The ladle shaped storm that began to pound the Southland on Friday, February 17, 2017 arrived like a landing jet over the Pacific. It circled, counter-clockwise, landing onto Los Angeles, dropping horizontal blasts of wind, and pounding sheets of rain. It blew down trees, power lines, cable and telephone wires, flooded roads and carried away cars. And drowned our sinned and parched city in a cascade of baptizing waters.
A few died in strange and tragic ways. A man on Sepulveda was electrocuted fatally after strong gusts brought down a tree that hit an electrified power line. Another man was drowned in a raging creek at Thousand Oaks.
What minor choices of life, where to walk, what path to take, might bring us to death?
In Studio City, at Woodbridge St at Laurel Canyon, an aged sewer burst under water pressure and pulled out the soil underneath the road. A 30-foot wide, 20-foot deep hole emerged, sucking two drivers and their two vehicles into a subterranean river. People in those cars were rescued. Thankfully, nobody died or were seriously injured.
Here in Van Nuys, on Hamlin Street, late yesterday afternoon, the departing storm closed its one-woman show, packed its bags, and headed east.
Solar klieg lights were aimed on the darkened sky as its magnificent performer paraded off stage, led by a chorus line of tall, skinny palm trees, lined up to bid good-bye to the wind and the fury, the destruction and the drama.
It was a thrilling show, taking our eyes off the irrationality in Washington, and bringing us back to the true leader of the planet, one who never relinquishes power, but whose atmospheric whims are capricious, indifferent, and violent, but somehow understandable and predictable.
The pocket of houses bounded by Victory, Kester, Sepulveda and Vanowen is mostly neat, and well-kept, full of sturdy ranch houses and domestic bonhomie.
But along unimproved Columbus slumminess prevails.
While there are remnants of rural Van Nuys, large parcels of land that once grew oranges and walnuts, most are now inhabited by abandoned or neglected houses, illegal dumping of cars, illegal businesses set up with nurseries, and others of dubious intent where tow trucks show up at 3am and weird men disappear behind locked, fenced gates.
Each family home has been miserable in its own distinct way, to paraphrase Tolstoy.
There was the hillbilly brigade that sold drugs out of their rental house, a group of oily zombies and hollow-eyed skeletons who threatened neighbors and broke the law hourly until the LAPD got in there after many years of surveillance and complaints. Now their lair is an empty house, just one of many on the street, in a city of homeless people and other working people who cannot afford to buy a house.
At another house, last year, a homeless, addict owner of an auto body repair shop (yes there is such a being) moved into a foreclosed yellow ranch house at the corner of Kittridge and started buying the contents of storage lockers and piling them up and down his driveway and all around the property. He used the electricity left on by previous tenants and continued to collect couches, garbage containers, boxes, electronics, toys, furniture. All of it was stacked and crowded around the entire place from curb to front door.
50 or 60 emails and calls to Nury Martinez’s office as well as our LAPD Senior Lead Officers finally resulted in the eviction of the mad vagrant. It only took 12-18 months. After his arrest, yes AFTER his arrest, he was allowed to return to the house he had no right to be in, and he conducted his own criminal garage sale, selling off all the merchandise he hoarded. He is now gone and the electricity is turned off.
LAPD Sr. Lead Officer Kirk worked patiently, diligently and valiantly to contact city attorney’s and work with law enforcement to end the siege of the self-displaced person. The squeaky wheels who made the noise, all of us, were thankful to her.
At Haynes Street, another man owned a home that he kept empty. It was stripped of its walls and plumbing, and allowed to denigrate into a trash strewn property with high grass, and many bottles and cans dumped everywhere. Eventually, it was bought by a bargain basement builder who axed large shade trees and is building a plain stucco box with vinyl windows. Better than before but now devoid of shade and character.
Last year, hope sprung up as one of the large properties, over 28,000 SF, was purchased by a Van Nuys architect/developer who concomitantly was also designing some large scale, mixed use retail/commercial buildings along Sepulveda and on Van Nuys Boulevard.
VNNC Planning and Land Use arranged for residents to meet with the architect at his offices on Delano St. It was a civilized, courteous, nice evening of pizza and wine and drawings of the proposed homes, 4 or 5 of them. The architect took suggestions about design changes and again presented a second version of the houses at a later meeting.
It seemed that the project was moving along. Bulldozers cleared the property which was also behind another under-construction apartment building on Sepulveda associated with the developer.
Then a few days ago, a neighbor sent me a listing he found on Redfin. The 28,314 sf property where the new homes were to be built was up for sale. If a new buyer comes in and purchases the land for $1.1 million (it previously sold in 2011 for $320,000) she would not be building what the previous architect/builder had proposed.
