On a Sunday evening in July, on foot, after a few beers, the old town of Van Nuys, carried a note of Tribeca 1985, in its summoning of potential, laid out, for dreamers and developers.
There were empty storefronts and shabby alleys, but there were also women in chairs, attending children on bicycles, who played near clothes for sale, hung on a fence. Here Andreas bought a shirt for $3.
There were menacing BVN insignias on garbage bins and apartment walls, but there was also the eternal light of California soaking the decay in cinematic color. If I were sober, if I were alone, I probably wouldn’t have walked here.
Intoxication, used wisely, is a gift. When nerves are soothed, adventures commence.
What glories the cessation of fear brings to the eye. Every corner revealed something: teal and brown homeless tarps seemingly sculpted, the wood pallets in the alley placed with artful intention, a wood gate in the back of a parking lot like the entrance to an old western town.
The best buildings were the forgotten ones: The steel walled packing house on Vesper St., the pink stucco cottages on Cedros, and 14225 Delano St. a mid-century structure with a dark green cornice and an inverted glass wall, respectable, laconic and businesslike.
It was Sunday night but some people worked.
On Bessemer St. a worker at Technology Auto Body buffed a gleaming pick-up truck, squeezing the last minutes of light to finish his job.
Last night, these fearsome streets, Calvert, Bessemer, Vesper, Delano and Cedros, were peaceful and passive. Sometime soon, this walkable, neighborly and nostalgic area will revive, and these ramshackle adventures through denigration will take their place in the history book of Los Angeles.
Tom Cluster (b. 1947) lived at 6944 Columbus with his sister and brother and parents from 1955-1962. The family then moved to Pacific Palisades. He now lives in Northern California and has been sending me his recollections of life in Van Nuys in the 1950s.
Here are some excerpts from his emails to me:
“Everyone talks about the Bethlehem Star Parade on Van Nuys Blvd., and we’d go to see it also. It was a Big Deal in Van Nuys.
You write about Kester a lot, and thinking of Kester reminds me of my grandmother who worked at the MGM cartoon department in the 30’s and early 40’s. One of the cartoonists had a chicken ranch on Kester somewhere down near the LA River. I know this because I have a letter he wrote to my grandmother.
I had mentioned that the Valley was Lily White – what I meant was that there were (few) Blacks or Asians (apologies to the Jue Joe Clan). There were, of course, Hispanics. I remember riding my bicycle to a Mexican grocery just below Kester (on the east side, in other words) near Van Nuys High School. They had big pickles that I liked. I also remember that in my one semester at Van Nuys High (September 1961) a fight broke out in the quad between the Hispanics and the Whites. I’m not sure what words we used to describe these groups. We might have said “Mexicans”.
Valley Town Market/ Sepulveda Drive In
Note: Constructed in 1955, at a cost of $3,000,000, the Valley Town Market and the Sepulveda Drive-In Theater were located near Erwin and Sepulveda in Van Nuys, CA. The market featured some amusement park rides, animals and outdoor informal “fast” food.
The entire complex was demolished in 1992, and was replaced by Wickes Furniture, which was then torn down. And is today the site of LA Fitness and the Orange Line Busway parking lot.
Random mass murder was still a novelty in 1968.
In that year, Peter Bogdanovich directed “Targets” about an assassin here in Van Nuys.
Tom Cluster remembers: “There was a drive-in theater on Sepulveda north of Oxnard, and there were some gas storage tanks adjacent to it. The tanks are still there, up against the 405, near the Orange Line Busway. This drive-in and the tanks were featured in the Peter Bogdanovich movie “Targets” (1968).”
Other old photos of the Sepulveda Drive-In:
Cluster Family Photos.
First picture – two kids on the sidewalk – one is my brother. This was taken in front of the bank manager’s house – the Cerf residence is just behind the closest walnut tree. This is the fall of 1961. We’re looking south down Columbus, toward the hospital’s land in the distance. Notice how the walnut trees stop after the Cerf’s house, and notice also how you don’t really see any buildings at the hospital, compared to now, where there’s a virtual wall at the edge of their property on Basset because of their expansion.
