Filling in the Blanks


As everyone doesn’t know, the Second Largest City in the United States, Los Angeles (pop. 3,972,000) has a lack of housing. Even people who own homes admit, privately, that not everyone should be forced to live on bus benches and sleep alongside the Orange Line Busway.

So at last night’s Planning and Land Use Meeting of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, several apartment projects were presented, which will, collectively, add some 250 apartments to an area, now occupied by 180,000 people, renting for an average of $2,000 a month.

Housing is coming to Van Nuys, again.

And the board was saying yes, every time.

For the millions starved for housing, some crumbs are being dropped from the sky.

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Giant apartment builder IMT plans to erect a 6-story-apartment at 6500 N. Sepulveda Bl. north of Victory Bl. 160-units will have 275 parking spaces on site. The building, architecturally, has a pleasing look of rhythmic, stripped down modernism. Renderings, of course, show it with spotlights, at sundown, without whores, discarded mattresses and homeless people pushing carts on the sidewalk.

On Thursday, April 27th, at 6pm there will be a community meeting with 6500 Sepulveda developer reps at the Van Nuys Library. So far, 3 people (out of 2,000) in our neighborhood, adjacent to the proposed apartment, have replied that they will attend.

At 14530 Erwin Street, west of Van Nuys Blvd, a 48-unit, 5-story apartment building is planned on the site of some auto repair shops. Again the proposed structure is attractive, with a modern look.

My first reaction was to applaud the addition of upgraded housing within walking distance of the Van Nuys government buildings. One could imagine future residents biking, walking, taking the bus, shopping for groceries. The effect of having new housing on a street now occupied by empty parking lots and gruesome auto shops was uplifting.

However, one of the board members (whom I like a lot) asked, “why would you build on such a crappy street?” I wanted to bang my head against the table. Self-sabotage is such a running theme within the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council. Yes, why bring good development into a bad area? For that matter, why bring a shelter dog into a loving family?

The presenter, politely, replied that land is cheaper in Van Nuys than other areas of Los Angeles. That makes its development more feasible. Sometimes the economics lessons spoken here seem self-evident.

Other projects presented last night included AYCE Gogi, a Korean BBQ restaurant at 7128 Van Nuys Bl. They want to add 20 pinball machines to serve with the garlic beef, bulgogi, pork belly and brisket and beer.

At 14831 Burbank Bl. just east of Kester, a new “Brother’s Pizza” is proposed where Napoli Pizza Kitchen used to be. This strip building will have Crème Caramel LA, Brother’s Pizza, My Fish Stop and The Oaks Express Laundry, a very fine laundromat.

Finally, 7745 Sepulveda, (near Western Bagel) where AVIO Coach Craft asked for permission to add six spray painting booths expressly for Tesla automobiles. The fine automaker, and rigorously environmental company, will oversee the process of applying paint to its vehicles. And AVIO has the exclusive contract under Tesla, a business that will paint 300-400 cars a month.

Apartments, pinball machines and auto body painting. Van Nuys is making progress into the future.

Day of the Bulldozer


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6500 N. Sepulveda

On N. Sepulveda Blvd., between Victory and Vanowen, three apartment projects are now underway.

At 6500 N. Sepulveda, the former site of the notorious Voyager Motel is completely cleared. It was a crack-y whorehouse of ill repute. But also a patriotically, quadrennially decorated neighborhood-voting place. It burned in a gratifyingly appropriate fire earlier this year.

The 53,382 square foot parcel is now void of anything natural or man-made. It is simply flat, vast and magnificently empty. It emulates Van Nuys, as it might have been in the late 1940s, when tracts of orange and walnut groves were bulldozed to make way for ticky-tacky houses and shopping centers.

An apartment is planned for this site. I don’t remember its design, but if it follows any of the other projects in Van Nuys it will come by way of big and boxy, designed by big and boxy men, near architects who also moonlight as junior builders, and amateur bankers. It will be three or four stories tall and cover every square inch of land. Parking will be provided in excess of what is needed because the most important feature of any project in Los Angeles is how many parking spaces are provided. We need more parking. And just a reminder: Please make sure there is parking. Everywhere.

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6500 N. Sepulveda

At 6536 N. Sepulveda, on 28,146 square feet, another apartment is going up. This is on that charming stretch of the street where new hookers walk and old couches come to die. Nightly helicopter patrols and pounding rap music enliven the air. A house was recently bulldozed here and gargantuan sized orange bulldozers now occupy the parcel.

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6536 N. Sepulveda

 

At 6725 N. Sepulveda Blvd, on 30,647 square feet, between Archwood and Lemay, another flat and modern multi-family is planned. This was the site of the low self-esteem Ridge Motel, whose police reports and trashy clientele attested to a level of service usually seen only in jails.

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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16
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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16

 

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6725 N. Sepulveda 10/24/16

The Ridge Motel, still a menace in its dying days, was kept behind security fencing, like King Kong in captivity. Its campy, catapulting roofline was somehow not in the sights of the LA Conservancy, whose members work tirelessly to preserve other historical buildings such as bowling alleys  in the San Gabriel Valley.

