Option “A”: Destruction Dressed Up as a Dream Scheme.


From Oxnard north to Calvert, from Kester to Cedros, in Van Nuys, Metro Los Angeles is proposing a 33-acre light rail repair yard.

“Option A” will require the eviction, demolition and clearing of some hundred or more businesses that hug the Orange Line industrial area.

To the casual passerby, this area looks like a shabby district of old warehouses, with a sand gravel yard, a liquor store where homeless buy cans of beer, and used tires are fixed onto old cars at cheap prices. Wooden utility wires, car repair shops, and narrow Kester Street, along with a teaming population of Hispanics, affix in the elite, ruling-class imagination some place below dignity.

The real, happier, optimistic story is hidden away……

Behind the facades, technological, artistic, industrious, innovative and modern small businesses are building fine cabinetry, fashioning decorative metal hardware, restoring vintage motorbikes, making stained glass windows for churches and homes, recording music, and employing hundreds of people well-paid and well-skilled.

And they are all facing a death sentence whose judge, jury and law is Metro Los Angeles.

Pashupatina Owner Ivan Gomez
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Kristian Stroll, Owner: Bar Italia Vespa
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Ivan Gomez chatting with Kristian Storli inside Bar Italia Vespa. Both men have companies under demolition threat.
Hardware Built by Skilled Craftsmen at Pashupatina
Showcase Cabinet Owner Peter Scholz

The real estate here is cheaper, so Metro, in its billion-dollar “Measure M” wisdom, has fastened onto it, insisting that the destruction of many lives, companies and buildings will “improve” Van Nuys by permitting a site where trains from the yet-to-be-built light rail can be repaired.

Imagine 33-acres of train tracks and floodlights, fences, security personnel, closed circuit cameras, and penitentiary inspired gravel and stone paved grounds, acres of track,  sitting just steps from Van Nuys Boulevard for the next 100 years?

 

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What will result from the gutting out of yet another piece of Van Nuys? Just look at Van Nuys Boulevard and surrounding streets where every generation since the 1950s has insisted the mass clearance of homes, buildings and small structures is for the “improvement” of Van Nuys.

Widening of Victory Blvd. 1955 Tree Removal.

When the Civic Center of Van Nuys was built in the early 1960s, hundreds of homes were knocked down. Today the area is a Martian Moonscape of emptiness propped up by court buildings and occasional law enforcement.

When Victory Boulevard and Van Nuys Boulevard were widened in the early 1950s, commerce was lost, walkability and desirability were thrown away. The result is an ugly speedway of pawn shops and urine scented sidewalks.

And if some hundred businesses are cleared away just blocks from Van Nuys Boulevard to make way for a fenced in, electrified, floodlit prison yard for light rail, what positive affect will this have on the promise of revival for Van Nuys?

Simon Simonian, owner, artist at Progressive Art Stained Glass Studio
New $30,000, Swiss Made, Vertical Panel Saw at Showcase.
Newly renovated industrial headquarters of Pashupatina where fine decorative metals are fashioned for installation in homes and businesses.
Pashupatina owner Ivan Gomez presents his creations to members of the Valley Economic Alliance.
Ed Kirakosian, Peter Scholz, Annie Vatov and Ivan Gomez meet to discuss the fight to preserve their businesses from eminent domain clearance.
The pristine and light-filled interior of Pasupatina.
Skilled craftsman at work at Showcase Cabinets.
Peter Scholz, owner, Showcase Cabinets, discusses work with a craftsman.
Pashupatina, a place where pride is evident.

You can be sure that the politicians and agencies will promise the world to Van Nuys. Just as a decade ago Mayor Villaraigosa gave us “A Million Trees” and only a few years ago current Mayor Garcetti lauded “Great Streets” to further the improvement of our urban boulevards. A walk along vacant shops on treeless Victory Boulevard from Kester to Van Nuys Boulevard is evidence of these old promises.

A great city needs small businesses. A great city needs walkable streets. A great city needs to fight for the survival of unique places connected by history, places organic to the area in which they are born.

Option A is yet another death knell for Van Nuys, another scheme from the outside of Van Nuys, dreamed up by bureaucrats flush with cash, who think they know best how to build in Los Angeles.

One Story Town


One Story Town is Sepulveda Bl., from Oxnard St. north to Victory Bl.

