The Virtues of Good Driving: 1959.

There was a time in Los Angeles, many years ago, when young women had figures, and older men, with community support, hired them to present awards to “good driving” teenagers.

The Road-E-O Safe Driving Contest promoted safe rules of the road.

Strange to our modern eyes to see scantily dressed pretty girls handing out trophies for good driving.

Imagine, in 2016, the outcry if this type of event took place today.

“How come all the girls are white?”
“Are you trying to fat shame people who aren’t thin?”
“What about hot guys presenting hot awards?”
“Cars are evil. You shouldn’t be promoting driving. Biking and walking are better.”
“It’s creepy to see an old guy in a suit with a young girl. I read on Wikileaks that man cheated on his wife!”

But in 1959, when people still trusted government and business leaders, it was all for a good cause: to make the automobile indispensable to Los Angeles and to make sure the car was central to any and all activities of life, work and leisure.

Photograph caption dated May 27, 1959 reads, “Diane Olson, 16-year-old Junior Miss Sherman Oaks, presents Sherman Oaks Teenage “Road-E-O” winner’s trophy to Rick Mahn, Van Nuys High School senior, while his sister Cynthia, 21 Miss Sherman Oaks, looks on. Mahn racked up the highest score ever recorded locally.”


Photograph caption dated May 28, 1959 reads, “Winners in Sunland-Tujunga Junior Chamber of Commerce Road-E-O safe driving contest proudly display trophies and certificates they won for their driving abilities. From left are Joseph McKeon, first; Doris Williams, second, and Melvin Kuznets, third.”


Photograph caption dated May 20, 1959 reads, “For Skill Driving – Del Moore, TV-Radio personality and Sherman Oaks resident, and Diane Olson, 16year-old Junior Miss Sherman Oaks, display trophy which will be presented to winner of Sherman Oaks Jaycee “Teenage Safe Driving Road-E-O” Saturday.”

Credit: LAPL

The Dispossessed



A light rain fell yesterday morning, and after the weather system left, the skies were clear, the sun came out, a few clouds hung in the sky. And I went for late afternoon walk with camera.

Near Bessemer and Cedros, in front of the Valley Planing Mill, along the sidewalk bordering the Orange Line, is a metastasizing and makeshift encampment of homeless men and women.

It has grown, to encompass an area that probably accommodates some fifty people, who have erected tarp-covered boxes, umbrellas, tents, and wood crates as shelter from the rain and the sun. Around the temporary housing are shopping baskets piled high with anything and everything one might buy at Target.


A green metal fence, protecting new cars owned by Keyes Chevrolet, encircles a rented out parking lot leased from Metro. It provides a safe and civilized enclosure for automobiles. Vehicles are well taken care of, except for one or two burned up, sitting in their spaces with melted and deformed bodies.

Humans (who did not want to be photographed) are left to fend for themselves on public sidewalks. Bed sheets and rattan mats are hung on the fence to sanitize. Privacy, cleanliness, and dignity are pulled out of dumpsters and transformed into street fortresses.

The situation here is appalling. But words do not suffice. And moralism, directed at politicians, developers, law enforcement, social workers and the homeless themselves cannot make sense of this 21st Century barbarism in our Golden State.


The Void at the Center

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If desolation, emptiness, and gigantism are attributes in architecture, then the buildings around the Van Nuys Civic Center achieve glory simply by virtue of their nihilistic presence.


For here, on the streets bounded by Van Nuys Boulevard, Calvert, Sylvan and Tyrone, is a void at the center of Van Nuys.

As a real place it functions only as a photographic metaphor for enormous potential wasted in sheets of concrete and glass.

"L'Ecclisse" (1962)
“L’Ecclisse” (1962)

Michaelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Eclisse” (1962) set its alienated characters inside the vacated EUR district of Rome, Italy dreamed up during Mussolini’s time. Our Van Nuys, the post-war place of big government, benevolent institutions and perfect planning, came of age at the same time.

But it’s all a miserable failure, a disfigurement, a monstrous banality.

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In the middle of the day, there are barren plazas, empty arcades, ribbons of cleared sidewalks.

But even dying, there is a weak, faint cry to just do something. It is chronically ill Van Nuys asking, begging, pleading…. for resurrection and recognition.

In its empty post office, in the blank walled State Office Building, in the rows of vertical windows slit into the yellow brick mass of the James C. Corman Federal Building, in the vast parking lot of gravel, chains, walls and a NO ENTRY sign behind The Superior Court Building, the whole mass and substance of the district is on the gurney in the ER hoping for resuscitation.

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At the center of Van Nuys, in the historic heart of the San Fernando Valley, in a place that is now 105 years old, nobody willingly visits . They arrive, instead, in handcuffs or carrying legal papers. They are under subpoena, on jury duty, in custody, filing a complaint or reporting a crime.

