Fox Market, Van Nuys Bl. Circa 1960


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 .

Fox_Market_Van_Nuys_California_ca1960sLegendary 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.

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The Nadir.


DSCF2605It is doubtful that Van Nuys Boulevard, especially that languishing, forgotten, distressed stretch between Victory and Vanowen, has ever been as low, neglected and poor as it is today.

No longer do the homeless hide in alleys. They are now set up on the sidewalk, their belongings piled into shopping carts, covered in tarps.

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At the 99 Cents Only Store, a steel gate guarding a delivery door is pulled back. Towels and curtains hang over it, and behind it are black feet in flip-flops.

There are other sleeping humans on the sidewalk, and the black woman with the black feet in black flip-flops is not unique.

From 2003 to 2013, Tony Cardenas served on the Los Angeles City Council in the 6th District covering Van Nuys. He was elected to the US House of Representatives from California’s 29th District and now represents Van Nuys in Washington, DC.

The man who calls himself “The Honorary Mayor of Van Nuys” is George Thomas, also the President of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, also the publisher of a newspaper called “The Van Nuys News Press” which “features stories on everything, but especially golf and travel.” Recent stories featured whale watching in Hawaii and the Kahalu’u Beach Park Condo on the Big Island, a “Property of the Week”. Mr. Thomas, who is also a resident of Agoura Hills, is currently running for state senate.

These are just two men, Mr. Cardenas and Mr. Thomas, leaders of Van Nuys. They do not live here. They may not even care about here. Their careers, not their community, are foremost.

 

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To say that Van Nuys and its Boulevard is without leadership or vision is obvious. This once thriving district of Los Angeles is now on intoxicated autopilot. It is careening fast into oblivion and may one day be as ill and impoverished as Skid Row.

With the “revitalization” of downtown Los Angeles, the mentally ill, the drug and alcohol addicts, and the other lost men and women of the city have to go somewhere.

They are going North by Northwest to the San Fernando Valley.

The ghost citizens arrive unwelcomed, their presence an uncomfortable reminder that we all are just one paycheck away from ruin, one illness away from financial catastrophe.

They have their carts, we have our cars; they have their hovels, we have our homes; they are unemployed and we are consultants.

We took our shower this morning but we resemble them more than we admit.

The homeless are the new pioneers, the new settlers of Van Nuys. They will come here to live on the sidewalk, in the alley, in the box behind the dumpster. They will multiply into the thousands, and Van Nuys Boulevard will be an outdoor city of tents, defecation, boxes, shopping carts, and the smell of urine in 110-degree heat.

Developers may snap up the cheap building. They may come here and build, that may be a good thing. But what are the larger solutions to end the dumping of human beings into the street? How will this street reform and repent itself? Will a few benches and a few trees and a Starbucks on the corner change the larger malaise?

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All Our Blights.


DSCF2550Cleaning out the median, north of Victory, on Sepulveda last Saturday, I stopped to shoot a  scene that spoke to me.

Here were all the blights that plague Van Nuys in one photograph.

An RV parked along the road, a home for the homeless. These improvised residences are everywhere in Los Angeles these days. Unaffordable housing and the societal acceptance of allowing our fellow humans to sleep on the street or in unlicensed housing is shocking. Or maybe we are no longer shocked. Which is itself shocking.

As teenaged girls rake and clean the median, they are attacking a problem that is essentially caused by illegal dumping. No authorities, no residents, no politicians have found a way to stop old sofas, mattresses, bottles, televisions, furniture, and every type of fast food from being dropped on our streets.

A billboard from Spearmint/Rhino advertises adult film star Veronica Vain . The advertisement looms over a family neighborhood, one with many children, and features a woman who performs public sex acts on camera and in person. Here is a NSFW link.

And then there is Carl’s Jr. whose offerings are a great contributor to rampant obesity. The ½ Pound Mile High Bacon Thickburger is 1230 calories. Ordered with Onion Rings (530 calories) and a Vanilla Shake (700 calories) a person could consume 2,460 calories, or about 1000 more calories than a sedentary human needs in an entire day. That would be in just one meal. The nutritional information is taken directly from Carl’s Jr.

Through all this detritus is the six-lane speedway Sepulveda. When it is full of traffic it is impossible. When it moves, many drivers speed and run through red lights. People risk their lives crossing this asphalt hell.

This is our environment, this is our city, this is our reality.

The Big, Empty Foreground


On Flickr, where I sometimes spend my time, there is a group of photographs called “The Big Empty Foreground.” These are urban places, usually wide-open spaces, without people.

Many of the contributors come from Europe, a place one does not often think of as empty. Soccer fields, parking lots, office plazas, old factories, these are some of the unpopulated places.