In an email to me the architect denied that the project was forestalled or cancelled. He claimed he had a disagreement with some partners and put the property up for sale to satisfy their demands. I believe a similiar situation happened to Mildred Pierce in 1945 and the end result was not good.
In fairness to the architect/developer, whom I personally like, I hope his project continues. But the signs are not hopeful.
Once again, what can only be called “The Columbus Curse” has come to pass.
After many days of successive, concussive waves of rain swirling into Los Angeles, the hills in Griffith Park were wet, green, and soaked.
I walked there, yesterday afternoon, along the bike path, and the bridle path, at the point where the 134 roars alongside the LA River.
The storm, now depleted, had moved east, sent into exile. And in the distance, under dark clouds, I saw the Verdugo Mountains, the flat roofed towers of Glendale, and all the man-made highways and power lines: showered and renewed, glistening and spot lighted by sun.
The littered homeless encampment on the island in the middle of the river was vacated. There was nobody else around but me, except for a lone man riding a child’s bike.
A bridge over the waters and the freeway, a bridge under construction, its metal rods exposed, a messy conglomeration of concrete, lumber, fencing and plywood, that incomplete, torn-up bridge evoked others before her time destroyed by floods.
Angelenos in the 1930s and before lived in fear of the river and put their hope in President Roosevelt. Now we trust the river and fear our president.
Once we trembled under the fury of nature. Now we shudder under the drama of political malfeasance.
After 1940, the army conquered the unpredictable river, contained its fast water, and controlled its deadly fury.
Tomorrow, we trust, we hope, will fold out and reveal itself as it did in Genesis.
“Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. And God said
never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
In the past few years, group lead mourning on social media for a lost Sunset Strip has taken hold among some sad eyed nostalgists. In their online rooms they pine for 1997, 1977, 1957 or 1937 and wish it were just like that today.
Gone are Tower Records, Elton John’s Le Dome Restaurant, Spago, The Playboy Club; Gazzari’s, which introduced the world to The Doors and Van Halen; Villa Nova Restaurant where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe had a first date; Ciro’s, a 1940s nightclub; and Café Trocadero. Passed on are the cars, the clothes, the songs, and the youth of those who frequented whatever was young and hot at the time.
We are so far in the future but our minds are so far in the past.
Perhaps the saddest thing to contemplate is the loss of the old Garden of Allah that stood on two acres at the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset and comprised a pool and landscaped cottages set amidst trees and flowers. It was constructed in 1913 and played host to a variety of notables, most famously F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was razed in 1960.
Standing in its place is a schlocky shopping mall and a bank with a folded zigzag roof. That structure, originally called Lytton Savings and Loan, and now housing a Chase Bank, is the center of a fight over preservation and architect Frank Gehry, who wants to demolish the building to erect one of his crushed-in-hand, aluminum foil wonders.
If Sunset Strip had no celebrities, if it were just a place, it would be one of the ugliest and least appealing urban sites in the world. Pockmarked by billboards, drenched in liquor and demeaned by fame, the Strip, from Crescent Heights to La Cienega looks like Las Vegas’s forgotten cousin.
New buildings are going up that channel the worst of Las Vegas anti-urbanism with blank sheets of walls, endless rows of dark windows, and morose hues of black and gray punctuated by large rectangles where future digital signs will obliterate the night and frazzle the eye.
There is no gayety (in the old sense of the word), no frivolity, no fantasy in any of the new, sharp-angled structures that so aggressively bulk up the street like steroid filled bouncers in a club. They have inhuman, robotic, cold-blooded designs, fueled by architecture that will impress teenage Shanghai, Moscow, and Seoul.
And, sadly, there is no presence of personality or character of Los Angeles in the new buildings. They are aliens dropped onto the street, and their presence is foreboding and corporate.
In daylight, photographed in black and white, their vapidity is most evident.
Old Los Angeles was in love with alabaster white buildings that glistened in the sun and reflected purity, cleanliness and España. Before 1940, this metropolis built to provide sanctuary from the sun, to humanize the city, and to give guidance and signposts to the newly arrived seeking meaning in a vast and disorienting environment.
New Los Angeles has no markers of civic virtue. It is an entertainment chessboard devised on an app and sent out to to billions of people to make billions of dollars.
The photos below show the aftermath of rains that fell in January 1952. They caused widespread flooding throughout Los Angeles and hit the flat, newly developed streets of Van Nuys hard. People drowned, cars were swamped, trucks rescued individuals and shelters put people up with blankets and hot coffee.
Newspaper photographers captured scenes that were graphic in gruesome content, such as a detective examining victims of a drowning.
Since 1952, the construction of sewers and flood channels throughout the region made winter rains less devastating. Today we worry about the runoff of polluted rain water into the Pacific Ocean and how it might affect the sea. And we discuss how we might capture rainwater to alleviate drought.
But 65 years ago, survival from flood was the only game in town.