Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hopland, Ukiah, Willits, Fort Bragg, Mendacino...

Here is a quick update of my touring in this area.  I spent a day in Hopland, which is approximately a dozen stores along route 101, plus some surrounding residential areas.  I met Parti, who runs a little antique and crafts store.  She showed me a small house she's renovating and asked me for a price to prepare some filing drawings.  My bid was triple what she thought a local service would charge.  I looked at a sample of their work, which she had from a previous project, and I told her they already had most of the boiler plate stuff in the computer for local code requirements and that I couldn't be competitive.  I said I'd meet her half way on the price, but of course that didn't do it.  There were no hard feelings.  She told me about more local towns and what rentals might be available.

I moved on to Ukiah and then spent the night in Willlits.  Two depressed and not so picturesque towns.  I don't remember talking with anyone.

I spent three or so days in Fort Bragg, a town built around a now closed huge logging mill.  I befriended Dan Hemann, proprietor of the Green Door Gallery, and an amazing sculptor.  I played vibes for the Farmer's Market one day and met all sorts of folks, including Tasha, a former cellist and now student of woodwork.  The next day, I went to visit the world famous College of the Redwoods School of Woodwork, a wonderful community of amazing craftsmen, and I saw Tasha again.  I also met much of the faculty and some other students, including another architect pursuing alternative careers.  Tasha directed me to Mahout, a collaborative of three alumni woodworkers who might take another into their shop.  I met with Isaac and later Andrew, and I may get an opportunity to join them in September.  Georgia Pacific owns the closed mill.  I met with the fellow directing the field efforts to clean up toxic waste from the old plant area, mostly spilled oil and wood preservative, some buried batteries, careless remains from an era when nobody thought of such things.  The mill site occupies several hundred acres along the ocean front, blocking the town's access to the spectacular Northern California sea shore.  When this land is restored, the town could boom.  I looked at the redevelopment master plans which include a lovely central park and water's edge nature trail, as well as commercial and residential areas.  It looks like there will be work here for architects in 5 or 10 years.  The necessary cleanup first, however, will be of unknown duration and litigious complexity.

Now I'm in Mendecino, the quintessential postcard modest coastal town.  So much so that it was chosen as the location to shoot "The Summer of '42".  The lush theme for that movie keeps running through my head, and I vaguely hope to bump into Jennifer O'Neil somewhere... oh yeah, it was a movie 40 years ago.  I'd love to live here.

I visited the Highlight Gallery which features high end woodwork.  Spectacularly well crafted pieces, and very high prices; now we're talking!  Owing to the presence of the College of the Redwoods, and the natural resources here, this is the woodworking craftsmen capital of the world.  I spoke to Owen Edwards, a stellar artisan who's number I got from Dan Hemann.  Owen spent half an hour on the phone with me and was very helpful, with suggestions of where to look to live, and names of other folks, other schools, etc.  I also got the clear impression that he was really struggling.  Gulp.  He's an established superstar and his business has really dropped off.  He offered to build my chair on commission.

I'm heading back to Oakland later, will stay at John and MK's and try working in Joshua's shop down there for August.  Then, I may head back east.

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