All Our Blights.


DSCF2550Cleaning out the median, north of Victory, on Sepulveda last Saturday, I stopped to shoot a  scene that spoke to me.

Here were all the blights that plague Van Nuys in one photograph.

An RV parked along the road, a home for the homeless. These improvised residences are everywhere in Los Angeles these days. Unaffordable housing and the societal acceptance of allowing our fellow humans to sleep on the street or in unlicensed housing is shocking. Or maybe we are no longer shocked. Which is itself shocking.

As teenaged girls rake and clean the median, they are attacking a problem that is essentially caused by illegal dumping. No authorities, no residents, no politicians have found a way to stop old sofas, mattresses, bottles, televisions, furniture, and every type of fast food from being dropped on our streets.

A billboard from Spearmint/Rhino advertises adult film star Veronica Vain . The advertisement looms over a family neighborhood, one with many children, and features a woman who performs public sex acts on camera and in person. Here is a NSFW link.

And then there is Carl’s Jr. whose offerings are a great contributor to rampant obesity. The ½ Pound Mile High Bacon Thickburger is 1230 calories. Ordered with Onion Rings (530 calories) and a Vanilla Shake (700 calories) a person could consume 2,460 calories, or about 1000 more calories than a sedentary human needs in an entire day. That would be in just one meal. The nutritional information is taken directly from Carl’s Jr.

Through all this detritus is the six-lane speedway Sepulveda. When it is full of traffic it is impossible. When it moves, many drivers speed and run through red lights. People risk their lives crossing this asphalt hell.

This is our environment, this is our city, this is our reality.

Clean Up on Sepulveda.


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Through a multi-pronged alliance between City Councilwoman’s Nury Martinez’s Office (CD-6), the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, and neighbors who came together on Next Door, about 30 people gathered today between Haynes and Lemay on Sepulveda, and spent a good part of Saturday morning, raking, shoveling, pruning, digging, sweeping, and exhausting themselves to rid the dirt median of man made crap and improve a section of Van Nuys for at least a day.

Long an eyesore, the garbage strewn dusty, dry strip is a dumping ground of Carl’s Jr. burger bags, old condoms, half finished Styrofoam burrito plates, discarded diapers, tires, beer bottles, smashed soda cans, empty vodka bottles and anything else that might be dropped by an intoxicated prostitute at 3am.

Gloves, rakes, shovels, trash bags, water, all of it was brought along and given to the volunteers who included Field Deputy Guillermo Marquez, and Linda Levitan, both from Nury Martinez’s office; Penny Meyer, Howard Benjamin and Quirino De La Cuesta, all VNNC officers; and teenagers from Van Nuys. Families, older folks and an obscure blogger/photographer joined in to shovel and sweat.

Filled to the brim were garbage bags lined up along the curb and waiting to be picked up by the Department of Sanitation on Monday. Palm fronds, cut off from trees to reveal litter below, were themselves placed along the trash bags for disposal.

Work started around 8am, and by 11am the median had been raked and picked clean of garbage.

 

 

 

The Big, Empty Foreground


On Flickr, where I sometimes spend my time, there is a group of photographs called “The Big Empty Foreground.” These are urban places, usually wide-open spaces, without people.

Many of the contributors come from Europe, a place one does not often think of as empty. Soccer fields, parking lots, office plazas, old factories, these are some of the unpopulated places.


 

Sepulveda Cleaners 2In Van Nuys, we have a lot of wide, empty foreground. Expansive asphalt pavements, empty shopping centers, abandoned houses on large lots.

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Near Vanowen, between Archwood and Sepulveda, there is a collection of one-story businesses: a cleaners, a phone store, a fishing tackle store and an odd place called Reynoso’s Lapidary and Supply which specializes in rocks, gems, stones and agate slabs.

These are in a building put up when land was cheap, sometime in the 1950s. And they are plain and homely and functional, but also practical, because the cars are put in back and the sidewalk is in front. Signs are small and discreet.

What intrigued me, on a day when dark clouds enclosed the sky and transformed the light of Los Angeles into something moody and cool, was how casually open space was made in the back, without gates or fences, or trees. That’s the way we parked in the 1950s at a suburban place. There was no thought given to landscape, only to laying down asphalt.

A walnut or orange grove, on many acres, probably occupied this land before the building was built.

This landscape back here will probably be developed someday and covered completely in a banal apartment, approved by city zoning.

But for now there is light, and space, and sky.

