Somewhere only we know: Treehouse, Los Angeles

Life moves like a film reel in tinsel town

1200px-Sheets_Apartments_(Westwood)

The Sheats apartments in Westwood, Los Angeles, known as the Treehouse to UCLA students, is not a romantic place. It might have been back in 1949, when it was first built and before it was transformed into student housing. As the name suggests, the apartments are surrounded by trees. Its eight units are bright yellow, with futuristic curved windows, like a fallen SS Enterprise peeking through the foliage. Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, is rumoured to have lived here.

Like many students, though, my introduction to the Treehouse was at a raging frat party. It has hosted so many, its hardwood floors have long since been lacquered with layers of booze, tears and other miscellaneous fluids. The plaster is cracked from dancing, the tiles bordered in grout. And this has sapped all romance from the Treehouse.

When I was on exchange, a few friends and I sublet one of these units for a month. Its usual tenants had gone home for the summer, and we inherited scorched earth. On move in day, there were wood chips in the corner—the remains of a broken piano. A bottle of ketchup, one year past its expiration date, lurked menacingly in the corner of the fridge. And there was a bong the size of a small child on the balcony. We spent hours vacuuming all surfaces, disinfecting and scrubbing, before collapsing in a cloud of isopropyl alcohol on the couch (we learnt not to look under the cushions). We ate dinner and watched the sunset spill through the Los Angeles smog.

Treehouse became our bohemian refuge, packed with cameras, Gibsons and empty cheetos packets (flamin’ hot flavour)—a haven after our lazy, pretentious exploits in Venice Beach or Melrose. We spent days lounging around playing music and card games, reading and watching movies, talking and falling asleep on the couch, before abruptly waking up to the strains of a Rick and Morty theme remixed by the DJ upstairs.

Like Treehouse, LA has a boozy, tumultuous history, and it’s hard to describe a summer there without waxing cliched about the lights through the haze and the celebrity worship. After all, movies, its main export, invented cliches. I listened to the La La Land soundtrack in Griffith observatory, waiting for a meet-cute. My housemate took us on a walking tour of the Sunset Strip, passing the Viper Room and Tower Records, the Roxy and the Rainbow and the Whiskey A Go-Go. LA attracts a weird assortment of characters, some of whom found their way back to Treehouse. We hosted Sparky, who grew his own organic pot (peach flavour) and advised us, in conspiratorial whispers, to grow our hair out so that it could turn into antennae that would shield us from government interference.

I had to leave after a month; my visa was expiring and exchange was well and truly over. As befits Hollywood, I sobbed dramatically on my way to the airport—roll credits.

But after, as my friends later told me, Treehouse slipped from paradise to perdition. One housemate had started dating a girl he now describes as having “dark energy”, and the apartment was overrun by a slew of people less benign than Sparky. My other housemates escaped the situation by heading back home, but forgot they had left food out on the kitchen counter; this eventually developed into a sizeable maggot colony. The apartment fell into disrepair far worse than it had endured through all of its previous frat keggers; when the original tenants returned, my scattered housemates had to pay a significant sum in damages. We did not get our deposit back.

The apartment has now recovered—the original tenants have moved back in, the bong restored to its rightful position on the balcony. Treehouse is once again a venue for underage drunken revelry. My housemates have been blacklisted from further leasing its units. But I’d doubt they’d want to stay there again.

The peak-end rule describes a psychological bias in which people recollect an experience based largely on how they felt at its peak and at its end. For my housemates, these both occurred during the “dark energy” phase of Treehouse. When I ask them about their summer, they explain how terrible and bewildering that time was, and how glad they are it’s over. But, to me, Treehouse will always be a really fucking happy memory—it has the utopian domesticity of an Ikea catalogue. This version of the Treehouse remains untainted, romanticised and rose-tinted—a happy ending, if only in my mind.