It is 2,569 feet long, almost a half a mile. It encompasses the Orange Line Metro Busway, LA Fitness, Costco, Wendy’s, Chef’s Table, The Barn, CVS, Dunn Edwards, Bellagio Car Wash, Wells Fargo Bank, Enterprise, Jiffy Lube and other small businesses selling used cars, folding doors, RV rentals, Chinese food, hair cutting, and ceramic tile.

The Southern Pacific freight trains once ran through the present day Orange Line, and they fashioned the district into a lumber- oriented, light industrial area. Such behemoths as Builder’s Emporium were located here, and the stretch of Oxnard that borders the old rail line has retained an industrial use.


The zoning designations for almost all the parcels along Sepulveda are commercial. They prohibit residential within walking distance of the Orange Line, and they prohibit it even though buses run up and down Sepulveda!

A beautifully maintained bus stop perfectly sited for long waits in 110 degree heat.

Available online for public research, is the Los Angeles’ ZIMAS, a website run by the Department of City Planning. Here one can select a parcel, for example, 6206 Sepulveda Blvd., where The Barn furniture store is located, and see that it occupies two parcels totaling 44,250 SF. It is not, according to ZIMAS, in a transit-oriented area, nor is it designated as a pedestrian oriented one, nor is it part of a community redevelopment one.

Someday the owners of The Barn, which has sold, since 1945, brown stained furniture in heavy wood to seemingly nobody, may choose to sell their business. And here there is enormous potential to develop a first-class residential and commercial building just steps from the Orange Line.

Residents of Halbrent St. just east of The Barn and other businesses, are on the ass-end of parking lots, illegally parked homeless RVs, and are subject to the use of their street as a speedway for cars entering and exiting Costco. Maybe, just for once, Halbrent St. might see a better development on its west side.

Every single one of the businesses, up and down Sepulveda, between Oxnard and Victory, is located, by observation, in a transit- oriented area. Yet ZIMAS states they are not.

Perhaps that will change as Los Angeles reviews its zoning, and permits taller, denser, more walkable development within a 5-minute walk from public transit.

At dusk, with the early October sun hitting the one-story buildings, there is a homely, lowbrow, neat banality to the structures along this stretch.

This is not the worst of Van Nuys. It is generally tidy. But nobody living nearby, some residing in million-dollar homes, would come here to mingle, to socialize, to sit and drink coffee, eat cake, shop or walk with their kids after dark.

Studio City has Tujunga Village.

Tujunga Village, Studio City, CA. Photo by John Sequiera.

And we, in Van Nuys, have, this:

The One Story Town: what is it and what could it be? Might this district, one day, contain vibrant restaurants, outdoor cafes, beer gardens, garden apartments, parks, trees, flowers, fountains? Why not?

In planning for 2027, 2037, 2047 and beyond why would we keep the preferences of car-oriented, suburban dreaming, 1975 Van Nuys, in place? Why are thousands of parking spaces at the Orange Line Busway used to store cars for Keyes Van Nuys? Is this the best we can do?

Could not a group of architects, developers, urban planners, government leaders and vocal citizens devise a Sepulveda Plan to transform this wasted opportunity into something better, or even ennobling?

Where is our vision? And why are we so starved for it when we live inside Los Angeles, the greatest factory of imagination, illusion and improvisation the world has ever seen?

 

Van Nuys Arts Festival


Last Friday Night Van Nuys was young, joyous and celebratory.

It gathered, under the spire of the Valley Municipal Building, to drink beer, watch live music, eat, and walk amidst motor vehicle works of art.

Police and fire personnel mingled with guests, in a display of civic pride.

The homeless were there too, seemingly taken care of, fed on their benches beside their belongings.

For one night, the pedestrian mall where nobody walks at night, a lost dystopia, was dressed up for a party. And Van Nuys, at its very heart, seemed to regain its footing as a good, decent, well-regarded town.

 

Builders Emporium, Van Nuys, CA, 1950s


1948: Builder’s Emporium

Item: Valley News, October 30, 1955

With $1,013,430,131 LA building permit valuations recorded for the first nine months of this year, all indications point to 1955 topping any previous year in the history of Los Angeles County construction, according to Ouentin W. Best, chairman of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Construction Industries Committee.

The January through September figure marks only the fourth time that construction activity in the county has gone over the billion dollar figure in any one year. The Chamber report pointed out that since three months still remain giving the 12-month total for 1955. There can be little doubt that the year will record an all-time high, Houses Gain 14%! Unprecedented construction during the same nine months of last year. A total of 51,067 residential permits have been issued to date in 1955, compared to 47,699 at the three- quarter mark in 1954, A total of 15,522 building permits were issued during the month of September with a valuation of $885,428.934.