And that is our civic center story.



Greedy Developers: Los Angeles in the 1920s.

Completely out-of-scale building towers over one story house next door.
In a neighborhood of single family homes, a greedy developer built this apartment populated by people who selfishly can afford to live here.
A true monstrosity, more appropriate for Manhattan than Los Angeles.
A towering colossus of land exploitation without any surface parking lots.
Disguising something as European does not hide that this enormous building is completely out of scale with the little houses only a block away.
Neighborhood Council should sue to take down this enormous theater whose builder put it right on the street without any parking lot. Sign is too bright and too big and disturbing to spotted frogs who live in the park across the street.

All photos from the Whittington Gallery at USC Digital Archives.

When John Wayne Came to Van Nuys High School.

1949: John Wayne.



John Wayne, 42, actor, father of four school age children, went to Van Nuys High School in November 1949 to get a tour of one of the city’s first mandatory driver’s ed programs.

In a November 28, 1949 LA Times article, Mr. Wayne learned that Van Nuys was equipped with a fleet of driving school automobiles, donated by local dealers. 285 students in their sophomore year were enrolled in the instruction program. The school was in the vanguard of teaching drivers ed, the first to do so.

It was a time when education in Los Angeles partially derived its pedagogy from auto dealers. They supplied the tools. The schools provided the teachers and the students.

The driving instruction course was now mandatory across the city of Los Angeles, which was the most automotive centric place on Earth.

Mr. Wayne’s appearance at the school caused fluttering female hearts to beat faster, and provoked admiration from the boys.

So complete was the coming transformation of Los Angeles that eventually all the streetcars would be ripped out and replaced with wide boulevards and freeways and we would all get to breathe that brown air and sit in traffic for the next 80 years.

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Packard Studebaker and Hudson were like Honda is today: they made it their mission to help the community advance towards gridlock, smog and sprawl.

And Van Nuys, once a walkable little town with nice little shops, would find its instructional lessons applied in destructive ways.


The Snack Pit.


Olivia DeHavilland in "The Snake Pit" (1948)
Olivia DeHavilland in “The Snake Pit” (1948)

There were plenty of pizzas and sodas at last night’s meeting of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council.

Exasperation was the theme of the meeting.

Ten tables long, the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council has now grown, along with waistlines, to encompass twenty people; and the length of the officials with made-up titles now almost pours out onto the sidewalk.

As usual, there were older white women bemoaning the appalling conditions of Van Nuys, including people sleeping on the streets and the poor condition of trash containers on Van Nuys Boulevard, where no humans shop, walk or eat unless they are forced to.

This being Los Angeles, the heartfelt sympathy and emotionality was in evidence for those problems related to the automobile. The situation for one resident was dire. This man lived in a one-car garaged house on a certain street with two hour parking. He had no driveway. His vehicle was being ticketed. Couldn’t someone help him he asked in a ten-minute exchange.

First I cried because I met a man with no eyesight, then I cried because I met a man with no garage….

A woman got up to talk about someone and something that had touched her heart. She was almost in tears, but I had trouble understanding what brought her to the brink.

Another man who runs the “LICK” Committee spoke about by-laws and promised to help the man who lived in the house with the garage on the street with two-hour parking.

An elderly man got up and said it was not right. And a half hour later his wife got up to speak and said it was wrong and should not be tolerated. What it was was anybody’s guess.

Outside the meeting, Van Nuys Boulevard, Heart of Van Nuys, was deserted, its eight lanes of traffic and empty shops somehow not appealing to hipsters, late-night dinners, and romantic couples out for a date.

Despite the utter evident failure of Van Nuys as a civic and commercial entity, the Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian spoke to the gathered on all the issues he was working to solve and his agenda seemed at times to be larger than the Planet Earth.

Transportation funding, cutting tobacco use, gun control legislation, minimum wage increases, climate change action, renewable energy, earned income tax credits, cap and trade issues, green spaces, affordable housing, earthquake warning systems, VA drug prices.

Assemblyman Nazarian checked off an impressive list of issues whose resolution, if that day comes, promises a heavenly San Fernando Valley free of expensive housing where green spaces and reliable public transport shuttle people around to health care; where affordable drugs and professional medical help is there for one and for all, legal and illegal, young and old, vet and non-vet.

Two hours into the meeting, a sour faced group of old men in tan, anxious to present their proposed hundreds of units of housing to the VNNC, had barely any time to talk of the truly huge changes that might be coming to Van Nuys Boulevard.

And the architect with the $20 million apartment and retail project was told to come back next month as time had run out.

I forgot to mention the board members arguing about plastic bags.

Priorities always at the VNNC Snack Pit.