Fox Market, Van Nuys Bl. Circa 1960


It is always fun to come across yet another old photograph of Van Nuys.  (Courtesy of USC Digital Archives)

This time it’s the Fox Market, a chain, which once had an outpost at 7425 Van Nuys Bl. at the corner of Van Nuys and Valerio, north of Sherman Way .

Fox_Market_Van_Nuys_California_ca1960sLegendary photographer Julius Schulman shot the Carl Maston designed structure sometime in the early 1960s. Maston was a noted Mid- 20th Century architect whose work is described as “stark and no frills” in his USC research repository.

A flat roof, floor to ceiling glass, and acres of asphalt mixed convenience and modernism.

The neat, spare, boxy building is gone, and in its place is a riot of ugliness typical of that stretch of Van Nuys where architecture has gone to die. And all who pass through here glimpse a hot Hell built by indifference, corruption and “The Free Market”.

The May 5, 1960 Los Angeles Times carried a display ad from the Fox Market, which also had many other locations throughout the Southland.

There was a pound of peanut butter for 39 cents, lamb roast for 39 cents a pound, cans of Libby Peaches for 29 cents, along with a 59 cent cream pie and 4 buttered steaks for 69 cents.

Nobody seems to drink grapefruit juice these days, but in 1960 you could have had a 46 ounce can for 29 cents to wash down your 4 pounds of red potatoes for 25 cents.

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Block Party


There was a “block party” on Sunday, June 26th in the Archwood St./Katherine Ave. neighborhood.

Put together with the support of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council and overseen by longtime member and Katherine Avenue resident Penny Meyer, the ambitious party featured live music, a dunking pool, popcorn, hot dogs, and burgers; free tree adoptions, a petting zoo with a pig, a turtle and a ferret; and many social and law enforcement agencies including: the Red Cross, the LA Dept of Recreation and Parks, the LAPD, their cadets and uniformed officers; members of the SWAT team, Paul Krekorian’s office, LA Dept of Sanitation and Public Works, and the Literacy Club.

Every house and every fence post seemed to sport an American Flag.

In this day of national disunity, cheap political opportunism formenting ethnic divisiveness over what it means to be a “true American” the attendees yesterday expressed that we are still one nation under God, indivisible. The best among us showed up to demonstrate community spirit and unite in our love of country, state, city and Van Nuys.

Evangelizing Cask Ale.


 

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Yesterday was the two-year anniversary party at MacLeod Ale, here in Van Nuys, held at the brewery on Calvert St.

It coincided with one of the hottest days of the year.

A hot wind baked the concrete front yard set with white tents for ticket sales, another tent housing a barbecue preparation area.

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A black cook loaded meats into a black steel smoker under a cloudless blue sky.

Inside MacLeod, workers, guest workers and guests hunkered down in dimness, air-conditioned. 30 or more firkins from various breweries were built into groups of six, laid down on inclined, mobile lumber units on wheels. Each cask was plugged on top with cork. And at the bottom each one employed a white plastic faucet for pours.

The Pasadena Scots Bagpipers warmed up in preparation for their opening march through the brewery.

Owner Alastair W. Boase made a last minute run in a small Mini Cooper and came back with bags of ice unloaded by the guest workers and brought in and laid on top of each cask to keep them cool. The drooping, dripping ice kept the beer coldish with the weak efficacy of wet towels on the sweaty heads of Indonesian soccer players on the field at halftime.

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Last year, MacLeod held its one-year anniversary.

To me, hyped up on IPA, a lover of Full Sail and Lagunitas, MacLeod served a weak, warm, sweet, low alcohol malty authenticity called British Style Ale.

To my uninformed palate and to my unschooled-in-beer mind, the brews were something new but not always enjoyable.

The ideology of MacLeod Ale was firmly entrenched by a young and serious head brewer who rigidly and strictly obeyed his self-imposed dogma of what constituted proper British beer. Dour and dressed in leather braces and a tweed-driving cap, he affected a uniform of anti-social seriousness. He was obstinate, at times argumentative, sometimes on the warpath with owners. Others respected and admired his fastidiousness, commitment and exactitude. The truth of his tenure at MacLeod is subjective.

At 27, he was the head brewer of a new brewery. So that alone made him an object of envy. And maybe some of an element of Schadenfreude popped up when he fell down and was thrown out.

There was an upheaval within the brewery in late 2015 and the young cultist was fired and replaced with a new brewer.

