Four Days After the National Cataclysm.


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Four days after the national cataclysm, uneasy inside, tentative, mourning for my nation and its political immolation, I took advantage of a partially overcast Saturday morning and walked on those quiet, well-kept streets north of Valley Presbyterian Hospital.

Tom Cluster’s emails had introduced me to the area, and I wanted to see for myself what it looked like.

On Columbus Avenue, where Tom had grown up, the street was still lined with trees, with neatly kept houses, and well-paved sidewalks. In front of his childhood home at 6944, where he lived from 1955-62, a gravestone next to the driveway read: “Beneath the Stone Lies Squeaky 7/13/61.”

I assumed a pet, but have not asked Tom yet. But I am sure he will fill in the mystery.

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If you walked just three streets, Halbrent, Columbus and Burnet, you might be forgiven for believing that virtuous, middle-class, hard-working, Ozzie and Harriet Van Nuys was still the norm.

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There is hardly any trash, the curbs are swept, the lawns are cut, and it seems that the hospital itself is as sanitized on the exterior as the interior. There is a calm, a self-assurance, an illusory orderliness conveying control. The buildings, dating back to 1958, drum shaped towers, share the grounds with more recent concrete ones; but unlike Cedars or UCLA, there is no affluence in the architecture, no preening for impressiveness or garish technological materials. This is a plain Protestant place, stripped down and frugal.

At Valley Presbyterian, there is also a long driveway leading from Noble, west, into the main entrance of the medical facility. The edge is lined with raised, planted beds under a 1950s modern, illuminated overhang. Welcoming and efficient, it conveys a public language of progressive health care and community.

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The Edsels and the Oldsmobiles and the Pontiacs wait patiently at the entrance as the medical staff bring out wheelchairs. Dad, always calm, lights a cigarette and turns on the radio to hear how Don Drysdale is doing. Mom, in labor, is brought into the hospital by nurses as Dad goes to park the car and walk back into the hospital to wait, in the maternity area, for his wife to give birth to their third child.

Volunteer girls in red lipstick and white uniforms hold trays of apple juice in Dixie cups. They walk the floor and offer refreshments.

Dad took the afternoon off work but will be at the GM plant in the morning. His wife will spend a week in the hospital and they will pay their $560.00 bill in $15.55 monthly installments over the next three years.


For a few blocks, a section of Van Nuys, its homes and hospitals, is still preserved in a formaldehyde of memory and architecture, a Twilight Zone where hospitals were up-to-date and affordable, great schools were within walking distance, jobs were plentiful, work was secure, streets were safe, and houses reasonably priced.

Beyond these streets, the real, harsh, angry, misery of another Van Nuys in another America plays out.

And we Californians, we Angelenos, are caught in a vise of fear, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, and seeing the day of demagoguery descend over Washington and the world.

In preserved pockets, like the one north of Vanowen, some cower and hide from a restless surge of irrationality in search of scapegoats, chasing myths down dark alleys of the mind. The state, if it comes to it, may join the vigilante in enforcing the law. Or the law, if it is just, may return us to a semblance of sanity.

The best and the worst, the past and the future, it is all here in Van Nuys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Cluster’s Van Nuys (1955-62) Part 2


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Tom Cluster (b. 1947) lived at 6944 Columbus with his sister and brother and parents from 1955-1962. The family then moved to Pacific Palisades. He now lives in Northern California and has been sending me his recollections of life in Van Nuys in the 1950s.

Here are some excerpts from his emails to me:

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12/6/1954 Star of Bethlehem Parade, Van Nuys, CA

“Everyone talks about the Bethlehem Star Parade on Van Nuys Blvd., and we’d go to see it also. It was a Big Deal in Van Nuys.

Chicken Ranch SFV (LAPL)
Chicken Ranch SFV (LAPL)

You write about Kester a lot, and thinking of Kester reminds me of my grandmother who worked at the MGM cartoon department in the 30’s and early 40’s. One of the cartoonists had a chicken ranch on Kester somewhere down near the LA River. I know this because I have a letter he wrote to my grandmother.

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Pictured are Mexican nationals at the Van Nuys jail. They are going to be returned to Mexico. Photograph dated April 14, 1949. (LAPL)

I had mentioned that the Valley was Lily White – what I meant was that there were (few) Blacks or Asians (apologies to the Jue Joe Clan). There were, of course, Hispanics. I remember riding my bicycle to a Mexican grocery just below Kester (on the east side, in other words) near Van Nuys High School. They had big pickles that I liked. I also remember that in my one semester at Van Nuys High (September 1961) a fight broke out in the quad between the Hispanics and the Whites. I’m not sure what words we used to describe these groups. We might have said “Mexicans”.


Valley Town Market/ Sepulveda Drive In

Note: Constructed in 1955, at a cost of $3,000,000,  the Valley Town Market and the Sepulveda Drive-In Theater were located near Erwin and Sepulveda in Van Nuys, CA. The market featured some amusement park rides, animals and outdoor informal “fast” food. 

