Builders Emporium, Van Nuys, CA, 1950s


1948: Builder’s Emporium

Item: Valley News, October 30, 1955

With $1,013,430,131 LA building permit valuations recorded for the first nine months of this year, all indications point to 1955 topping any previous year in the history of Los Angeles County construction, according to Ouentin W. Best, chairman of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Construction Industries Committee.

The January through September figure marks only the fourth time that construction activity in the county has gone over the billion dollar figure in any one year. The Chamber report pointed out that since three months still remain giving the 12-month total for 1955. There can be little doubt that the year will record an all-time high, Houses Gain 14%! Unprecedented construction during the same nine months of last year. A total of 51,067 residential permits have been issued to date in 1955, compared to 47,699 at the three- quarter mark in 1954, A total of 15,522 building permits were issued during the month of September with a valuation of $885,428.934.


[Permits were issued for the construction of 32,008 units in 2016, down 6 percent from 34,034 the year prior] (Source: KPCC)

Population of Los Angeles County in 1955: 5.1 million

Population of Los Angeles County in 2017: 10.2 million (State of CA)


And in Van Nuys, CA, at the corner of Oxnard and Sepulveda, Builders Emporium, established 1948, was doing a booming business.

Not only did it sell building supplies, tools, and machinery; it also seems to have had quite a golf and fishing, sporting goods department.

What follows are mid 1950s publicity photos connected to the store. They were published in the Valley Times Newspaper (LAPL). Their original, great captions cannot be improved upon by satire.

Here they are:

Photograph caption dated April 29, 1955 reads “Motion picture and TV Eyeful Norma Brooks gets close supervision on proper stance to be used when teeing off from attentive golf pro Jim Curtis, preparatory to free four-day clinic of Builders Emporium.” The store is located at 5960 Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys.

 

Builders Emporium, 5960 Sepulveda, Van Nuys, is launching a new sports department and this outdoor group is helping to announce the fact to the public. Left to right, back row, are Sherry Hall, Rea Regal (sic) (Miss Van Nuys) and Kathy Sellers. Merchandising Manager Pete Campbell is on the left while Doye O’Dell, popular TV cowboy star, is examining the rifle on the right.

 

Circa 1957.

October 13, 1955 : “First slice of spectacular 40-foot birthday cake is being served by Victor M. Carter, store president, at ninth anniversary celebration of Builders Emporium, Sepulveda Boulevard and Oxnard street, Van Nuys. Cake was served with ice cream to thousands of visitors who joined in festivities.”

May 29, 1956:  “Pete Campbell escorts Ree Regul, Miss Van Nuys, on tour of enlarged fishing section of sports goods department of Builders Emporium, Van Nuys. Recently expanded fishing section will carry complete line of equipment to satisfy needs of all fishing enthusiasts, according to Campbell.”

April 9, 1955: “‘This bunny is a honey’ say the ‘small-fry’ making their pre-holiday visit with the Builders Emporium Easter Bunny at Sepulveda and Oxnard in Van Nuys. The ‘B. E. Bunny’ passed out thousands of free chocolate rabbits to the youngsters at the giant hardware store.”

August 30, 1955 reads “Claire Weeks, Miss Van Nuys of 1955, learns workings of $239 De Walt Power Shop, which will be awarded Sept. 22 as grand prize in Builders Emporium toy building contest. One hundred additional prizes will be awarded. All toys will be donated to Childrens (sic) Hospital, City of Hope and St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Polk Riley, power tool department manager, demonstrates outfit. Entry blanks are available at Builders Emporium.”

 

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Kester, the Underachiever.


He has low self-esteem. He thinks he is too skinny, too short, too overlooked.

He blames his parents, near Raymer, for spawning him into the world from an obscure and ugly industrial spot near the concrete walled Los Angeles River.

On hot days, which are frequent, he told me hardly anyone drives up to his northernmost reaches. He looks at the homeless carts, the empty parking lots behind Target, and he thinks he is like an orphan among roads in Van Nuys and vicinity.

He told me he is jealous of Sepulveda named for an explorer, and of that “pompous” boulevard hosting such notables as Bevmo, OSH and LA Fitness. “What do I have except a couple junky liquor stores where they sell malt liquor? Sepulveda is arrogant. He has money and history and power. He was born near The Mission, holier than thou, and rams his way all through the San Fernando Valley and even has a pass named after him. He has Getty and Skirball and two Zankou Chickens. He gets to go all the way to LAX and beyond. He is well-travelled too!”