The happy result, seen in profits and popularity, has been an artistic renovation melding historic beverage preservation with robust technological innovation.

New Head Brewer Josiah Blomquist came from an engineering background but he also had made his own alcoholic beverages, including beer, whisky and other exotic intoxicants. With investment in new equipment, and a new investor named Jerry Cohen, MacLeod now has advanced water purification, new tanks, and new filters to remove impurities. But there is also a fervent energy and openness to allow for colder, stronger, more aggressively flavored beers to come into the fold.

 


Last year, the one-year anniversary seemed to revel in presenting discussions, where brewers sat on a podium and talked in a panel about their various beers. There were two or three of these, lasting several hours.

This year, there was just one set up and it was dismantled after an hour. Afterward came a variety of jazz performers, including one terrific, 1920s inspired trio of musicians. The choice of music: individual, idiosyncratic, whimsical, embodies MacLeod.

MacLeod Ale today is no longer the ingénue. It occupies sort of a higher ledge above the goofiness of American, macho-man, craft beer. If it were a fragrance house it might be Diptyque or Le Labo where whispers of greatness spread quietly among the cognoscenti, and the scent of cultivated, curated success enters the room confidently without shouting.


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Yesterday afternoon, I met one gentleman, Ryan Bell, who worked as a sales rep for a downtown brewery,  Iron Triangle. He was dressed in a dark black shirt with company logo and a straw hat over his bearded face.

We walked over to try his company’s ale which was rich, deep, malty and reminded me of Old Rasputin. He said (if I remember correctly) it was somewhere between a porter and a stout and had an ABV of about 9%.

I expected the discussion to continue about beer.

But after I asked him what he did before he was a beer rep he told me he had been a 7th Day Adventist Pastor. And he was now, fully, committedly, devoutly, an atheist.

He said he wrote a blog, “Year Without God” and was the founder of “Life After God” where he wrote, spoke and consulted the happily godless on their journey of self-enlightened rationality un-poisoned by the imagery of the all mighty.

I was in the company, once more, of an evangelist, another hybrid in the spiritual community of Los Angeles whose own self-awakening constituted a new reality and a new philosophy for explaining and understanding existence. That it might be done by imbibing beer and abandoning faith seemed utterly logical to me, especially inside that hot, crowded brewery party after six or more ales.

My mind wandered from the packed brewery to the national scene and back again to the heat wave.

I was thinking of God and God’s successor, Nothingness. I was looking at Men and their Gods: beers and beards. I was wondering about intelligence and stupidity and how they were so often interchangeable. I was uncertain about what I should believe in or fear: Donald Trump, Radical Islamic Terrorism, certain atheism or certain faith, the NRA or Orlando, porter, ale or IPA.

Lubricated by alcohol, surrounded by many flavors of casks, some beers flavored with chiles, vanilla and rosemary, nothing seemed wrong or right, just there for the taking. I was elated by the possibilities of dropping long held beliefs, and flying into new consciousness by picking up new flavors, guided unintentionally by the atheist pastor beer salesman.

On that Sunday summer sirocco I was on the verge of a breakthrough. Or I might just collapse from alcoholic dehydration.

Fortunately, outside, there was Amy Crook, in a peach pleated skirt, whose hyena laugh and flirtatious giggle danced around the driveway as I recorded her. I joined her under the hot tent and helped check in guests. I tore off tickets, and peeled sticky armbands onto arms gleefully carrying glasses into a raucously animated party, one I knew I would later misinterpret truthfully.

Imperiled


We are hosting, for the next few weeks, a family gathering. There are guests from Malaysia, Singapore and Switzerland, women all, except for the family patriarch, 83-years-old, who, despite his recent health setbacks, flew 19 hours to see his granddaughter graduate from business school and join the festivities.

The house is crowded and people are sleeping on futons, air mattresses and sofas. We bought sacks of sweet potatoes and Vidalia Onions and cartons of organic cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.

For mental health reasons, I stocked up on beer.

Because this is a Chinese-Malaysian family, I get to see and be a part of, close-up, the Hainan dialect, the Straits accented English, so sharp and so distinct;  and the laughter, and sometimes the arguments which I observe but do not partake in.

Prescriptive, advising, pedantic, loving, cautionary, understanding, this is the general aura. When you are in the embrace, you are looked after, and you look after others.

Around 3 O’Clock in the afternoon there are cakes and coffee and people gathered around the dining room table chatting and laughing and sending photos over mobile devices.