 

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The Last Days of The Ridge Motel.


 

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The Ridge Motel, at 6719 Sepulveda Blvd in Van Nuys, between Archwood and Lemay, recently closed down. Like the nearby Voyager (now demolished) it also enjoyed a debauched and degraded reputation of drugs and prostitution and illegal activities of every sort.

A long list of violations compiled by LA City inspectors is available online.

Just for nostalgia sake, I went past The Ridge one recent early evening and photographed the exterior of the abandoned building.

The style of the building, built in 1963, is somewhere between mid-century modern and Swiss Chalet in an open California courtyard. At its prime, the affordably priced motel was ideal for families. While kids swam in the pool, Dad could walk next door and buy a bottle of Scotch and a pack of cigarettes at Red Valentine’s Liquor Store where Boost Mobile is today.

Dinner at Hody’s at Victory and Sepulveda might cap off the day of excitement.

Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.
Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.

Here are the last days of The Ridge:

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A new owner plans to erect a 3-4 story tall rental apartment complex in the modern style. There will be some affordable units but 85% will be market rate. GA Engineering obtained permission from the boss and sent me renderings of the new project that will replace the repellent Ridge.

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Dreaming of Exile


 

DSCF2360Even if you have given up on LA, cursed its tackiness, screamed at its traffic, revolted from its inanities, choked on its air and dreamed of exile from its toxicities, you might be seduced on Sunday afternoon, as I was yesterday, by a place hidden away that seems like a small town in the Poconos.

I accompanied a friend on an errand. She manages properties, and was cleaning up after renters at a small house on a street called Lake Shore Avenue.

East of Glendale Blvd, south of the 2, west of Elysian Park, it sits snuggly into a hill that blocks the setting sun. Shady, built with little bungalows, it bisects, at Effie, an institution: Gateways Hospital and Community Mental Health Center.

A mid-century sign sits at the entrance to the facility.

Egregious, garishly lettered in big vertical typeface, it announces, creepily, its authoritative medicinal mission (rehabilitation, research, hospital) as if they were triple feature films from the 50s like “I Want to Live”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “The Blob.”


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We parked on Effie and looked ahead at a wide dirt path climbing up a steep hill where nets were laid down to trap water and debris that may pour down here fiercely.

My friend went to work on her property, and I climbed up the trail.

Around me were dried, parched grasses, the remnants of homeless blankets and bags of clothes, and, at the top of the hill, a stucco shack of a house, with a pitted asphalt driveway, and a wooden deck. It was guarded by ziggurat cinder block walls and reinforced steel window bars.

The dilapidated home was a find, unusual in its state of disrepair. For we live in a city of brutally competitive property investment, where every top elevation has been captured by someone richer. This mountain hideaway lacked the hidden cameras, the expensive cars, the pool, and the pretense to architecture. An eccentric hermit might inhabit it.

Moby if he had no money might live here.

Its views stretched out to Silverlake, downtown, and tall radio towers across the way. Yet it was an uneasy isolation. It felt dangerous, not reassuring.

Bucolic and rustic in Los Angeles never exists in purity.

Helicopters and sirens in the distance, the threat of fire, the presence of people without homes, the surprise of events that might end our life erupting from the deepest earth, or from a violent intrusion through an open window. These are the sights, sounds and conjurations of the imagination haunting happy moments.

That is how that house and hill felt.


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Back down on Lake Shore Avenue I walked past institutional houses, illuminated by industrial floodlights, set along the street, behind gates. Two older men were on the stoop of one place, smoking. They nodded to me and I waved back.

Outside the property of Gateways, dominating the bright part of the hill on Lake Shore Avenue, was a tall, two-toned, red and white brick house looming over a row of old garages. Homely, graceless, squinting in the sun, it refuted the lovely myth that everything historic is charming. The white “sanitary” bricks, glossy and washable, were often used in the 1920s on building facades for bakeries and cleaners.

A small signifier of community well-being, a landscaped traffic circle, ended my walk up Lake Shore.

That idea that a street could come together in a circle, unified by architecture, common purpose, cafes and conversation, there was something of that here, but I saw no other pedestrians. The only movement was daylight in retreat, shadows moving over the street.

After walking around, I came back to my friend’s property and went inside. We stacked dishes in the dishwasher, carried out bags of food from the refrigerator, and a basket of dirty towels. She turned on the alarm and locked the door. We got in the car and left to return to the real city beyond.