“I’m only 4.7 miles long. And people use me. They know I have no ramps to or from the 101 so they travel on me as a shortcut of necessity. They don’t really want to visit me. They would rather be on Van Nuys Bl.,” he said tearfully.

I told him I had respect for him, as he, evoked in me, a sweet nostalgia.

I said I liked Valley Builder’s Supply at Oxnard, especially the piles of sand and rock. And the place next door where they put bald tires on cars as a stray, three-legged, bandana-necked dog dances in the dust and dirt around the jacked-up vehicles. I tried to cheer him up and mentioned the braceros who gather for work everyday, smiling, rubbing their stomachs, itching for opportunity. “This is the real city. This is you, Kester!” I said.

I thought he would be thrilled at the two, new, white, glistening apartments on Kester between Delano and Erwin. “Big deal,” he said. “One of the buildings has just painted a big orange tongue on the front like a Pez dispenser. It’s like they want to make me look ridiculous instead of elegant. I’m always put into the low-class category!”

He said that even churches ignored him. La Iglesia En El Camino at Sherman Way just gives me a parking lot. And then there is that lousy self-service car wash across from the church. On Sepulveda, they have new, automatic car washes with flashing colored lights and lots of suds. On Kester, people still spray their cars by hand!”

He talked about his bitterness towards Van Nuys High School which turns its playing field bleachers away from him.

He ridiculed the remodeled Kester Palace apartments south of Victory as “refried beans” and “tacky.”

Most angrily he attacked the mini-mall on the NE corner of Victory where the trash and the shopping carts full of garbage are always left on the Kester side of the building.

I tried to change the subject.

“What about MacLeod Ale? I know it’s not on Kester but so many of its patrons drive down you to get there!” I said.

“Don’t mention MacLeod. They have it easy on Calvert Street. That street is twice as ugly as I am but they still get crowds of fans. Life is really unfair!” he said.

Then I had to, unfortunately, break the news to him that Metro is planning to demolish 58 buildings from Kester to Cedros along Aetna and Bessemer to accommodate a future light rail storage and maintenance yard.

“What? That’s crazy. Why would they destroy all those small businesses where people make a living? This is madness! Why does Van Nuys keep shooting itself in the foot? Do you mean to tell me that part of Kester will be taken away and devoted to floodlit rail yards right in the middle of old Van Nuys?”

“Yes. The great new transportation future of Van Nuys, with light rail, requires the dismemberment of one of its solid, dense, walkable districts. That is always how it works in Los Angeles. You must wipe out the old to create the new!”

He started to cry.

“It’s not part of my family but do you mean they will also knock down the old metal-sheeted, pitched roofed, fruit packing houses on Cedros and Calvert? Those go back to before WWII. Those are really lovely reminders of old Van Nuys,” he said.

“Yes. I’m afraid they will demolish those too,” I said.

After spending time travelling, walking, and observing Kester, I understood that he was, truly, different from the louder, noisier, bigger, wider roads. He struggled to voice his own identity. He watched as less deserving streets around him got more and more action, and he slipped, quite often, into self-pity.

In other cities, perhaps in Italy or Mexico, a Kester might find love with his shadows and frumpiness. His shy virtues of walkability and modesty, independence and eccentricity, could give him a solid living and self-respect outside the US. Poets would write of Kester, painters would paint him. The monogram “BVN”, sprayed so artfully, so often, on the walls of Kester, would be stitched into the world’s finest garments.

But cruelly, in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, the majority stamps him only as Kester, the Underachiever.

 

Bank of America at Haynes and Van Nuys Blvd.


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Ph: Julius Shulman
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Ph: Julius Shulman

Many are familiar with the large, architecturally impressive Bank of America at Haynes and Van Nuys Blvd. It was designed by Paul Revere Williams, a prominent architect who was also an African-American Angeleno. The bank was built in 1967 and features murals inside and out by artist Millard Sheets. In 1968, famed photographer Julius Shulman photographed the bank. It was a high point for civic architecture in Van Nuys, and perhaps the last time this area felt proud of its main street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prior to the 1967 bank, there was a more humble, late Art Deco, Bank of America at this same location, 6551 Van Nuys Bl.

