A Sharp Discordance.


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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.

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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.

Lytton Savings and Loan (1960); now Chase Bank.
Lytton Savings and Loan (1960); now Chase Bank.
Proposed Frank Gehry design. (LA TIMES)
Proposed Frank Gehry design. (LA TIMES)

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Flooding in Van Nuys: 1/17/1952


USC Digital Library continues to add extraordinary images to their online archives.

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.

 

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Screen Grab By the Pussy.


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It happened that last week occurred a strange and unexpected event. I had a job interview.

Somewhere on my resume it must have listed numerous documentary production companies I worked at and places where I gathered archival footage for History Channel and A&E, those years I spent researching and “associate producing”, working with editors, producers and executives assembling those forgettable programs exploring the exploits of exorcism, John the Baptist and the Hatfield and the McCoys.

I was about to come back to the wondrous world of TV production.

On that stretch of Cahuenga, where it curves like an IUD towards Hollywood, stands a particularly ugly, mirrored glass office building shaped like an upside down pyramid. This is where the interview took place.

I parked in the garage and a security guard ushered me into a secure elevator that went up to a fourth floor office furnished with white leather sofas and a black receptionist.

The interviewee was a tanned, fit fortysomething Latino production supervisor with two initials for a first name and a last name that rhymes with Fontana. He told me he was impressed with my resume. His company, he assured me, was in a massive rush to acquire new archival materials. They hired for the long term, and he himself had been there 12 years. The hours were everyday, from 8:30am-5pm with one half hour for lunch. Did it all sound good? Yes, I replied, it all sounded good.

I imagined my new life, one with a weekly paycheck and my hours, net pay and gross taxes taken out and how great direct deposit would be. I thought of how it might feel to be around a workplace with workers, people who earned money and went to jobs everyday, and when they were asked at a party what they did, they had ready answers that put them in a respectable and understood category of American life.

I thought I would be just like those two sallow faced, starched shirt, flat-front khaki pants Asian guys who come into Toluca Lake Starbucks everyday at 2pm, right down the street from their job as investment counselors and pick up their pre-ordered cappuccinos from the barista. I would be just like Harry and Ted, those guys who drive a white Toyota sedan and live in Arcadia.

Well the job interview went into its second scene, as I was taken up to a large, high-ceilinged, dark room with many monitors and many men watching a sea of sucking, fucking, breasts, vaginas, and ass holes. It was all online, all over the room, timed by an army of paunchy dudes with Big Gulps on their desks punching keys for eight hours a day. They recorded in data every second and minute, describing exactly, bluntly, in forensic carnality, every second of every sexual moment.

I was introduced to a goateed Indian man, a fat, friendly guy who sat in front of a monitor and explained how they were using Google Docs, but soon would have more sophisticated software. The work was laid out, like the women, right in front of me. He explained that once I got the hang of entering, I would be able to insert my work into the computer and procreate key words for every act.   Anal was the big thing, they were looking, he explained for anything anal, and that was the big thing now, anal.

Gone was the warm, soft, moist vagina; that pink wonder of life, welcoming a hard dick inside. The future of men and women, and women and women, and men and men, and men and whatever—- it lead straight up the ass.

Since this was a job interview I pretended to be very interested, but as I looked around the room, seeing men from young to old watching porn and scrutinizing it for quality control and key words, I thought of my life, the past thirty years, the time since I graduated with a BA in English from Boston University and imagined that now I might, now at $12.50 an hour, end up in this enormous toilet of a business, begging to be considered for work that my 18-year-old self would have thought appalling.

Where have you gone Andrew Benjamin Hurvitz your parents in heaven cry for you….

After about 15 minutes the man with the initials told me that I was a strong contender for the opening. He would be calling me, possibly in the next day, to let me know. “Either way I will call you!” he assured me.

He never called, of course, because this is LA, and people here usually do not keep appointments or promises. What is that old saying, that you can grow old and broke on yes?

This is just a small tale of vocational dismalness. As we know, our nation feeds on a diet of broken dreams and only the promise of lies keeps us alive.

Every year I think of suicide or work, and every year neither event pans out, but I think in 2017, something big will happen to me. It’s up to me to make it happen.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

My beautiful picture
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.

My beautiful picture
1958
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.”

5thgrade
Tom Cluster (Top Row, 1st boy on left)

12/55
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