Second picture – My sister on a trampoline, Christmas, 1959. There was a craze then for trampoline centers where kids could break their necks, so eventually they faded away. This particular center was on the west side of Kester, just north of Vanowen.
Third picture – 1958 – My brother and sister, with Marlin Place in the background. You’ll see that our windows still have the fake shutters. We pulled them off when we got the house painted and never put them back – I’m not sure why. You can see Mr. Guyer’s house in the background, on Marlin Place. I looked it up and Zillow tells me it was built in 1955.
Tom Cluster School Days
This ceremony was at the church on the southeast corner of Sherman Way and Kester. At the time I think it was a Baptist church, but if I’m not mistaken it’s now a Four Square Gospel [Church on the Way] (3.5 stars on Yelp). I was nominated for it by Mrs. Stitt, a social studies teacher at Fulton Jr. High. Poor lady, such an unfortunate name, but it fit her. I’m on the right, the first boy behind the woman with the fur, smiling and with my face partially obscured. I still have that certificate (I keep almost everything). My time in Junior High is clouded in shame that I shall never live down, which is one reason I didn’t attend the Van Nuys High School 50th reunion. As much as I would have liked to see my old classmates, too many of them would remember that I was a “Cadet” at Fulton, or, in generic terms, a “Safety”. We wore sashes that said Cadet and we were empowered to write citations for infractions such as littering and running. I even got elected to the student council, into the position of “Boy’s Safety Representative.”
“Trade For Print” is a new short story I wrote concerning an unscrupulous photographer who lures a postal worker into fraud by offering young love for sale.
The piece, entirely fictional, of course, takes place in North Hollywood and moves around on local boulevards and avenues: Chandler, Colfax, Bakman, Lemp and Lankershim. And includes such storied places as The Federal Bar, SGI Buddhist Center and the North Hollywood Post Office.
Van Nuys Burglary Detectives are reporting serveral residential burgalries took place over the weekend in the area of RD991 (Mullholland Drive to Beverly Glen to Valley Vista Blvd. to the 405 Freeway.) All of these took place during daytime hours.
Several other burgalaries also occured in RD966 (Woodwan Ave to the 101 Freeway to Fulton Ave to Chandler Blvd.) Suspects are described at four male Hispanics, 20-25 years old driving a 2004-2007 Totota Camry or Nissan Altima metalic gold in color. Suspects were also discribed as wearing LA Dodger apparel.
In many of these burglaries the suspected enetered through open attached garages which gave them access to the residence.
If you have any additional information please call Van Nuys Burglary Detective Robert Kraus at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-374-0031.
I got to the dentist’s office today, and was greeted at the front desk, not by the usual person, but by a visitor, a friend of the doctor.
He was a friendly, chatty man; a Filipino born immigrant.
He said he was disgusted with the state of California and how much taxes were going to people who used up the state’s resources.
He had come here legally, he told me. In daylight.
He said that illegal immigrants were crowding up classrooms and costing all taxpayers money. “Of course”, he said, “education is important.” But it shouldn’t come at the expense of legitimate citizens who were paying for the services used by illegals.
Mr. Pancho: Kester and Delano, Van Nuys, CA.
“Some people don’t want to work. I say if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” he said.
He was angry about people who come to America to work illegally, but also disgusted with those, presumably same individuals, who do NOT want to work.
Like those braceros who stand on Kester and Oxnard every morning? Or those bussed-in cleaning ladies walking along Sunset, on their way to clean the mansions of Brentwood?
Trillions of dollars have been wasted in the meaningless military pursuit of government change in foreign nations. Billions were showered on Wall Street and the banks so that America’s economy could be saved. Health insurance is for the rich and any attempt to modify its dispersal is called “socialism.”
Every state and every city in America is fighting to stay solvent. Los Angeles is firing government workers by the thousands, and the schools are cutting teachers and classes.
And still the great wisdom of the street, one that captivates and controls our minds, is that Carlos and Maria pushing the shopping cart down Victory Boulevard is our greatest enemy.
Why do the barely powerful beat up on the less powerful instead of going after the real thieves in this nation?