In this black and white photograph, one sees the crisp, scrubbed-down, finely cared for building. Around it was a thriving street with well-dressed, law abiding citizens, and perhaps the occasional criminal whose activities were the exception not the rule.

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Chase Bank, Sepulveda at Victory.

Today, human beings in Van Nuys sleep, eat, and defecate alongside bank buildings. Their disgraceful conditions scarcely cause anyone to notice. Or care.

In 2017, we are so busy congratulating ourselves on our “tolerance”that we forget that things that were once intolerable, illegal and immoral were considered so for many good reasons. In our gross barbarity, in our willful blindness to the suffering of neighbors, we are co-defendents in a new type of indecent nation, one that tests our moral fiber and will present itself to history for judgment.

Human beings do not belong on the street. They should be housed safely, affordably, with sanitation and security. Call this conservative, call this liberal, call this anything you want.

 

The Studio City Story


The other day, I drove past the gray ranch with white casement windows at 4336 Teesdale, a house I briefly lived in for 4 months when I arrived in Studio City in May 1994. There was a for sale sign in front, so I stopped my car, got out and started to take photos for posterity.

A middle-aged Israeli, parked nearby, emerged from his SUV to ask me why I was taking photos of “his house.” I told him I had lived there many years ago. “I am on the neighborhood watch,” he said.

I explained that I knew the previous occupant and had lived here myself. I asked him how much the house sold for, but he would not say. He said he was a broker, but “I don’t like to call myself a broker. I’m more of a preservationist.”

He told me the house, most likely, would be torn down.

He seemed satisfied with my benign answers and he drove away.

Redfin, I saw later, listed it for $1,034,500.

In 1994, a college friend, “B”, was renting it for $1,200 a month. There were two bedrooms and one bathroom, 1168 square feet, built in 1938 for $3,200. I paid “B” $100 a week when I earned $500 a week as a PA.

“B” went away for the summer to work on “Woodstock ‘94” a twenty-fifth anniversary program of the rock festival. I stayed in the house and got a job at Greystone in Valley Village where the hazy air obscured the view of the mountains and everyone went across the street to get lunch at Gelson’s salad bar.

When “B” returned we fought over something silly and we never spoke again. And I moved out.

Everyone sees their life and their times in their own way. And we interpret our communities with stereotypes we overlay on them. And Studio City has stayed in my head as a certain place, regardless of fact or reason. It still exists in my imagination in that way I first encountered it that summer in 1994.


In the 1990s, there was a family type who lived in Studio City, not at 4336 Teesdale, but in many other homes. I often met them on runs when I worked at Greystone.

The mom was always named Linda. She was single and raising two teenagers in a two-bedroom ranch that looked like 4336.

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Titles: Doogie Howser, M.D. (circa 1990) People: Belinda Montgomery Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images – © 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

She was 43-years-old, with a perpetual tan, curly dark blonde hair, living in a tiny house with many VHS cassettes, tons of books, two cats (Cat and Kitty), a bedroom with burgundy sheets, a leopard print comforter, brown velvet pillows and a chenille throw. Her fireplace mantle was stacked with scented vanilla candles and ornate gold-framed photos of her two kids who were always named Zoe and Adam.

There were three closets in the home, each 23 inches wide, and the front hall was stuffed with everything nobody would ever need in Southern California: waterproof boots, winter coats, sweaters in dry cleaner bags, hats, gloves, mittens, a file cabinet and an Electrolux Steel Framed Canister Vacuum.

Linda was always a writer/producer and had worked on documentaries about Nostradamus, the Titanic and “The World’s Most Amazing Dogs.” Her new boyfriend was always a bearded therapist named Robert or Steven and he had a dry, calm, objective, scientific and analytical view of everything from genocide to dieting to menopause. He was always rational and grown-up, in contrast to the immature first husband. He never lost his temper unless someone disagreed with him.

He ended most arguments with this winning argument: “Chomsky said it. I believe it. That settles it!”

He knew wine and he knew women. And he had classifications and opinions on both which he pontificated upon with his index finger waving in the wind.

 

Linda drank highly oaked Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay and treated herself to Wolfgang Puck’s pizzas topped with smoked salmon and caviar. After coming home, stuffed and intoxicated, she plopped down into her overstuffed sofa which took up almost her entire 10 x 12 foot living room.