As an American, I take pleasure in people being awed by the things I never think about: the copious enormity of Costco, the directness of speech, the assertive and self-assured women, the large portions of food, the open vulgarity of sexual talk and provocative dress, and the friendly kindness of strangers.

On “The View”, a show blaring today, they were arguing and screaming about politics, and our guests, fully conversant in English, must have wondered about how we get away with saying what we want without fear of arrest or condemnation. There are sedition laws back in Malaysia and public discourse is held back, and one would not broadcast aloud against the government for long without inviting arrest.

Whoopi Goldberg could be a political prisoner there. Imagine that.

One of our guests liked the small chatter and joking banter she saw on the local KTLA news. It was so casual and relaxed she said; so un-like her country.  Target, Costco, Sam Woo…we really do have it all.

Nothing is so nice as being admired for banality.


We went to Vegas for a two-day trip to stay at room cheap, free parking for now Mandalay Bay and visit Hoover Dam.

In the casino, where machines insatiably swallow $20 bills, Liberty Bell shaped smokers waddle through. The smell of second hand smoke wafts through the air like hay in a stable.

We drank at Red Square during their happy hour and had two whisky cocktails for $24. Later on we ate Japanese food where a fist-sized piece of salmon goes for $49. When I went to withdraw cash from the ATM they took a $6.99 fee.

At the elegant Japanese restaurant at Mandalay Bay, men wore Affliction T-shirts and baseball caps or square toed dress shoes with cargo shorts.

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At Terrible’s Gas Station on The Strip the attendant who rang me up called me honey and at the Market Grille Café in North Las Vegas I was darling and I was sir and sweety at the Mizuya Lounge. Vegas is nothing if not affectionate to strangers.


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On our way back from Las Vegas yesterday morning, we stopped in the Mojave Desert to see the world’s tallest thermometer, use the restrooms and buy some water.

Hardscrabble, windy and roasting, Baker is significant in its nothingness: a strip of dilapidated and defunct motels, a country store selling hot sauces and craft sodas, and the home of the Mad Greek Diner, occupying a key corner off the highway.

We parked first at the thermometer, which was cool at only 93. We were looking for bathrooms, but we couldn’t find any there. Instead there was a metal and stone monument featuring an egg in a frying pan.

As we made our way down to the country store where urinals and toilets awaited, one uncle received a text from the young woman about to graduate. She was in her classroom at UCLA and her school was in lockdown after a shooting. A gunman, or possibly two, was on the loose.

The uncle told me, but we kept the knowledge of the unfolding events from the mother, the elderly father, and the aunt.

We got back in the car, and were stopped in the middle of the desert by road construction. The temperature outside was about 100 and the air-conditioning was blasting. The two aunties and their father were sleeping in back.

So I turned on the LA news, KNX 1070, and gradually the terrifying words filled the car: police, shooting, FBI, active shooter, two dead, locked in the classrooms, students, LAPD, bomb squad, SWAT team. The mother, napping in back, awoke, and gradually, without us saying anything, realized her youngest daughter’s school was now a crime scene.

A few more texts came from our girl. She said they were hunkered down in darkness. But she was all right.

We are all in our classroom with locked doors and the lights off. I think they confirmed it’s a murder-suicide.

Worried, in suspense, we listened to every development at UCLA as reported by KNX. Why did I turn on that radio?

We inched along at 15 or 20 miles an hour. The traffic broke, and we continued west, now at 60 or 70 MPH into Barstow, and then that steep, disorienting angle into the brown cloud that filled the mouth of the Cajon Pass, and later travelling along the flat 210, in Rancho Cucamonga, we got relief.

We are being let out now.

Our loved one was OK. But someone else lost a son, a friend, a husband; and a killer died who was also someone’s child. Bullets, brains, and blood took their monthly seat alongside erasers and magic markers.

America! What is wrong with you? You have so much going for you! Everyone likes you! People are so impressed by you! Don’t fuck it up! Use your God-given talents! Just like my mother used to tell me.

I am still deeply in love with the United States of America. When foreigners say something against it to my face, I remember it. I want to present it and show it proudly.

Born, was I, in the Land of Lincoln, 97 years after, the 16th President, died.

Riding back from Las Vegas yesterday, a typical American morning unfolded for our guests from Malaysia. I wasn’t proud.

I was ashamed.

Return to Van Nuys Savings and Loan


Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker

In an earlier post, I wrote about the old Van Nuys Savings and Loan, at 6569 Van Nuys Boulevard.

