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Das Bauhuas

An unassuming apartment complex on Etiwanda Avenue located blocks from the California State University Northridge, Das Bauhaus has long been a haven for aspiring artists.

Owner Don Larson has crafted this 24 unit apartment complex into his own version of an artist commune.  He has knocked down walls to create a community kitchen, and made each apartment its own unique dwelling.

The building, called  Das Bauhaus after the interdisciplinary artistic movement in Germany, is full of visual artists, spray painters, actors, musicians, and sculptors.

“They are a group of people struggling to make something out of art while they’re here,” says apartment complex owner Don Larson.

Das Bauhaus has produced a number of artists including Richard Dryfus, Paula Abdul, Joan Chen, DJ Tony Valdez, and DJ Flying Lotus whose credits include music heard on Adult Swim.

“There has always been a gravity from this building where artistic people are attracted to it,” says Larson.

This building, or the property it sits on has been in Larson’s family for over 100 years.  The building itself was built in 1961 and has been associated with CSUN since its inception.  At one point it served as housing for foreign exchange students.

“None of this used to here,” says Larson gesturing to the courtyard.  All of this has been done in the last 10 years.”

Entering the complex from the street you pass by window displays that change monthly.  Currently they are decorated to celebrate the Fourth of July with WWII memorabilia.

A giant python lives in a glassed in enclosure behind an American flag.  Artwork lines the walls and a stage adorns the center of the courtyard.

Bleachers sit in front of the stage and serve a dual purpose of seating and community center.  The parking garage has become an art gallery for spray paint artists.

“Graffiti has an edge,” says Larson.  “Nothing else draws a crowd like it.”

The art changes constantly and provides a focal point for the local taggers.  Taggers gain respect by tagging at Bauhaus. They are graffiti artists who see most graffiti as trash.

Gang signs written on walls are not art, they argue.  They talk about taking their art out into the community and covering gang graffiti with murals.

“They are a very obvious way to bring beauty to the city around us,” says resident Dallas Ryder.

Graffiti is not the only art form endorsed by residents however, far from it.

“95% of people here are involved in music, visual arts, or theater arts,” says Larson.

Impromptu concerts utilizing the stage, acoustic solos and jam sessions are a common occurrence.

“No place else has this, it doesn’t exist,” says Larson.

Recently Bauhaus hosted ‘Dedicated’, a rave to celebrate the opening of a movie created by residents to showcase their art.  Attendance was numbered around 300 people.

“We’ve had parties of over a 1000 people,” says Larson.  “We’ve taken over the street.”

This group of eclectic artists was once in charge of the neighborhood.  The old Northridge Neighborhood Council was run for four years by Das Bauhaus residents.

Disdaining conventional titles for their officers they created their own.  They called their council Gilgamesh, which meant a place with new ideas.  Kauhuna, a Hawian name for leader, was the term for the president of the council.

Lately residents have once again started to take an active interest in neighborhood affairs.

“Its not just the street you live on,” says resident Jason Ritter.

After returning from Desert Storm,  resident artist Mark Johnson,40, started getting involved in his community by participating in protests’ against the war, against anti-immigration, and against racism.

“I’d like to see some kind of change, but its hard for one person to make a change,” says Johnson.

DJ William King, 23, also feels a need to give back to his community and especially disadvantaged youth.

“These are the guys who are gonna be running things some day,” says King.

They are two members of the newly elected Northridge South Board of Directors.

Northridge South, a newly formed neighborhood, recently held elections in which five members of this artist commune ran for office.  King and Johnson were among the newly appointed officers.

Perhaps not the normal type of person to run for public office they never the less feel strongly about their community.

“We need experience but we need new ideas more,” says King.

A normal day for them consists of community breakfast, hanging with neighbors in the courtyard, impromptu concerts, comedy acts and of course a little partying.

Many free spirits accompany the artists at Bauhaus, which is as it should be say residents.

“People come here with something to learn whether they know it or not,” says resident Danielle Levy.

One resident recently described the complex as ‘Never Never Land’.

“Its unique, a community where art is encouraged, where we can get the message out about artists trying to do things,” says King.

This center for the arts is a home not a party house.  Its a community and people live there.

“Its a place where we live,” says Larson.  “Safety and privacy are our main concerns, you have to know someone to get in.”



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