She was divorced, always from David, who always moved to the beach, and they had joint custody of the kids whom he picked up on Friday nights, two times a month, in his Jetta Convertible. David was always an editor. He had once worked with Scorcese, but had a falling out. He was said to be bitter, but he still earned $5,000 a week working for NBC or Universal and had a 25-year-old girlfriend, who was always tall and always named Jennifer.

The broken up families of Studio City, twenty years ago, were always white, and they were always from different white backgrounds: Jewish and Irish, Jewish and Italian, Jewish and Atheist. They were always self-professed liberals and had always grown up in completely segregated, wealthy neighborhoods and were uniformly horrified at the downfall of their former hero Orenthal James Simpson.

They always came from back east, and had attended Ivy League schools, some earning MBAs, always with the intention of using their top-level education to write or produce Hollywood sitcoms.

Someone’s parents had always lent them $23,000 for a down payment on a $239,000 house off of Moorpark near Whitsett. “Your father killed himself saving this money for you so you would have it for this very reason.”

The parents were always difficult, but always present, in daily phone calls. When the phone rang at 6am, the parents back east never knew it was three hours earlier in California. Every August they mailed a check for $3,000 to pay for Adam and Zoe’s yearly tuition at Harvard-Westlake.

Long gone, are the struggles of 1994, those days of worry when you wondered how you would pay your $657 a month mortgage. The women who stayed put in those houses are now gray or white haired though most are still outwardly blonde. They are all passive millionaires who live in million dollar homes.

So many have sold their little quaint houses with the rope swing tied on the tree in the front yard. The picket fence, the one car garage, the kitchen with two electrical outlets and no dishwasher, the pink bathtub with plastic non-slip flowers, the glassed in back porch, the one bathroom shared by four people: all wiped off the map in Studio City.


 

In 2017, the new house is always white, always “Cape Cod”, always 5,000 or more square feet, always “amazing” (is there any other word?) with five bedrooms, five bathrooms, 15-foot high ceilings, with high security systems and cameras affixed around the exterior to catch squirrels, possums, robbers and send alerts day and night. The 89 windows are never opened and the air conditioning is always on. There are 100 overhead lights in the combined living/dining/den/kitchen/wine bar/library/pool/patio.

The walls are always white and there are no books, not a single one, anywhere, except if they are on the coffee table, and then they are photography books, and they sit in front of the 86″ Class (85.6″ Diag.) 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV: $6,999.

(Text continues after egregious photos)

There are always two SUVs parked in the driveway, usually a Mercedes and a Lexus. They have Bluetooth and Wi-fi but every woman who drives one uses her handheld phone to talk while accelerating through red lights driving Sophia and Aiden to school safely.

Nobody cooks in the kitchens with the 50-foot long counters and the 10 Burner, $16,000 Viking Range. They just get takeout from Chipotle.

Inside these vacuous homes, nobody reads and nobody converses. They just look at their phones. Everybody has a spine like a banana and red, callused, sore thumbs.

The old Studio City, cramped life creatively lived, is fast under demolition and in its place something alien, gargantuan, empty, expensive and all-white fills in the empty lots on every quaint street like a new set of false, horse-tooth-sized dentures rammed into a 4-year-old girl’s mouth.

The bulldozers, I expect, will come soon for 4336 Teesdale. The 80-year-old house will be a pile of wood by lunchtime. And then a new lot will get dug, the new foundation poured, and stacks of lumber, men and tools will put up a new spectacular that looks like every other new spectacular in Studio City.

And upon completion, the realtors will smile, the banks will lend, the in-laws will underwrite, and some young family will be in debt for $2,500,000 for the next 30 years, if they are lucky.

La Tuna Canyon Fire


The sky was exceptionally sublime last night with distant plumes of smoke climbing up into the clouds. The air was smoky and humid. The city seemed exhausted, ready to take a cold shower, drink ice water, and crawl into a bed without a blanket in an air-conditioned room.

But firefighters were racing to multiple scenes, battling on foot, assisted by water dropping copters. There would be little sleep for the defenders of life and property.

Near 12653 Osborne St, Pacoima, CA 90012

The 2017 La Tuna Canyon Fire in the Verdugo Mountains, a punishing event, looked tame from a distance in Pacoima along San Fernando Road. Closer up, panic and urgency: horses, dogs, cats and people evacuated. Others chose to stay home, hose down their roofs and wait it out.

