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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1962: Fear Free Junior Colleges May Begin Charging Tuition.


Valley College, 1962
Valley College, 1962

In 1962, junior colleges like Valley College were as free as high schools. Legally they were prohibited from collecting tuition.

“Pictured is a student walking the campus of Los Angeles Valley College with the photograph edited to show the word “Free?” hovering above. Photograph article dated August 13, 1962 partially reads, “There is increasing talk in school circles over the possibility of charging fees to students attending junior colleges in California…Currently, junior colleges (or two-year colleges) are considered part of the secondary school system and legal authorities have held that they may not charge fees any more than neighborhood elementary schools or high schools may.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Goldwater/ Valley Times Collection/ LAPL

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.”

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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.”

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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

Like an Errant Weed.


On the real and only 9/11, 15 years ago, I was at home, in my house in Van Nuys, watching, as I did then, “The Today Show”. My partner had gone to work in Beverly Hills, and I was on the couch as Katie Couric and Matt Lauer described how a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

I went out after that, unaware of the unfolding calamity, to the old LA Fitness on Oxnard and Sepulveda, up on the second floor of a mirrored glass office building set back from the street with a landscaped entrance, a metal sculpture and a semi-circle of palm trees.

The gym had a row of treadmills, and above them, televisions tuned to the disaster. And I was back near the barbells, and saw our trainers, their hands over their disbelieving mouths, gather in front of the TVs and watch more planes crash into the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

I had no mobile phone back then, so I went home and called my partner who told me he was coming back to Van Nuys. Nobody at work stayed at work unless it was necessary. Because everything, everywhere seemed as if it might be a target.

“They might target Rodeo Drive! Or even Sav-on Drugs!”


I called my parents who were still alive and living in Woodcliff Lake, NJ . They had gone up to Blueberry Hill, an elevated road in their borough with a distant view of New York City 17 miles away. And they could see smoke rising from the island of Manhattan. Of course they were safe. They always were safe back then.

That September, I went to work, (because there was still work in 2001), for a television production company in offices on Radford Street in Studio City in a little bungalow, since demolished, next to other little bungalows, with operable windows, wooden stairs and unit air-conditioners, now occupied by new apartment buildings.

For days after September 11th, I would step out into the alley for a break and look up into silent skies whose aerial routes usually carried deafening jets into Burbank Airport. Becalmed by government order, the aviators absence left us with an eerie, calm, quiet; deathly but somehow memorializing, like a moment of silence that lasted for many weeks.

Shocked, Studio City still carried on in its insipid, distracting duties:  washing and grooming dogs, painting and cutting human toenails, selling postage stamps, rehearsing commercials, changing tires; producing television, sushi, donuts and Koo Koo Roo chicken. Work, school and time slogged slowly and people walked with their heads down along Ventura Blvd.  Without smartphone or selfie, life was allowed to unfold meaninglessly without electronic self-affirmation.  Not everything was a picture. You just looked out with your eyes and moved on.

On Valley Heart Drive, where the concrete river snaked by, the sun baked the eucalyptus trees along the banks and heated up winds filled with mourning cries from back east.

That day of death, fifteen years ago, ushered in an infant century damaged and disfigured by a father of war and a mother of religious conflict. What transpired later, in Iraq, and around the world, has been an eclipse of enlightenment, a pulling down of darkness on intellect, and its supplantation by superstition and conspiratorial falsehood.

The feel-good lie has since won the war.

And whenever truth appears in public life, it is dug out of the grass sod of public opinion like an errant weed and replanted with artificial grass.

 

 

Van Nuys Savings and Loan.


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In 1954, architect Culver Heaton’s design for the Van Nuys Savings and Loan, with interior murals by artist Millard Sheets, rose at 6569 N. Van Nuys Bl.

Along with other financial institutions such as Jefferson Savings, Lincoln Savings, Great Western Bank and Bank of America, they served the local community of hard-working people who opened accounts that paid 3% or 4 1/2% interest and where polite tellers, dressed in pearls and high heels, addressed customers by their last (never their first) name.

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Photographer Maynard Parker shot these images of the bank exterior and interiors. They bespeak a dignified and progressive institution whose architecture was as up-to-date as its vision of a prosperous, safe Van Nuys. A sign on the outside of the building reads “The Home of Security” leaving no doubt to depositors about the solidity of the S&L.

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Mr. Sheets was a prodigious artist whose work can be seen all over Southern California, most notably on the exteriors of many of those white, marble clad, Home Savings of America buildings that resemble mausoleums.

Architect Culver Heaton designed many Mid 20th Century churches in Southern California in a style of expressionistic eccentricity long departed from our stripped-down imagination. His Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale (1965) is almost campy in form with its prayerful red roof, rising like hands, above a turquoise reflecting pool and a statue of Jesus on water fashioned by Herb Goldman.

Photo by Michael Locke
Photo by Michael Locke

In the 1980s, there was a national scandal and shakeout in the savings and loan industry and many closed down. The de-industrialization of Van Nuys, and its decline as a manufacturing and commercial center, coincided with a tremendous increase in immigration from Central America.

Today, a Guatemalan market, La Tapachulteca, occupies the old bank property.

2014/ Image by Andy Hurvitz
2014/ Image by Andy Hurvitz

But last year, in a hopeful sign of better times, Boaz Miodovsky of Ketter Construction, who is the new owner, plans on demolishing the old bank which has now been degraded from its original condition. His company will design and erect a multi-story apartment house with ground floor retail. The front, on VNB, will be five stories tall and taper down to three stories in back.These illustrations, which he sent to me, are preliminary and will be further refined to include landscaping and additional detail.

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Nostalgist and Van Nuys Neighborhood Council member John Hendry, who grew up and still lives in Van Nuys, alerted me to the impending demolition and asked me to research the origins of the historic structure. Quirino De La Cuesta, another VNNC member, stepped in and purchased these images from the Huntington Library.

And Mr. Miodovsky, in a nod to the old murals, will have new artwork painted within the new structure. It will be created by local artists and reflect the continuing development of Van Nuys which hit its bottom and is now climbing out parcel by parcel.