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Northridge Artist Commune Inspires Creativity, Service

Brendan Heilke of Aethic Glassworks provides a live glassblowing demonstration at Das Bauhaus on Sunday. [Photos by Post-Periodical]

Brendan Heilke of Aethic Glassworks provides a live glassblowing demonstration at Das Bauhaus during a public art show on Sunday. [Photos by Post-Periodical]

At a small apartment building in Northridge, residents regularly gather in the courtyard to have a drink, talk about art and even listen to live music.

Das Bauhaus is a one-of-a-kind apartment building where an appreciation for art is essential and community service is required. The 24-unit building is open to artists of all kinds.

“I know for a fact there’s nothing like it in LA,” owner Don Larson said.

The hallways feature murals painted by the residents, while the walls of the parking area are covered with graffiti art. Every few months, they host a free public art show to feature the works of the tenants and other San Fernando Valley artists.

“It’s not a white picket fence suburban home,” said Brendon Wade, a photographer who moved to Das Bauhaus six months ago. “There’s a sense of community.”

Larson, who once painted a 60-foot mural of the San Fernando Valley for former Councilmember Greig Smith, understands the challenges facing artists. He always felt constrained as an artist living with other people, so he decided to create an environment where a creative mind is appreciated.

Tenants are encouraged and even expected to contribute to the artistic decorations. Something as simple as an old soda can could become a work of art, he said.

“It becomes a story of the people who live here,” Larson said. “You take one idea, and it inspires people to come up with other ideas. You help each other.”

Tenants are also required to participate in community events, such as the public art shows held at Das Bauhaus every few months. They also volunteer for the Northridge Sparkle Campaign which organizes neighborhood cleanup projects.

“They take responsibility for the cleaning and improving of the streets,” Larson said.

Larson feels a special responsibility to the community. He comes from one of the founding families of Northridge, and the Etiwanda Avenue property has been in the family four generations. His great-grandfather moved to the area in 1910. His father built the apartment building in the early 1960s.

The building has attracted many celebrities throughout the years. Singer Paula Abdul lived there while attending Cal State Northridge, and actor Richard Dreyfuss would hang out there while attending college.

He purchased the building from his father in the early 1990s. The 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged the building, and it was closed for several years. Larson began renovating the building – first dealing with the essentials, such as plumbing, and then adding artistic elements.

By 2000, the building became Das Bauhaus – named after a multidisciplinary German art movement of the 1920s. He removed a swimming pool and built a stage with bleacher seating in the courtyard. He has also added a grand piano bar and stools, pool table and dart room. Every room in the 24-unit building is unique.

After the earthquake, Larson decided to get rid of the standard metal mailboxes. Following the requirements provided by the U.S. Postal Service, Larson designed wooden mailboxes inside a music box which plays the Star Spangled Banner. The Postal Service liked the concept so much it was featured in their national publication.

Larson, who has a long gray beard and wears a tie-dyed shirt, said he does not look or act like a typical landlord.

“I don’t treat them like tenants. They’re guests,” he said.

For example, he selects a tenant of the year and adds their name to a plaque displayed in the building. Although some people see the graffiti and believe it’s a party house, Larson said the community does not accept wild parties or illegal behavior. He believes in setting high expectations.

The apartment usually has a waiting list of 20 to 30 people, according to Larson. He selects tenants based on compatibility.

“It doesn’t feel like living in an apartment,” said Sandesh Nagara, a music composer who is studying film scores.

Nagara moved to the United States from India 5 years ago and moved to Das Bauhaus six months ago. He said the tenants are allowed to play their music during the day as long as they stop before 10 p.m.

Mark Johnson, a singer and musician who has lived there for six or seven years, said they have a strong community. If someone is playing music too loudly, their neighbors will talk to them rather than complaining to a manager. The tenants form a bond and some have even formed bands together.

“Everyone’s really supportive,” musician Michael Lombardi said. “It’s exciting to see creativity happen.”

Despite the interest, Larson has no interest of owning or managing any other buildings. He said he does not like being a landlord.

Flip Cassidy and The Junkyard Gospel perform at Das Bauhaus.