 

Sepulveda Cleaners 2In Van Nuys, we have a lot of wide, empty foreground. Expansive asphalt pavements, empty shopping centers, abandoned houses on large lots.

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Near Vanowen, between Archwood and Sepulveda, there is a collection of one-story businesses: a cleaners, a phone store, a fishing tackle store and an odd place called Reynoso’s Lapidary and Supply which specializes in rocks, gems, stones and agate slabs.

These are in a building put up when land was cheap, sometime in the 1950s. And they are plain and homely and functional, but also practical, because the cars are put in back and the sidewalk is in front. Signs are small and discreet.

What intrigued me, on a day when dark clouds enclosed the sky and transformed the light of Los Angeles into something moody and cool, was how casually open space was made in the back, without gates or fences, or trees. That’s the way we parked in the 1950s at a suburban place. There was no thought given to landscape, only to laying down asphalt.

A walnut or orange grove, on many acres, probably occupied this land before the building was built.

This landscape back here will probably be developed someday and covered completely in a banal apartment, approved by city zoning.

But for now there is light, and space, and sky.

 

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The Last Days of The Ridge Motel.


 

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The Ridge Motel, at 6719 Sepulveda Blvd in Van Nuys, between Archwood and Lemay, recently closed down. Like the nearby Voyager (now demolished) it also enjoyed a debauched and degraded reputation of drugs and prostitution and illegal activities of every sort.

A long list of violations compiled by LA City inspectors is available online.

Just for nostalgia sake, I went past The Ridge one recent early evening and photographed the exterior of the abandoned building.

The style of the building, built in 1963, is somewhere between mid-century modern and Swiss Chalet in an open California courtyard. At its prime, the affordably priced motel was ideal for families. While kids swam in the pool, Dad could walk next door and buy a bottle of Scotch and a pack of cigarettes at Red Valentine’s Liquor Store where Boost Mobile is today.

Dinner at Hody’s at Victory and Sepulveda might cap off the day of excitement.

Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.
Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.

Here are the last days of The Ridge:

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A new owner plans to erect a 3-4 story tall rental apartment complex in the modern style. There will be some affordable units but 85% will be market rate. GA Engineering obtained permission from the boss and sent me renderings of the new project that will replace the repellent Ridge.

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Van Nuys Savings and Loan.


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In 1954, architect Culver Heaton’s design for the Van Nuys Savings and Loan, with interior murals by artist Millard Sheets, rose at 6569 N. Van Nuys Bl.

Along with other financial institutions such as Jefferson Savings, Lincoln Savings, Great Western Bank and Bank of America, they served the local community of hard-working people who opened accounts that paid 3% or 4 1/2% interest and where polite tellers, dressed in pearls and high heels, addressed customers by their last (never their first) name.

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Photographer Maynard Parker shot these images of the bank exterior and interiors. They bespeak a dignified and progressive institution whose architecture was as up-to-date as its vision of a prosperous, safe Van Nuys. A sign on the outside of the building reads “The Home of Security” leaving no doubt to depositors about the solidity of the S&L.

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Mr. Sheets was a prodigious artist whose work can be seen all over Southern California, most notably on the exteriors of many of those white, marble clad, Home Savings of America buildings that resemble mausoleums.

Architect Culver Heaton designed many Mid 20th Century churches in Southern California in a style of expressionistic eccentricity long departed from our stripped-down imagination. His Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale (1965) is almost campy in form with its prayerful red roof, rising like hands, above a turquoise reflecting pool and a statue of Jesus on water fashioned by Herb Goldman.

Photo by Michael Locke
Photo by Michael Locke

In the 1980s, there was a national scandal and shakeout in the savings and loan industry and many closed down. The de-industrialization of Van Nuys, and its decline as a manufacturing and commercial center, coincided with a tremendous increase in immigration from Central America.

Today, a Guatemalan market, La Tapachulteca, occupies the old bank property.

2014/ Image by Andy Hurvitz
2014/ Image by Andy Hurvitz

But last year, in a hopeful sign of better times, Boaz Miodovsky of Ketter Construction, who is the new owner, plans on demolishing the old bank which has now been degraded from its original condition. His company will design and erect a multi-story apartment house with ground floor retail. The front, on VNB, will be five stories tall and taper down to three stories in back.These illustrations, which he sent to me, are preliminary and will be further refined to include landscaping and additional detail.

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Nostalgist and Van Nuys Neighborhood Council member John Hendry, who grew up and still lives in Van Nuys, alerted me to the impending demolition and asked me to research the origins of the historic structure. Quirino De La Cuesta, another VNNC member, stepped in and purchased these images from the Huntington Library.

And Mr. Miodovsky, in a nod to the old murals, will have new artwork painted within the new structure. It will be created by local artists and reflect the continuing development of Van Nuys which hit its bottom and is now climbing out parcel by parcel.