The entire complex was demolished in 1992, and was replaced by Wickes Furniture, which was then torn down. And is today the site of LA Fitness and the Orange Line Busway parking lot.

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5-15-55-valley-town-market-and-drive-in (LA Times)
5/22/55 LA Times
5/22/55 LA Times

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Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)
Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)
Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)
Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)

“Targets” (1968) 

Random mass murder was still a novelty in 1968.

In that year, Peter Bogdanovich directed “Targets” about an assassin here in Van Nuys.

Tom Cluster remembers: “There was a drive-in theater on Sepulveda north of Oxnard, and there were some gas storage tanks adjacent to it. The tanks are still there, up against the 405, near the Orange Line Busway. This drive-in and the tanks were featured in the Peter Bogdanovich movie “Targets” (1968).”

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Sepulveda Super Drive-In Theater (1955-89) Corner of Erwin and Sepulveda. Demolished 1992. Now site of LA Fitness and Orange Line Busway Parking Lot. (Still image from “Targets”)

Other old photos of the Sepulveda Drive-In:

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Cluster Family Photos.

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1961/ Columbus Ave.

First picture – two kids on the sidewalk – one is my brother. This was taken in front of the bank manager’s house – the Cerf residence is just behind the closest walnut tree. This is the fall of 1961. We’re looking south down Columbus, toward the hospital’s land in the distance. Notice how the walnut trees stop after the Cerf’s house, and notice also how you don’t really see any buildings at the hospital, compared to now, where there’s a virtual wall at the edge of their property on Basset because of their expansion.

1959 Cluster
1959 Cluster

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Second picture – My sister on a trampoline, Christmas, 1959. There was a craze then for trampoline centers where kids could break their necks, so eventually they faded away. This particular center was on the west side of Kester, just north of Vanowen.

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Third picture – 1958 – My brother and sister, with Marlin Place in the background. You’ll see that our windows still have the fake shutters. We pulled them off when we got the house painted and never put them back – I’m not sure why. You can see Mr. Guyer’s house in the background, on Marlin Place. I looked it up and Zillow tells me it was built in 1955.

May 1956/ View south down Columbus towards Vanowen/Bassett
May 1956/ View south down Columbus towards Vanowen/Bassett
12/1957 Neighborhood children
12/1957 Neighborhood children

Tom Cluster School Days 

 

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Tom Cluster (behind woman in hat) 1961 (LAPL/LAT)

This ceremony was at the church on the southeast corner of Sherman Way and Kester.  At the time I think it was a Baptist church, but if I’m not mistaken it’s now a Four Square Gospel [Church on the Way] (3.5 stars on Yelp).   I was nominated for it by Mrs. Stitt, a social studies teacher at Fulton Jr. High.  Poor lady, such an unfortunate name, but it fit her.  I’m on the right, the first boy behind the woman with the fur, smiling and with my face partially obscured.  I still have that certificate (I keep almost everything).  My time in Junior High is clouded in shame that I shall never live down, which is one reason I didn’t attend the Van Nuys High School 50th reunion.  As much as I would have liked to see my old classmates, too many of them would remember that I was a “Cadet” at Fulton, or, in generic terms, a “Safety”.  We wore sashes that said Cadet and we were empowered to write citations for infractions such as littering and running.  I even got elected to the student council, into the position of “Boy’s Safety Representative.”

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Tom Cluster (Top Row, 1st boy on left)
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12/55

Photo Credits:

“Targets” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DnVkK-6sPg

Drive in Photos / http://www.garbell.com/drive-ins/drive-in.htm

Valley Market Town, Postcard of Van Nuys http://sanfernandovalleyblog.blogspot.com

Cluster Family photos courtesy of Tom Cluster

 

 

 

 

Trade For Print-a new short story


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“Trade For Print” is a new short story I wrote concerning an unscrupulous photographer who lures a postal worker into fraud by offering young love for sale.

The piece, entirely fictional, of course, takes place in North Hollywood and moves around on local boulevards and avenues: Chandler, Colfax, Bakman, Lemp and Lankershim.  And includes such storied places as The Federal Bar, SGI Buddhist Center and the North Hollywood Post Office.

 

 

Tom Cluster’s Van Nuys (1955-1962).


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Cluster Home: 6944 Columbus south of Marlin Pl.

A few weeks ago I received a lovely email, and some photos from Tom Cluster, a reader of this blog.

Here is one excerpt:

Dear Andy,

I just discovered your blog about Van Nuys.  I’m entranced by it.  I’m almost 70.  Our family moved to 6944 Columbus Avenue in the summer of 1955.  It was a small tract of new homes.  We moved from Westchester (near LAX).  A lot of people moved from Westchester to the Valley because the airport was expanding and streets were being eaten up.  Our new neighborhood was between Kester, Vose, Sepulveda, and Vanowen.