[Permits were issued for the construction of 32,008 units in 2016, down 6 percent from 34,034 the year prior] (Source: KPCC)

Population of Los Angeles County in 1955: 5.1 million

Population of Los Angeles County in 2017: 10.2 million (State of CA)


And in Van Nuys, CA, at the corner of Oxnard and Sepulveda, Builders Emporium, established 1948, was doing a booming business.

Not only did it sell building supplies, tools, and machinery; it also seems to have had quite a golf and fishing, sporting goods department.

What follows are mid 1950s publicity photos connected to the store. They were published in the Valley Times Newspaper (LAPL). Their original, great captions cannot be improved upon by satire.

Here they are:

Photograph caption dated April 29, 1955 reads “Motion picture and TV Eyeful Norma Brooks gets close supervision on proper stance to be used when teeing off from attentive golf pro Jim Curtis, preparatory to free four-day clinic of Builders Emporium.” The store is located at 5960 Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys.

 

Builders Emporium, 5960 Sepulveda, Van Nuys, is launching a new sports department and this outdoor group is helping to announce the fact to the public. Left to right, back row, are Sherry Hall, Rea Regal (sic) (Miss Van Nuys) and Kathy Sellers. Merchandising Manager Pete Campbell is on the left while Doye O’Dell, popular TV cowboy star, is examining the rifle on the right.

 

Circa 1957.

October 13, 1955 : “First slice of spectacular 40-foot birthday cake is being served by Victor M. Carter, store president, at ninth anniversary celebration of Builders Emporium, Sepulveda Boulevard and Oxnard street, Van Nuys. Cake was served with ice cream to thousands of visitors who joined in festivities.”

May 29, 1956:  “Pete Campbell escorts Ree Regul, Miss Van Nuys, on tour of enlarged fishing section of sports goods department of Builders Emporium, Van Nuys. Recently expanded fishing section will carry complete line of equipment to satisfy needs of all fishing enthusiasts, according to Campbell.”

April 9, 1955: “‘This bunny is a honey’ say the ‘small-fry’ making their pre-holiday visit with the Builders Emporium Easter Bunny at Sepulveda and Oxnard in Van Nuys. The ‘B. E. Bunny’ passed out thousands of free chocolate rabbits to the youngsters at the giant hardware store.”

August 30, 1955 reads “Claire Weeks, Miss Van Nuys of 1955, learns workings of $239 De Walt Power Shop, which will be awarded Sept. 22 as grand prize in Builders Emporium toy building contest. One hundred additional prizes will be awarded. All toys will be donated to Childrens (sic) Hospital, City of Hope and St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Polk Riley, power tool department manager, demonstrates outfit. Entry blanks are available at Builders Emporium.”

 

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Kester, the Underachiever.


He has low self-esteem. He thinks he is too skinny, too short, too overlooked.

He blames his parents, near Raymer, for spawning him into the world from an obscure and ugly industrial spot near the concrete walled Los Angeles River.

On hot days, which are frequent, he told me hardly anyone drives up to his northernmost reaches. He looks at the homeless carts, the empty parking lots behind Target, and he thinks he is like an orphan among roads in Van Nuys and vicinity.

He told me he is jealous of Sepulveda named for an explorer, and of that “pompous” boulevard hosting such notables as Bevmo, OSH and LA Fitness. “What do I have except a couple junky liquor stores where they sell malt liquor? Sepulveda is arrogant. He has money and history and power. He was born near The Mission, holier than thou, and rams his way all through the San Fernando Valley and even has a pass named after him. He has Getty and Skirball and two Zankou Chickens. He gets to go all the way to LAX and beyond. He is well-travelled too!”

“I’m only 4.7 miles long. And people use me. They know I have no ramps to or from the 101 so they travel on me as a shortcut of necessity. They don’t really want to visit me. They would rather be on Van Nuys Bl.,” he said tearfully.

I told him I had respect for him, as he, evoked in me, a sweet nostalgia.

I said I liked Valley Builder’s Supply at Oxnard, especially the piles of sand and rock. And the place next door where they put bald tires on cars as a stray, three-legged, bandana-necked dog dances in the dust and dirt around the jacked-up vehicles. I tried to cheer him up and mentioned the braceros who gather for work everyday, smiling, rubbing their stomachs, itching for opportunity. “This is the real city. This is you, Kester!” I said.