The rose-bushed, picket-fenced hood of working moms and worked-out fathers bordering these three Sepulveda Blvd. properties are relieved that some badness (and discarded condoms) has departed. Some see the Day of the Bulldozer as Saul saw Jesus. Sin cleansed by salvation.

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14827 Victory Blvd. 6/14/15 DEMOLISHED
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Vintage Auto Repair 6200 N. Kester Ave. 7/9/15 DEMOLISHED
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The oldest house in Van Nuys, once owned by the original developer, WIlliam Paul Whitsett, is cleared for condominiums. 6/7/07 DEMOLISHED

Bulldozers are like angels in Van Nuys. They are sent by the Good Lord to flatten and knock down anything standing in the way of new banality. Even when they are used to destroy history, they have a mission. They will bring, don’t you know, “jobs” and “opportunities” and “housing” to the San Fernando Valley.

We see the stuccofied greatness of our environment every day, along Vanowen, Sepulveda, and Van Nuys Boulevard. Someone, somewhere is surely looking out over all this destruction and construction, making sure that the architecture and the design enhances our landscape.

Or perhaps nobody is in charge. And we live in a kind of roulette table of a city, spinning a wheel and hoping that the building that lands next to us is a winner.

History Online


 

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In the public record, and available online, are millions of building records, in The Department of Building and Safety, encompassing a large part of the history of the city of Los Angeles.

I discovered this great trove of fascinating information during a recent employment incarceration at a Sherman Oaks realty agency.

When we received a listing, we went online and pulled up permit records related to a particular property. This was part of my duties, along with stuffing plastic fingers and plastic spiders into hundreds of orange and black Halloween bags destined to hang on doorways south of Ventura Boulevard.


 

My neighbor’s home at 15139 Hamlin went on sale yesterday.

I pulled up a 1933 building permit for the property.

These records are available for anyone to view. And are not confidential, private or top-secret. They are part of the public record of building safety in our city.

15139 Hamlin was built by Fred J. Hanks who lived down the street at 15015 Hamlin (since demolished). Mr. Hanks estimated the total construction cost of the home at $2,000.

Incidentally, I plugged $2,000 into the US Inflation Calculator and found that amount to equate to $36,606.92 in 2015 dollars.

Mr. Hanks built a two-bedroom house with one bathroom and a kitchen, living room and dining room on a 50’ x 137’ lot with garage for about thirty-six thousand 2015 dollars.

The current values for housing properties in Los Angeles are truly insane. They are fed by a frenzy of speculation and collusion by appraisers, property owners, banks and realtors and seem to reflect no sane relation to either income or reality.

Van Nuys, between Kester and Sepulveda, above Victory, is stuck in a strange rut. The houses here are expensive enough (over $500,000) but are mostly unaffordable for new home buyers. But there are few that sell for over $650,000 so developers have no interest in purchasing old or dilapidated houses, pouring $100,000 into them, only to find that their $600,000 investment cannot sell for over that amount.

As a result our area has quite a number of empty houses, and others that sit on large parcels of land that could be developed for more housing. People sleep on benches, and on the street, or spend $3000 a month for renting an apartment and they all could be owning a house if only the economics of our times permitted.

Perhaps someone sensitive and aesthetic, with modern tastes and an artistic eye will purchase 15139 Hamlin. Or, as seems more likely these days, the house will be obliterated by concrete driveways, 30 cheap exterior lantern lights sitting on stucco walls or iron gates, vinyl windows and Roman columns, and five Hummers parked in front with four on the street.

People once had little money but could build cheaply and practically and pleasantly. Now they have little money, but they build as if they have millions, and the result is a vandalizing of our communities producing pimped-up houses that will again go vacant and unsold when the next downturn hits.

They knew something in that Great Depression year of 1933 we need to learn all over again.

 

 

Two New Large Scale Developments in Van Nuys


The San Fernando Valley Business Journal reported that two new proposed housing projects, one on Sherman Way west of VNB, the other near Oxnard and VNB, are in the works. Principals in the projects showed their plans to members of the Van Nuys Community Council the other night.

Here is the article as it appeared in the SFBJ:

Residential Developments Proposed for Van Nuys

By KAREN E. KLEINWednesday, May 20, 2015

Developers floated two residential proposals before the land-use committee of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council on Tuesday, including a subdivision that got the green light to move forward.

Storm Properties Inc., a Torrance residential developer, wants to build a $29 million small-lot subdivision that marks its first foray into the San Fernando Valley.

The proposal calls for 58 single-family homes at 14700 Sherman Way, just west of Van Nuys Boulevard. Small-lot homes are separate residences but can be so close that the units can have the appearance of condominiums.

Alan Kwan, the firm’s director of acquisitions, said they would be priced from the mid-$400,000s to the mid-$500,000s.

The subdivision got a positive response from the land-use committee, which recommended that it move forward to the full Neighborhood Council next month.

The vacant land was originally bought as an expansion site for Church on the Way, whose main sanctuary is at 14300 Sherman Way. Kwan said the church’s plans have changed and his firm is in escrow to buy the parcel for an undisclosed price.