It was built in 1955 and designed by architect Culver Heaton with murals by noted artist Millard Sheets.

Modernity and innovation were expressed in its zig-zag roof, screened metal panels and wide, airy interior, a place of efficient banking and progressive faith in the future of Van Nuys which was booming in housing, retail, industry and education.

This was a place for people to save and earn 4 1/2% annual interest, guaranteed. This was an institution whose name was spoken of with pride. And who worked within the community to loan money and helped invest in productive enterprises.

Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker

Nobody in 1955 could have imagined what Van Nuys has now become.

La Tapachulteca is a Guatemalan grocery store that currently occupies the old bank building. I came here and photographed the exterior just as photographer Maynard Parker once did.

Yesterday, May 20, 2016, on the same day the brand new Expo Rail line opened to connect downtown to Santa Monica, a  homeless woman slept here in a pigeon pooped, urine sprinkled, dirty entrance where unwashed windows and grime completed a scene of degradation and filth.

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Door La Tapachulteca


Los Angeles is building its future in public transport by emulating the past.

Streetcars once ran up and down Van Nuys Boulevard. Service stopped in 1952. The boulevard was widened to accommodate more cars, and vast parking lots were built behind Van Nuys Boulevard, while walls of blankness went up on the street because all activity was now behind. The street went dead.

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And now only cars promenade along the boulevard, or rather speed past without stopping.

The store, like the bank before it, is scheduled to close down.

In its place, a new mixed-use residential/commercial building will be erected. The bank building, once an architectural jewel, will be bulldozed and dumped and carted away.

Perhaps a community needs to hit rock bottom to again climb up into prosperity.

If one building’s decline is emblematic of a whole area’s fall, can a new structure represent a new beginning for an entire area?

Time will tell…

 

The Nadir.


DSCF2605It is doubtful that Van Nuys Boulevard, especially that languishing, forgotten, distressed stretch between Victory and Vanowen, has ever been as low, neglected and poor as it is today.

No longer do the homeless hide in alleys. They are now set up on the sidewalk, their belongings piled into shopping carts, covered in tarps.

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At the 99 Cents Only Store, a steel gate guarding a delivery door is pulled back. Towels and curtains hang over it, and behind it are black feet in flip-flops.

There are other sleeping humans on the sidewalk, and the black woman with the black feet in black flip-flops is not unique.

From 2003 to 2013, Tony Cardenas served on the Los Angeles City Council in the 6th District covering Van Nuys. He was elected to the US House of Representatives from California’s 29th District and now represents Van Nuys in Washington, DC.

The man who calls himself “The Honorary Mayor of Van Nuys” is George Thomas, also the President of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, also the publisher of a newspaper called “The Van Nuys News Press” which “features stories on everything, but especially golf and travel.” Recent stories featured whale watching in Hawaii and the Kahalu’u Beach Park Condo on the Big Island, a “Property of the Week”. Mr. Thomas, who is also a resident of Agoura Hills, is currently running for state senate.

These are just two men, Mr. Cardenas and Mr. Thomas, leaders of Van Nuys. They do not live here. They may not even care about here. Their careers, not their community, are foremost.

 

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To say that Van Nuys and its Boulevard is without leadership or vision is obvious. This once thriving district of Los Angeles is now on intoxicated autopilot. It is careening fast into oblivion and may one day be as ill and impoverished as Skid Row.

With the “revitalization” of downtown Los Angeles, the mentally ill, the drug and alcohol addicts, and the other lost men and women of the city have to go somewhere.

They are going North by Northwest to the San Fernando Valley.

The ghost citizens arrive unwelcomed, their presence an uncomfortable reminder that we all are just one paycheck away from ruin, one illness away from financial catastrophe.

They have their carts, we have our cars; they have their hovels, we have our homes; they are unemployed and we are consultants.

We took our shower this morning but we resemble them more than we admit.

The homeless are the new pioneers, the new settlers of Van Nuys. They will come here to live on the sidewalk, in the alley, in the box behind the dumpster. They will multiply into the thousands, and Van Nuys Boulevard will be an outdoor city of tents, defecation, boxes, shopping carts, and the smell of urine in 110-degree heat.

Developers may snap up the cheap building. They may come here and build, that may be a good thing. But what are the larger solutions to end the dumping of human beings into the street? How will this street reform and repent itself? Will a few benches and a few trees and a Starbucks on the corner change the larger malaise?

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