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LABJ’s LA Stories / The Roving Eye

LABJ’s LA Stories

House Proud

The good news is there’s finally some affordable housing in Southern California. The bad news is that it’s designed for kids age three to six.

Five of L.A.’s busiest home builders have created playhouses that will be auctioned off this month to raise money for HomeAid, a local transitional housing provider.

Toll Brothers Inc., New Urban West Inc., Greystone Homes, Pardee Homes and Montage Development designed and built the 8-by-8 foot homes, now on display at the Oaks shopping center in Thousand Oaks.

Each is completely furnished, and one even has a functioning plasma screen television.

Earlier auctions have seen the playhouses sold for between $18,000 and $43,000, according to Kay Christianson, director of advertising development for Culver City-based 5th Gear Advertising Inc. Last year’s event netted $147,000 for HomeAid.

The Oct. 18 auction, said Christianson, gives parents the rare opportunity to be told, “Congratulations, you’ve bought a home in L.A. for $40,000!”

“The problem is,” she admitted, “is it’s only 64 square feet.”

David Greenberg

Smoke in the Water

Lighting up a cigarette used to be the only way to relieve a nicotine craving. Now nicotine comes in gum, candy, patches and bottled water.

This month, Westlake Village-based QT 5 Inc.’s NICOWater will start appearing in pharmacies mostly on the East Coast and in the South.

The company is working on agreements to place NICOWater in convenience stores and have it served in restaurants and airplanes, where smoking has already been banned. “You can’t tell a smoker when to quit,” said Steven Reder, the non-smoking president of the company. “But you can give them a better alternative.”

The Food and Drug Administration has approved NICOWater for use as a homeopathic drug, and the company reported in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has voluntarily asked retailers to restrict sales to adults only.

That hasn’t satisfied everyone. In Maine legislators have introduced bills that would ban the sale of NICOWater. The legislature adjourned before acting on them.

Andy Fixmer

Blind Ambition

Until recently, visually impaired voters at California polling stations could not keep their political stance private because they had to have someone punch their ballots for them.

Privacy finally came during the recall election when sightless voters cast their ballots at the 12 L.A. polling stations equipped for touchscreen voting.

“It was very exciting, all the blind folks were really jazzed,” said Carmen Apelgren, who is visually impaired and works as community relations coordinator at the Braille Institute’s Los Angeles office, one of the touchscreen polling stations. “Before, someone else always knew how I voted.”

Though not a large constituency, the blind are active voters, something Apelgren attributes to their high participation in community and advocacy activities for the blind. About 70 visually impaired people voted early at the Braille Institute, according to Eleanor Wright, election assistant for Los Angeles County and the polling place’s inspector.

“It really contributes to blind people being independent,” Apelgren said. “And the machine made it really easy to scroll through those 135 names.”

Matt Myerhoff

Flight of Fancy

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted its eight-month poultry quarantine Sept. 16, Southern California farmers and the Los Angeles Zoo breathed a sigh of relief.

The zoo had shuttered its two popular walk-in aviaries, each containing 100 birds, and cancelled off-site educational activities involving birds when the U.S.D.A. imposed an Exotic Newcastle Disease quarantine over much of Southern California.

“We had to capture our free-roaming peacocks and house them in enclosures and test them they came up negative,” said Cynthia Stringfield, the zoo’s senior veterinarian. “It was hard to catch them, but it was fun.”

The zoo had to take similar precautions in the petting zoo during the 2001 outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in England.

Matt Myerhoff

The Roving Eye

Images of America

Photographer Lewis Hine’s classic portrait of a little girl standing beside a Georgia cotton mill in 1909 says a lot about the pursuit of the American Dream and not necessarily in the most flattering ways.

Hine, along with Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White and Edward Steichen are among the photographers represented in “The Photograph and the American Dream” exhibition, which makes its U.S. debut Oct. 18 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Organized into six central themes, the exhibit features 120 photographs taken from 1840 to 1940. They reflect important milestones in America’s coming of age: the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad, the industrial age, World War I and the Great Depression. Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers are among the subjects featured.

“They all have to do with the concept of photography playing a role in the American Dream,” said Stephen White, the exhibition’s curator and a Los Angeles-based photographic historian.

White found the photographs at flea markets and auctions. Some of them cost several thousand dollars, but he expects a return on this investment, having sold a previous collection to a Japanese museum.

The photographs also struck a chord with former President Bill Clinton, who was contacted through the American ambassador to the Netherlands and wrote a foreword for the exhibition’s catalog.

“Clinton is interested in photography and has a collection of jazz photographs in his office,” said White.

The exhibition first opened at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and later moved to the Patrimoine Photographique in Paris. It will run at the Skirball until Jan. 4, 2004. For information: 310-440-4500.

Michael Thuresson

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