In Sunland, still along San Fernando Road,  one could glimpse the hot flames shooting up in the crevices between the jagged hills, orange fire against the dark blue sky.

Near 8134 San Fernando Rd
Sun Valley, CA 91352

The Battle of Alta Loma Terrace.


In early 1964, Steven Anthony, 33, a Barney’s Beanery bartender and ex-marine, his wife Elona, 22, and three young children, Steven,2½ Deborah, 1 ½ ; and Pam, 5 months, were living, just south of the Hollywood Bowl, in a bucolic 1920s English cottage at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace.

Then they were served with an eviction notice. And told to vacate their home because it stood in the way of a proposed $6.5 million Los Angeles County-Hollywood Museum.

(2017 Dollars: $51,492,200.65)

When LA Sheriff Deputies arrived Saturday, February 8, 1964 to evict the family, Mr. Anthony, “cradling a shotgun in one hand and a baby in another,” held the deputies at bay for seven hours and won a reprieve to stay in the home for a few more weeks.

The case of the shotgun wielding marine, Brylcreemed, burly and courageous, seems to have captured the support of his neighbors, and sympathy from a wide variety of Los Angeles, a city, that saw a little guy battling forces bigger and better financed.

If the Sheriff returned to evict him, Mr. Anthony promised that he would have a dozen ex-marines at his side. His attorney, Paul Hill, filed a brief with the US Supreme Court. While the motion was being considered, deputies were told to stay clear and allow the law to adjudicate.

LAT/LAPL

 

The county argued that the new museum was a public project and they had the right to seize an obstructing private home. A jury awarded Mr. Anthony $11,750 for his “half” of the home but he thought it was too little. He sent his wife and kids out to Big Bear City while the matter boiled. The US Supreme Court turned down the review.

Now Mr. Anthony waited….

On the evening of Monday, April 13, 1964, as the 36th Annual Academy Awards aired, Mr. Anthony welcomed two “pals”, ex-marines he thought, into his home, along with a woman, and another attorney. The bartender trusted the men because he had met them at Barney’s Beanery, and later at a Young Republican’s meeting where he was honored.

At the same time, some 30 deputies, and a moving truck, all under the cover of darkness, gathered outside.

Quickly, Mr. Anthony was slugged in the jaw by one of the “marines” (really an undercover mercenary), taken down, law enforcement stormed the house and he was taken into custody and jailed. The ruse finally got him.

LAT/LAPL

 

 

The movers quickly emptied the house, and the structure was soon demolished. Neighbors raised money for bail and Mr. Anthony was released. But he was soon put on trial.

He was sentenced to serve six months in jail, and afterwards he sued the county of Los Angeles for two million dollars. His family moved up to Sonora, in central California, where he made a living building houses. Tragically, in 1976, his 15-year-old son Stephen fatally shot himself.

 

After spending $1.2 million for a public-private venture with film mogul Sol Lesser, a three-man committee, headed by the late financier Bart Lytton, decided the Hollywood Museum project was unfeasible and would not pay for itself.

In a 1976 interview, Mr. Anthony, who was even accused of having Communist sympathies for standing up to the so-called law and the so-called Hollywood elite, said: “Wherever we go, people mention it. But we had to fight the system. Otherwise they’d take anything they want under eminent domain. We were harassed, just like in a Communist country.”

LA Times 12/8/1976

It seems quaint now, really, to imagine a lone, shotgun-wielding bartender holding off law enforcement, if only to keep his house and family intact. The lethality of modern weapons, the electronic spying tools of our government, the drones, the copters, the smart phones; in the militarized nation of America, would this drama, re-enacted today, ever end so peacefully, a potential mass killing tripped up by two phony men play acting?

What seems even more improbable today is that anyone would demolish an artsy English cottage in the Hollywood Hills. Anyone lucky enough to own one would probably be a millionaire. The fight, if any, would be over the house: who could keep it, who owned it, who could restore it.

Timing is everything in life. A family was evicted, they lost their home, they had to move out of the city. And the museum that instigated the exile was never built.

Yet a parking lot was.

It’s a fitting memorial for Los Angeles. The car always win in the end. We have no controversial statues to pull down. Our history is the parking lot. It rules over us all.

 

 

 

 

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