hard-earned cash invested in the property. If home prices drop, jobs are lost or some other financial calamity hits, the thinking is that buyers assisted with a down payment are quicker to walk away because the loss is less painful. In contrast, some lenders and financial advisors think that getting assistance from parents or a relative makes the buyer feel a sense of moral duty to protect their family’s investment. The evidence is mixed. Loan tracking data from the FHA that followed loans in 2010–2011 found that 7.6 percent of loans involving family assistance with the down payment are not in default for 90 days or more. That is less than the 9.3 percent of buyers who got down-payment help from an unrelated entity or the government. Only 5.2 percent of buyers who received no help with a down payment were delinquent on their FHA loans.

The big picture? It’s a good idea for parents to help their millennial kids — assuming they can afford to and the kids are responsible, said Frankle. But it is also a good idea to check in with a financial advisor before doing so. “It is better than waiting to die to give it to them, but you have to be sure that it does not create the wrong value,” he said. “From a relationship and financial basis, you are better off to make it a loan, but if that is not viable, then do it, let go and forget about it.”