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Andy Devine (1905-77)
Andy Devine (1905-77)

The local celebrity was Andy Devine, who still lived in his big house on 6947 Kester, down near Basset.  At Halloween he’d hand out small boxes of Sugar Pops.  There was an old swimming pool across the street that he had built years before – the Crystal Plunge – and we’d swim there in the summer. We had smog alerts in those days and if there was a big rain we wouldn’t go to school because Kester St. would flood.

There was a family on Vose who sold eggs from their chickens – the mother and father had survived the Holocaust and had the tattooed numbers on their forearms.

[Then as now] It would get hot and there was no air conditioning, not at Valerio School (which in 1955-1956 was at the corner of Kester and Valerio, consisting entirely of temporary buildings with a dirt playground) and not in our homes.  Still, I have fond memories of Van Nuys.

Valerio St. School June 1956
Valerio St. School June 1956

The area where the Presbyterian Hospital is now was a big empty field full of tumbleweeds – we’d make forts and paths there.  When the hospital was built it was small compared to what it is today.  It was just two circular wings designed by William Leonard Pereira. (1909-1985) of  Pereira and Luckman.

March 18, 1957 reads "Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital's board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital's fund drive."  (LAPL)
March 18, 1957 reads “Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital’s board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital’s fund drive.” (LAPL)
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads "Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge." The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads “Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge.” The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
January 5, 1959 reads "Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center."
January 5, 1959 reads “Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center.”

(Valley Presbyterian Hospital images courtesy of LAPL)

If you look at a map, you’ll see that Noble, Burnett, and Columbus extend from Basset to Marlin Place – the 6900 block.  The houses from 6900 up to 6932 were built in 1951, the houses beginning at 6932 were built in 1955.  Our houses (6932 and up) were in an old walnut grove, so there was plenty of shade.

I’ve attached a picture out front of our house.  The older end of the street didn’t have walnut trees and it always seemed hot.  What we didn’t understand was that the walnut trees would all soon die because sidewalks and asphalt and lawns aren’t good for them.  At that point our end of the street got hot and the trees that had been planted at the other end of the street grew up and gave it shade.  We moved out in 1962.  The people who bought our house are still there – probably the longest residing family in that block of Columbus.

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My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

If you look at Street View for 6944 Columbus you’ll see that it’s perfectly manicured.  The builder of our little tract was named Arthur Guyer – he built tracts throughout the Valley.  He built 15153 Marlin Place for himself in about 1957.

There was another local celebrity on that street, although he wasn’t famous then.  The Cerf family lived at 6932 Columbus, and Vinton Cerf, the oldest son, was attending Robert Fulton Jr. High.  Vinton is famous as the “father of the Internet”.  He and a buddy invented TCP/IP while at UCLA. The Cerfs left Van Nuys about the same time we did.

I won’t bore you with my memories of all the commercial establishments, but I will mention that Kenny’s Automotive at 14852 Vanowen, near Kester, was there in the 1950’s, just as it is today.  Another hold out from the old days is Lloyd’s Market, at 7219 Kester.  It was called Lloyd’s even back then, and we’d stop there every day when we walked home from Valerio.

More to come…..

 

 

 

1962: Fear Free Junior Colleges May Begin Charging Tuition.


Valley College, 1962
Valley College, 1962

In 1962, junior colleges like Valley College were as free as high schools. Legally they were prohibited from collecting tuition.

“Pictured is a student walking the campus of Los Angeles Valley College with the photograph edited to show the word “Free?” hovering above. Photograph article dated August 13, 1962 partially reads, “There is increasing talk in school circles over the possibility of charging fees to students attending junior colleges in California…Currently, junior colleges (or two-year colleges) are considered part of the secondary school system and legal authorities have held that they may not charge fees any more than neighborhood elementary schools or high schools may.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Goldwater/ Valley Times Collection/ LAPL

Moving the Encampment Somewhere Else.


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For a few months, a large encampment of homeless men and women established a village on the streets and sidewalks of Van Nuys near the corner of Bessemer and Cedros.

Tents, tarps, clothes, shopping baskets and many bicycles (?) were piled up on the sidewalks between the parking lot rented by Keyes Chevrolet from Metro. New cars were set on fire, and the homeless, some militant some not, became a frightening reality for small businesses who are located in the area.

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Embarrassed into action, Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s office, along with LA Homeless Services Agency, LAPD, The Department of Sanitation, and the LAFD came in early last week and removed, through bulldozer and dump trucks, all the debris of the Third World settlement.

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During the siege, legitimate businesses who depend on safe streets and the ability for their customers to have street parking, as well as get in and out of buildings had to give up their normal rights to accommodate a pervasive pathology.

For the time being, the streets are clean and present a photo opportunity.

Meanwhile, a new encampment is setting up on Aetna just west of Van Nuys Boulevard, near where the new Fire Station #39 was planned and later sued into defeat. Community opposition from homes south of Oxnard defeated the new fire station, but now those residents who fought firefighters will have to welcome homeless people on their doorstep.

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