Back when Los Angeles was younger, at the dawn of the automobile age after World War I, tires, gasoline and cars were sold in buildings and displayed in a manner befitting a jewelry store.
Among the rich archives of the USC Digital Library, are photographs of local businesses, who put extraordinary artistry into their signage and architecture to draw in customers, while projecting an image of modernity attractive to the growing city.
Many of these photos come from the Dick Whittington Studio.
A few weeks ago I received a lovely email, and some photos from Tom Cluster, a reader of this blog.
Here is one excerpt:
I just discovered your blog about Van Nuys. I’m entranced by it. I’m almost 70. Our family moved to 6944 Columbus Avenue in the summer of 1955. It was a small tract of new homes. We moved from Westchester (near LAX). A lot of people moved from Westchester to the Valley because the airport was expanding and streets were being eaten up. Our new neighborhood was between Kester, Vose, Sepulveda, and Vanowen.
The local celebrity was Andy Devine, who still lived in his big house on 6947 Kester, down near Basset. At Halloween he’d hand out small boxes of Sugar Pops. There was an old swimming pool across the street that he had built years before – the Crystal Plunge – and we’d swim there in the summer. We had smog alerts in those days and if there was a big rain we wouldn’t go to school because Kester St. would flood.
There was a family on Vose who sold eggs from their chickens – the mother and father had survived the Holocaust and had the tattooed numbers on their forearms.
[Then as now] It would get hot and there was no air conditioning, not at Valerio School (which in 1955-1956 was at the corner of Kester and Valerio, consisting entirely of temporary buildings with a dirt playground) and not in our homes. Still, I have fond memories of Van Nuys.
The area where the Presbyterian Hospital is now was a big empty field full of tumbleweeds – we’d make forts and paths there. When the hospital was built it was small compared to what it is today. It was just two circular wings designed by William Leonard Pereira. (1909-1985) of Pereira and Luckman.
(Valley Presbyterian Hospital images courtesy of LAPL)
If you look at a map, you’ll see that Noble, Burnett, and Columbus extend from Basset to Marlin Place – the 6900 block. The houses from 6900 up to 6932 were built in 1951, the houses beginning at 6932 were built in 1955. Our houses (6932 and up) were in an old walnut grove, so there was plenty of shade.
I’ve attached a picture out front of our house. The older end of the street didn’t have walnut trees and it always seemed hot. What we didn’t understand was that the walnut trees would all soon die because sidewalks and asphalt and lawns aren’t good for them. At that point our end of the street got hot and the trees that had been planted at the other end of the street grew up and gave it shade. We moved out in 1962. The people who bought our house are still there – probably the longest residing family in that block of Columbus.
If you look at Street View for 6944 Columbus you’ll see that it’s perfectly manicured. The builder of our little tract was named Arthur Guyer – he built tracts throughout the Valley. He built 15153 Marlin Place for himself in about 1957.
There was another local celebrity on that street, although he wasn’t famous then. The Cerf family lived at 6932 Columbus, and Vinton Cerf, the oldest son, was attending Robert Fulton Jr. High. Vinton is famous as the “father of the Internet”. He and a buddy invented TCP/IP while at UCLA. The Cerfs left Van Nuys about the same time we did.
I won’t bore you with my memories of all the commercial establishments, but I will mention that Kenny’s Automotive at 14852 Vanowen, near Kester, was there in the 1950’s, just as it is today. Another hold out from the old days is Lloyd’s Market, at 7219 Kester. It was called Lloyd’s even back then, and we’d stop there every day when we walked home from Valerio.
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
Driving down Moorpark St. in Studio City last week, I passed a notably austere and well-designed apartment under construction. I stopped and walked around and shot some photos of the building which had precise lines, solid forms and possessed an architectural sensibility of the 1930s.
I later looked up the architect online and wrote him an email. To my surprise, he responded in detail. Even more surprisingly, he is a man who has been practicing architecture for over 50 years.
Here is what he had to say about the state of planning and architecture in Los Angeles, especially as it relates to the San Fernando Valley.
I have not disclosed his name to protect his privacy.
Thank you for the complimentary words regarding my apartment project. They are truly appreciated. I looked at your excellent blog.
Your involvement in trying to better the quality of life in Los Angeles is noble. I suspect, however that you are constantly faced with the frustration and anger of dealing with a Los Angeles bureaucracy that has become stifling and counterproductive.