I thought he would be thrilled at the two, new, white, glistening apartments on Kester between Delano and Erwin. “Big deal,” he said. “One of the buildings has just painted a big orange tongue on the front like a Pez dispenser. It’s like they want to make me look ridiculous instead of elegant. I’m always put into the low-class category!”

He said that even churches ignored him. La Iglesia En El Camino at Sherman Way just gives me a parking lot. And then there is that lousy self-service car wash across from the church. On Sepulveda, they have new, automatic car washes with flashing colored lights and lots of suds. On Kester, people still spray their cars by hand!”

He talked about his bitterness towards Van Nuys High School which turns its playing field bleachers away from him.

He ridiculed the remodeled Kester Palace apartments south of Victory as “refried beans” and “tacky.”

Most angrily he attacked the mini-mall on the NE corner of Victory where the trash and the shopping carts full of garbage are always left on the Kester side of the building.

I tried to change the subject.

“What about MacLeod Ale? I know it’s not on Kester but so many of its patrons drive down you to get there!” I said.

“Don’t mention MacLeod. They have it easy on Calvert Street. That street is twice as ugly as I am but they still get crowds of fans. Life is really unfair!” he said.

Then I had to, unfortunately, break the news to him that Metro is planning to demolish 58 buildings from Kester to Cedros along Aetna and Bessemer to accommodate a future light rail storage and maintenance yard.

“What? That’s crazy. Why would they destroy all those small businesses where people make a living? This is madness! Why does Van Nuys keep shooting itself in the foot? Do you mean to tell me that part of Kester will be taken away and devoted to floodlit rail yards right in the middle of old Van Nuys?”

“Yes. The great new transportation future of Van Nuys, with light rail, requires the dismemberment of one of its solid, dense, walkable districts. That is always how it works in Los Angeles. You must wipe out the old to create the new!”

He started to cry.

“It’s not part of my family but do you mean they will also knock down the old metal-sheeted, pitched roofed, fruit packing houses on Cedros and Calvert? Those go back to before WWII. Those are really lovely reminders of old Van Nuys,” he said.

“Yes. I’m afraid they will demolish those too,” I said.

After spending time travelling, walking, and observing Kester, I understood that he was, truly, different from the louder, noisier, bigger, wider roads. He struggled to voice his own identity. He watched as less deserving streets around him got more and more action, and he slipped, quite often, into self-pity.

In other cities, perhaps in Italy or Mexico, a Kester might find love with his shadows and frumpiness. His shy virtues of walkability and modesty, independence and eccentricity, could give him a solid living and self-respect outside the US. Poets would write of Kester, painters would paint him. The monogram “BVN”, sprayed so artfully, so often, on the walls of Kester, would be stitched into the world’s finest garments.

But cruelly, in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, the majority stamps him only as Kester, the Underachiever.

 

Bank of America at Haynes and Van Nuys Blvd.


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Ph: Julius Shulman
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Ph: Julius Shulman

Many are familiar with the large, architecturally impressive Bank of America at Haynes and Van Nuys Blvd. It was designed by Paul Revere Williams, a prominent architect who was also an African-American Angeleno. The bank was built in 1967 and features murals inside and out by artist Millard Sheets. In 1968, famed photographer Julius Shulman photographed the bank. It was a high point for civic architecture in Van Nuys, and perhaps the last time this area felt proud of its main street.

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Prior to the 1967 bank, there was a more humble, late Art Deco, Bank of America at this same location, 6551 Van Nuys Bl.

In this black and white photograph, one sees the crisp, scrubbed-down, finely cared for building. Around it was a thriving street with well-dressed, law abiding citizens, and perhaps the occasional criminal whose activities were the exception not the rule.

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Chase Bank, Sepulveda at Victory.

Today, human beings in Van Nuys sleep, eat, and defecate alongside bank buildings. Their disgraceful conditions scarcely cause anyone to notice. Or care.

In 2017, we are so busy congratulating ourselves on our “tolerance”that we forget that things that were once intolerable, illegal and immoral were considered so for many good reasons. In our gross barbarity, in our willful blindness to the suffering of neighbors, we are co-defendents in a new type of indecent nation, one that tests our moral fiber and will present itself to history for judgment.

Human beings do not belong on the street. They should be housed safely, affordably, with sanitation and security. Call this conservative, call this liberal, call this anything you want.