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Greening Hollywood: Alter Eco & Pharmaka (Greek, pl.) Remedy or Poison

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Pharmaka, in ancient Greek, also means to paint and a painters palette, so for the name of an art gallery located at the corner of 5th and Main in downtown L.A., the name fits. And now that Pharmaka is downtown L.A.'s first Eco-gallery, thanks to the producers of Planet Green's Alter Eco TV show, Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer and Richard Byrd of Byrd Eco Luxury Builder, the phonetic resonance of the gallery's Greek name also fits. Pharmaka.

The gallery, which will be featured on Monday night's Alter Eco episode, is the love-brain-child of Shane Guffogg, Exec. Director along with Rebecca Bush O'Leary, of the nonprofit. Adam Gross currently of MOCA and John Scane, artist, were Guffogg's early conspirators.

Back in 2003, they met among fellow artists, talked, and eventually came up with the question Is art still a valid form of communication, and if so, how or is it just a commodity? Their answer was to start an art gallery on the skiddest of then downtown L.A.'s skid rows, 5th and Main, site of the former Million Dollar Hotel. "It was considered the worst corner in L.A. with 95% of the heroin traffic coming through there," recalls Guffogg, who was approached by the owner of the building who had intended to convert the property into live-work lofts.

"When I first went to see the space, I had to step over what seemed like over 100 people that were lining the sidewalk, smoking crack pipes. The owner...offered me 3 storefronts for 2 years at $25 a month." Live-work lofts in the neighborhood now rent for upwards of $2000 month.

Of course Guffogg and his fellow Pharmaka artist-bandits had to do and pay for all the demo and remodeling. Architect Christoph Kapeller, the lead architect on the new library in Alexandria, Egypt designed the space. Their first Downtown Artwalk they hosted out of Pharmaka Gallery 3 years ago saw a 12-person turnout. Last month's turnout: 2,000 people.

"As painters we believe in the power of painting as a visual and emotional language," states the Pharmaka manifesto.

Beauty and the beautification of our surroundings, our world, certainly reside well within the domain of environmentalism. As if Pharmaka isn't already doing enough, now they've also gone green. Richard Byrd, of Byrd Development, is the force behind the 13-week building schedule, from the ground up, of Alter Eco's Los Feliz Spanish Hacienda Luxury Eco-house.

Inside Pharmaka Gallery

Richard suggested greening Pharmaka for the show," recalls Guffogg. "Two weeks later it was happening." The results: Lights were replaced with LED lights from Green Torch Lighting which cut electrical intake by 85%. Big Ass Fans installed a 12 fan which gently circulates the air, lowering the air temperature and producing no emissions. Furniture made from recycled milk cartons and teak wood was supplied by Ford Brady. Monday night's Alter Eco episode documents the whole transformation. www.pharmaka-art.org

But then Byrd Development knows a thing or two, now, about green building. The Alter Eco house is the first Platinum LEED certified custom-built residential home in the nation, according to Byrd. Because a home is the most expensive purchase most anyone will make, their goal was to build a classy Spanish home, that, oh yeah, functions fully at 95% off the electrical grid.

"The kitchen uses 90% less energy than a conventionally built house," confesses Byrd. Byrd Development has 15 years in residential and commercial real estate development. The Alter Eco house in Los Feliz is the first Green building they've constructed. "I am now convinced that Green Building is easy and could be mandated," says Byrd who adhered to a 14-week building schedule to keep up with the show's production season. "The only thing stopping the major builders is just the old way of doing things. It's risky to work with new systems, but after completing this, I see it's pretty easy, in fact." Alter Eco Sneak Peek

Byrd Development is currently shooting a series of instructive videos on eco-fitting and building luxury residential homes. They are also currently consulting with Westfield Corporation on greening new and existing commercial properties. "Don't alienate the big players," advises Byrd. "Any big company that's making even the smallest changes has a potentially much greater impact than huge changes from a small company. We need to sustain all businesses that are practicing sustainability."

The Pharmaka fundraiser took place at the Alter Eco luxury home Sunday September 7th, and was sponsored in part by Divine Nourishment, Big Ass Fans, Green Torch, Parducci Wines, Mendocino Wine Co., Byrd Development and The Green Life. Music was provided by String Theory.

Pharmaka straddles these divergent streams that divide the old and the new, tradition and revolution. - Pharmaka Manifesto

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