The planning department has been a dismal failure as long as I can remember and has continually failed to address the real and important problems that have faced our city.
I am sure you know the recent history of the Valley better than I do. I came to Los Angeles as a child in 1948, just after WW2 ended and lived in West LA.
A trip to the Valley was a bit of an adventure. Mostly open space. And it was hard to find a restaurant or much of anything. I did not realize then what we were soon going to lose. Tough-minded, enthusiastic, returning soldiers were coming to LA during this period wanting only to work and raise families in peace.
I was fortunate to have a few of these men as instructors at the U.S.C. School of Architecture. The Valley provided an abundance of cheap land on which to develop housing. And with the coming of these returning soldiers, a major Valley building boom began. Housing tracts and apartments were built as quickly and cheaply as possible. It was an exciting event to see a searchlight in the sky and drive towards it to find what new business opening it heralded.
All of this was happening with virtually no master planning. One bland community rolled into another. As I drive the Valley today, I find it kind of fun to try to identify the architectural styles, if you can call them that, of each of the building booms in the 60 plus years since the end of the War. Thank God for the mature landscaping that is making the Valley environment somewhat more pleasant. I find myself, grudgingly, seeing a kind of quirky nostalgic beauty in whole thing. But enough rambling. No easy answers.
The specific problem you face in trying to elevate the quality of Architecture in LA is a tough one. It entails getting greedy bottom line developers to take an interest in the environments that they are building. They only ‘design’ that these developers relate to is that which they feel is necessary to rent or sale their product. This design is too often provided by their spouses or a friend with “good taste.”
A developer buddy of mine once exclaimed with the excitement of discovery that he had figured out how to build a modern building. It is simple he said – no details, white paint and a flat roof. He unfortunately built a number of large apartments in the Valley with his newly discovered understanding of modern architecture.
The developers must be taught that they have a moral responsibility to the community to provide good environment. Good luck on this one. Developers must also be taught that over time a well-designed building will make them more money.
The bureaucracy must be scaled down and restricted on the number of code provisions and roles that they can enact without public input and approval.
I have acted as an Architect, owner builder, and small time residential developer in LA for over a half a century. In the early 1960s, both the California State Board of Architectural Examiners and the A.I.A. for being an “Architect-Developer” chastised me.
There was a conflict of interest they said, not understanding the value of having the Architect as the developer as to opposed to a bottom line businessman. I chuckled when some years latter I ran across an ad for a course called the ‘Architect as a Developer’ sponsored by the A.I.A.
Yours is not an easy road to travel, but please keep it up.
If things are ever going to get better, and I am a pessimistic about this happening, it will take a rising up of the community, under leadership like yourself, to demand the changes you that you are seeking. Thank you for your efforts and good luck.
It is always fun to come across yet another old photograph of Van Nuys. (Courtesy of USC Digital Archives)
This time it’s the Fox Market, a chain, which once had an outpost at 7425 Van Nuys Bl. at the corner of Van Nuys and Valerio, north of Sherman Way .
Legendary photographer Julius Schulman shot the Carl Maston designed structure sometime in the early 1960s. Maston was a noted Mid- 20th Century architect whose work is described as “stark and no frills” in his USC research repository.
A flat roof, floor to ceiling glass, and acres of asphalt mixed convenience and modernism.
The neat, spare, boxy building is gone, and in its place is a riot of ugliness typical of that stretch of Van Nuys where architecture has gone to die. And all who pass through here glimpse a hot Hell built by indifference, corruption and “The Free Market”.
The May 5, 1960 Los Angeles Times carried a display ad from the Fox Market, which also had many other locations throughout the Southland.
There was a pound of peanut butter for 39 cents, lamb roast for 39 cents a pound, cans of Libby Peaches for 29 cents, along with a 59 cent cream pie and 4 buttered steaks for 69 cents.
Nobody seems to drink grapefruit juice these days, but in 1960 you could have had a 46 ounce can for 29 cents to wash down your 4 pounds of red potatoes for 25 cents.
Foolish Robert Norris, 25, of 4809 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, was celebrating his last day on probation and decided to celebrate. He got drunk and went for a drive. After he was pulled over, near Balboa and Vanowen, he told the police, “You’ll have to shoot me to take me back.” Then he ran away but was subdued by four cops and taken into custody.
This is a glimpse into the good old days of Van Nuys when criminals were thin and white and had Anglo-Saxon names.