Talks with Tim is a weekly Q&A by Tim Grobaty, who has been a columnist in Long Beach for nearly 50 years. If you’d like to suggest an interesting or influential person in Long Beach for this (unconventional) interview, reach him at [email protected].
Alan Pullman is the founder of Long Beach-based Studio One Eleven where he leads design teams on mixed-use, urban infill and adaptive reuse projects. A registered architect in California and a member of both the American Institute of Architects and Urban Land Institute, he is a board member for Downtown Long Beach Alliance and is an adviser to the 4th Street Merchant Association. Pullman is a partner in East Village Associates, a development firm dedicated to adaptive reuse projects that contribute to the economic, environmental and community life of Downtown Long Beach.
Q: You start. What’s the first question I should ask you?
A: The first question…How do I like my martinis?
Q: How do you like your martinis?
A: A gin martini with an olive, stirred, not shaken.
[Edited for space: This led to a long discussion about various gins and their countries of origin as well as some of the best restaurants’ to get a martini. I like Nick’s on 2nd. Pullman said he’d heard that those were good and swore he’d try one soon. Also, I like mine shaken, not stirred.]
Q: You live in a house designed by Rafael Soriano. Are there other homes in Long Beach that he designed?
A: No. There are only 12 of his homes that are left, many in the Silverlake area. I recently visited two, one in Los Feliz and one in Echo Park. Soriano was from Greece, but he went to USC and was definitely a fixture in the architectural scene in the 1930s and on up into the 1980s, when he was mainly a teacher. Metal was scarce leading up to and during World War II, so, while he liked to work with aluminum, when it was hard to get it he used wood that he painted to look like aluminum. It was a trick he learned from Richard Neutra. He made some actual all-aluminum homes but very few have lasted.
Q: What’s on your bookstand now?
A: My “bookstand”?
Q: What are you reading?
A: I was taking a walk with one of my daughters [he has three with his wife Stephanie] and we came across one of those free libraries that people put in front of their houses and she picked out “Nine Stories” by J.D. Salinger. It’s an interesting read. I’m about halfway through with it.
Q: So, four and a half stories.
A: I’m trying to catch up on some of the older classics. I read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.”
Q: And then there’s your favorite, Jane Jacobs’ “Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
A: Jacobs wrote about the economy of cities, the social life of cities, very well. She went against the grain of the conventional thoughts of cities, not a Utopian vision that was put out by some of the more high-falutin’ architects. She wrote about preservation when there was no preservation, when cities were tearing down all their older buildings and calling it urban renewal, which did nothing for cities.
Q: What would she think about Long Beach today?
A: I think Jane would say we have some really great neighborhoods. The city’s got good bones, and is planned pretty well, with neighborhoods that have their own commercial strips, elementary schools and their own identities. Some parts are doing well, some are struggling. Retro Row has created a brand so it stands out as a great example of a creative neighborhood that’s done well. All the neighborhoods were planned at some point, but over the years some have lasted, some have not.
Q: What about Downtown? Can it be fixed?
A: It’s a problem. The pandemic has been really hard on Downtown because the area relied heavily on office workers during day going to all the restaurants, and even though we’re now post-pandemic, I hope, we’re seeing only about 30% of the workers coming back to their offices because remote working has been effective to a degree. Some call it a doom loop. I wouldn’t say that. Before COVID people were coming back to Downtown and one of the reasons was because crime was low. Now homelessness is big, vandalism is big. We’re going to have to figure out what the perks of Downtown are. First it was about shopping and retail, then its draw was entertainment. Now, we’re still coming to grips with the change. People won’t be coming back to Downtown if there’s a perception of safety problems or the perception of despair.
Q: It sounds unsolvable.
A: We have to help find housing, but it’s a statewide problem; it has to be done regionally. It’s challenging and the solutions are difficult. It’s gonna take many, many steps in many directions, mental health, physical health, drug addiction and then providing housing for people. It is really challenging, but you just can’t give up, you have to keep working.