Storm Properties has concentrated on residential infill projects in the South Bay, but the firm is increasingly interested in the San Fernando Valley.

“We love Van Nuys in particular. It seems to get a bad rap, but we look for areas where we can get a lot of value and where neighbors are supportive,” Kwan said.

The second project is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development slated for 4.5 acres at 6100 Van Nuys Boulevard. It would feature 384 apartments and about 17,000-square-feet of retail space at the busy corner of Oxnard Street. It is adjacent to the Orange Line busway.

Keyes Automotive Group operated a showroom on the property, which is owned by a family.

Brad Rosenheim, principal of Rosenheim and Associates Inc., a Woodland Hills land use consultancy, represents the landowners. He said the project is still in preliminary stages.

“We’ve got a lot of work left to do on this,” said Rosenheim, who plans to return to the committee with more detailed plans.

Gilmore St. Between Kester and Tyrone


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I walked along Gilmore this morning, a varied street one block north of Victory, and found old bungalows, church gardens, crappy apartments and neatly tended ones; along with a shoe repair shop, new Chinese food and a Mid-Century pharmacy.

Gilmore is an old street. A sidewalk was paved in 1929, but the road goes back further than that.

It was part of old Van Nuys, near town, school and church.

In the obliterating 1950s-70s, many old houses were torn down and replaced with rentable apartments, way before the revived fashion for “Mission.” If Gilmore had been preserved as only homes, it might look like today like a neighborhood of Pasadena.

 


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Guns, gangs, crime.

One might understand a small shopkeeper viewing the aforementioned with fear or suspicion.

A Photographer?

Yes it is the photographer, with a camera slung around his neck, who gets the nasty stares and the unwanted questions.

At the colorful Kovacs Pharmacy, a pharmacist came out, confronted me and wanted to know why I was shooting photos.

She asked for my card. I had none. I told her I was a photographer.

She went back inside.

Does one need to have an answer for taking a photo? Would you ever dream of walking up to a stranger- talking on the phone- and asking who they were calling? Would you walk up to a driver stopped at a light and ask, “Why are you driving?”


 

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At 14417, next door to Kovacs, time stands still as faded light illuminates a garage set way back in the yard, the kind of house and garden that once dotted this street.

At Sylmar Avenue, the Van Nuys Elementary School is still handsome and historic, roofed in red tiles and painted in warm tan.

The infamous spray marker of the Barrio Van Nuys (BVN) marks a fence outside of a bungalow court across from the school.

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The Central Lutheran Church, whose white and red brick façade on Victory at Tyrone seems sad and neglected, has a surprisingly vigorous and lush group of edible gardens spreading over at least a half acre or more of land. Very well-tended and green, the vegetables and plants propagate magnificently in fertile soil alongside wooden stakes and raised beds. It looks like a future bumper crop. Its gentle greenery stands in stark contrast to next door car repair and vacant parking lots.

When people talk about the revival of Van Nuys, of making the community better, they might start by visiting a street like Gilmore. Narrow and walkable, tree-shaded and neighborly, it has a variety of both individuals and institutions who are already contributing positive change to this district. They are feeding the homeless, educating the children, planting organic gardens and making Van Nuys come to life in the most unexpected and surprising places.

Striped Buildings.


A developer presented a plan for senior housing, on a site at Vose and Van Nuys Boulevard, at last night’s Van Nuys Planning and Land Use (PLUM) meeting.

This is along that very wide part of Van Nuys Boulevard where the blight of downtown Van Nuys gives way to an airy nothingness of expanse into the Valley moonscape. Eight lanes of roadway go north and go south, past McDonalds, Aamco Transmissions and Earl Scheib’s Paint and Body.

The proposed four-story complex is on land now occupied by Baires Auto Market. Baires is housed in what looks like an old pancake house, white framed and peaked roof, in a mid-century Protestant style, where blueberries and syrup were poured after Sunday services.

Renderings of the new four-story age and memory challenged facility show broken blocks of verticality, indented and tinted, dressed up with trees and vines.

An architect and a corporate spokeswoman described the frailty of the intended residents, ideally desiccated and disabled, unable to drive, and therefore not capable of making more traffic. Kitchenless units will be occupied by dwellers who will dine in communal dining rooms, monitored and managed by round-the-clock workers, arriving in shifts, parking in one of 61 underground spaces.

Over 80, weak, needing assistance, losing their memory, infirm; the suffering of age was advertised as an attribute. For here would come those who would not need schooling or parking spaces, but just a temporary place to live before death.

And there was the illustration of the new building, broken up in colors and pieces, a collection of cliches, impossibly inoffensive.

All over Los Angeles, along the new condos on LaBrea in West Hollywood, over in Santa Monica, and here in Van Nuys, we live in-between newly erected stripes and corrugated boxes.

The new buildings have mass. But it is presented not in grandeur, but shame; fractured, divided, sliced, multi-tinted. It is a style meant to soothe communities, and to disguise big projects by making them seem small and insignificant.

It almost makes one long for the arrogance of brutalism.

The new architecture is poll-tested and market-driven, without balls or bravado.