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, VanNuys 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Browsing through the archives of the Huntington Library, I came across a set of photographs by Maynard Parker. They depict the inside and outside of a new home, one of 119 in a 100-acre development called Royal Oaks, south of Sepulveda, near Ventura, in 1950.
Back then there was no 405, no 101.
Sepulveda Blvd. was a two-lane road whose serpentine forms slithered through the Santa Monica Mountains, an undeveloped area of oaks, grasses, hills and clear skies. A 1939 view from Magnolia looking south shows its verdant ruralness.
The 1000-acre estate of General Sherman was subdivided into various tracts, and given a pretentious name: Royal. There would be Royal Oaks and Royal Woods and Sherman Woods. These luxury homes in California Ranch, Early American, English Tudor and other styles would nestle in the low foothills of Sherman Oaks and usher in a new chapter of suburban life for the socially upward class of settlers.
The first subdivision, Royal Oaks in Sherman Woods, was a $1,100,000 investment in land and construction cost. 100 acres and 119 sites were priced between $6500-$9500 each and “fully improved with paved streets, sewer and water systems, underground wiring and ornamental street lighting.”
A December 4, 1949 LAT advertisement assured that the “smog-free” estate community was carefully restricted and protected against harmful encroachments.
Ironically, this same community today lives amidst the biggest encroachment of all time: the concrete, noise, fumes and traffic of the 405 and a furiously angry pack of speeding, distracted women in SUVs whose disregard for life and law afflicts and curses the roads 24/7.
Let us exit 2016, and return to the peace and quiet of 1950: less cars, no freeways, and dappled sunlight peaking through the marine layer……
The house in the photos, a model home, is, even by today’s standards, a substantial and beautiful place. There are large oak trees and a gently sloping lawn caressing a copiously large and expansive house of strong and graceful lines.
Un-ornamented and quietly self-assured, the architecture is ahistorical and gracious. A three-car garage, casement windows, large overhanging roof and a newly paved street proclaim affluence without ostentatiousness.
Inside, there is a dining room wallpapered in faux stone and a modern ceiling fixture -not a chandelier- hanging over a light wood table with low backed chairs. Even in 1950, California design was advanced. Who, in West Hollywood today, would not kill for this room?
In the living room, there is a large, abstractly printed, sectional, rattan leg sofa. It sits against a wall of sheer drapes and floor-to-ceiling windows. An Oriental coffee table, low-armed chairs, dark shaded lamps, and a wood paneled ceiling effortlessly meld the West Coast with the Far East.
The kitchen is charmless but functional, all in white metal, illuminated by flush ceiling fixtures, and equipped with double ovens, work stations, and a sit-down, countertop desk with an upholstered chair and a dial telephone.
Try these peanut butter and celery canapés. They’re marvelous.
There is an indoor/outdoor casual room, probably the only type of room we don’t make anymore, paved in brick; furnished in metal, washable chairs, and served by an open brick passage where food and drinks might be passed from kitchen maid to seated guests. A hanging starlight fixture and a large, potted metal tree reference nature and the outdoors.
Back when we were on Leyte Island killing Japs we never thought we’d be sitting here a few years later drinking Mai-Tai’s!
A guest room has shag carpeting, pleated drapes and sliding glass doors. There is wall-to-wall carpeting. And twin day beds with an L-shaped coffee table topped with a ceramic dove and a bowl of wax fruit, a writing desk with drawers and a decorative lamp. Here, visiting niece Helen or Uncle Homer or the Haynes Sisters stayed for weeks on end after arriving at Union Station from Chicago or Kansas City or Grand Island.
If you need anything from the linen closet ask Beulah and she’ll get it for you.
The presentation of an ideal lifestyle, the yearning for comfort and luxury, the conception and presentation of a story, these are those elements of fantasy wrought into reality and sold to us by imaginative and innovative builders, architects, designers, decorators, marketers and public relations professionals.
These are the images on the surface of Maynard Parker’s black and white photographs.
The untold story, left out of these gorgeous photos from 66-years-ago, is the enslavement of work, the onerous debt, the ecological destruction and the wanton wasting of the Golden State’s open spaces, all sacrificed under the altar of material house dreams. When we have it all how do we know when we have it all?
We still want to live here. We are just lost getting here.
According to WWII Army Enlistment Records, on March 9, 1942, Julius Blue, a 21-year-old Negro citizen from Walker County, Alabama enlisted at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The United States had been attacked by Japan three months earlier, and this nation was now involved in a struggle against the formidable and murderous Axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy.
Unknown to most of the world, Germany was also engaged in the world’s most advanced genocide against unarmed Jewish citizens of every nation in Europe.
America fought not only to win, but to free enslaved peoples.
When the war was over, Julius Blue, now married, made his way to Los Angeles and settled at 1655 E. 40th Place in South LA.
By 1948, Los Angeles was booming. Jobs, factories, housing: the state was on fire.
And up in Van Nuys, near the corner of Roscoe and Sepulveda, 392 single-family homes were under construction at “Allied Gardens.” Terms were very favorable for veterans. A $10,400 home with a $66.80 mortgage could be had for $400 down.
So one fine day in 1948, Julius Blue, his wife and her parents made their way up to Allied Gardens to look at the new homes.
When they got to the development, instead of being shown plans, the promoters handed the Blue Family a mimeographed document. It contained this description:
“No person whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian Race (and for the purposed of this paragraph no Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu or any persons of the Ethiopian, Indian or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian) shall at any time live upon any of the lots in said Tract 15010”
Boltenbacher and Kelton, the builders, were allowed, at that time, to restrict purchasing of their homes to only whites. They were unapologetic about their open prejudices and discriminatory policies.
In that same year, 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled against race restrictive covenants.
If Mr. Blue had been able to buy a house at Roscoe and Sepulveda, he might have tried to apply for work at the brand new General Motors plant five minutes away at Van Nuys Boulevard north of Raymer.
But that plant also discriminated against black people. There were thousands of jobs, but only a handful of black workers, mostly janitors, employed in that factory.
These are some tales of old Los Angeles told by the LA Sentinel, a black-owned paper whose news coverage reported (and continues to report) stories often ignored by the LA Times and other white-owned media.
While it is amusing in our present time, and poetically just, to imagine that the multi-ethnic San Fernando Valley was once, by law and custom, reserved only for white buyers, it is still shocking to contemplate the blatant sadism, inhumanity and unfairness of that old time racism.
Julius Blue was not the only black man who had difficulty buying a home in Los Angeles. The August 12, 1948 LA Sentinel also had this headline:
HATEFUL SIGN PLASTERED ON “KING” COLE’S $85,000 PALACE
Nat “King” Cole and his wife were planning on moving into Hancock Park but they were bitterly opposed by neighbors who feared that the dark-skinned entertainer and popular singer’s presence would reduce property values.
In 1948, Nat “King” Cole: wealthy, talented, successful, world-famous; fought to buy his own house in Los Angeles.
Think about it.
As a footnote, in 1987, Julius Blue, 65, was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles.
I don’t know whether he survived.
But his story is the story of so many black men. How they managed to stay alive and keep their chins up high is truly astonishing and inspiring. And deeply distressing.
We Americans are the inheritors of an illogic and unreason that herds men and women into racial categories.
We Americans must uphold individual, not group, character as the only standard of moral judgment.
If we again buy into con-man ideas about group wide evil, we are going back in time to somewhere dark and ignorant, not pushing ahead into enlightenment and reason.