Tom Cluster’s Van Nuys (1955-62) Part 2


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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:

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12/6/1954 Star of Bethlehem Parade, Van Nuys, CA
“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.

Chicken Ranch SFV (LAPL)
Chicken Ranch SFV (LAPL)
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.

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Pictured are Mexican nationals at the Van Nuys jail. They are going to be returned to Mexico. Photograph dated April 14, 1949. (LAPL)
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.

5-15-55-valley-town-market-and-drive-in (LA Times)
5-15-55-valley-town-market-and-drive-in (LA Times)

5/22/55 LA Times
5/22/55 LA Times
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Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)
Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)

Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)
Valley Market Town (SFV Blog)


“Targets” (1968) 

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).”

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Sepulveda Super Drive-In Theater (1955-89) Corner of Erwin and Sepulveda. Demolished 1992. Now site of LA Fitness and Orange Line Busway Parking Lot. (Still image from “Targets”)

Other old photos of the Sepulveda Drive-In:

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Cluster Family Photos.

My beautiful picture
1961/ Columbus Ave.
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.

1959 Cluster
1959 Cluster
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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.

My beautiful picture
1958
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.

May 1956/ View south down Columbus towards Vanowen/Bassett
May 1956/ View south down Columbus towards Vanowen/Bassett

12/1957 Neighborhood children
12/1957 Neighborhood children


Tom Cluster School Days 

 

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Tom Cluster (behind woman in hat) 1961 (LAPL/LAT)
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.”

5thgrade
Tom Cluster (Top Row, 1st boy on left)

12/55
12/55


Photo Credits:

“Targets” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DnVkK-6sPg

Drive in Photos / http://www.garbell.com/drive-ins/drive-in.htm

Valley Market Town, Postcard of Van Nuys http://sanfernandovalleyblog.blogspot.com

Cluster Family photos courtesy of Tom Cluster

 

 

 

 

Trade For Print-a new short story


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“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.

 

 

Tom Cluster’s Van Nuys (1955-1962).


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Cluster Home: 6944 Columbus south of Marlin Pl.

A few weeks ago I received a lovely email, and some photos from Tom Cluster, a reader of this blog.

Here is one excerpt:

Dear Andy,

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.

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Andy Devine (1905-77)
Andy Devine (1905-77)

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.

Valerio St. School June 1956
Valerio St. School June 1956

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.

March 18, 1957 reads "Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital's board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital's fund drive."  (LAPL)
March 18, 1957 reads “Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital’s board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital’s fund drive.” (LAPL)
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads "Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge." The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads “Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge.” The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
January 5, 1959 reads "Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center."
January 5, 1959 reads “Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center.”

(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.

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My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

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.

More to come…..

 

 

 

1962: Fear Free Junior Colleges May Begin Charging Tuition.


Valley College, 1962
Valley College, 1962

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

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.

The Dispossessed


 

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Carpio’s Auto Repair

A light rain fell yesterday morning, and after the weather system left, the skies were clear, the sun came out, a few clouds hung in the sky. And I went for late afternoon walk with camera.

Near Bessemer and Cedros, in front of the Valley Planing Mill, along the sidewalk bordering the Orange Line, is a metastasizing and makeshift encampment of homeless men and women.

It has grown, to encompass an area that probably accommodates some fifty people, who have erected tarp-covered boxes, umbrellas, tents, and wood crates as shelter from the rain and the sun. Around the temporary housing are shopping baskets piled high with anything and everything one might buy at Target.

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A green metal fence, protecting new cars owned by Keyes Chevrolet, encircles a rented out parking lot leased from Metro. It provides a safe and civilized enclosure for automobiles. Vehicles are well taken care of, except for one or two burned up, sitting in their spaces with melted and deformed bodies.

Humans (who did not want to be photographed) are left to fend for themselves on public sidewalks. Bed sheets and rattan mats are hung on the fence to sanitize. Privacy, cleanliness, and dignity are pulled out of dumpsters and transformed into street fortresses.

The situation here is appalling. But words do not suffice. And moralism, directed at politicians, developers, law enforcement, social workers and the homeless themselves cannot make sense of this 21st Century barbarism in our Golden State.

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