Day of the Bulldozer

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

14827 Victory Blvd. 6/14/15 DEMOLISHED
Vintage Auto Repair 6200 N. Kester Ave. 7/9/15 DEMOLISHED
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.

Decline Press, a new short story


Those of you who follow me on this blog may also know I write short stories.

“Decline Press” is my latest.

It is a work of fiction based upon some of the most ominpresent issues of our time: economic hardship, race relations and law enforcement, and the struggle of an Iraq War vet, Derek Moss, who builds his life anew only to see everything pulled out from under him. Whether Mr. Moss is self-destructive or merely the author of his own self-destruction is up for interpretation.  As his world unravels he is pursued by an admirer, Conner Loh, who is also the narrator of this story.

It all takes place right here in Van Nuys and is set in such glamorous locations as Lido Pizza, MacLeod Ale, LA Fitness, Fatburger, Bevmo and Galpin.










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.


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.




Julius Blue, Whites Only, Van Nuys, 1948.

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According to WWII Army Enlistment Records, on March 9, 1942, Julius Blue, a 21-year-old Negro citizen from Walker County, Alabama enlisted at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The United States had been attacked by Japan three months earlier, and this nation was now involved in a struggle against the formidable and murderous Axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy.

Unknown to most of the world, Germany was also engaged in the world’s most advanced genocide against unarmed Jewish citizens of every nation in Europe.

America fought not only to win, but to free enslaved peoples.

When the war was over, Julius Blue, now married, made his way to Los Angeles and settled at 1655 E. 40th Place in South LA.

By 1948, Los Angeles was booming. Jobs, factories, housing: the state was on fire.

And up in Van Nuys, near the corner of Roscoe and Sepulveda, 392 single-family homes were under construction at “Allied Gardens.” Terms were very favorable for veterans. A $10,400 home with a $66.80 mortgage could be had for $400 down.

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So one fine day in 1948, Julius Blue, his wife and her parents made their way up to Allied Gardens to look at the new homes.

When they got to the development, instead of being shown plans, the promoters handed the Blue Family a mimeographed document. It contained this description:

“No person whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian Race (and for the purposed of this paragraph no Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu or any persons of the Ethiopian, Indian or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian) shall at any time live upon any of the lots in said Tract 15010”

Boltenbacher and Kelton, the builders, were allowed, at that time, to restrict purchasing of their homes to only whites. They were unapologetic about their open prejudices and discriminatory policies.

In that same year, 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled against race restrictive covenants.

If Mr. Blue had been able to buy a house at Roscoe and Sepulveda, he might have tried to apply for work at the brand new General Motors plant five minutes away at Van Nuys Boulevard north of Raymer.

But that plant also discriminated against black people. There were thousands of jobs, but only a handful of black workers, mostly janitors, employed in that factory.

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These are some tales of old Los Angeles told by the LA Sentinel, a black-owned paper whose news coverage reported (and continues to report) stories often ignored by the LA Times and other white-owned media.

While it is amusing in our present time, and poetically just, to imagine that the multi-ethnic San Fernando Valley was once, by law and custom, reserved only for white buyers, it is still shocking to contemplate the blatant sadism, inhumanity and unfairness of that old time racism.

Julius Blue was not the only black man who had difficulty buying a home in Los Angeles. The August 12, 1948 LA Sentinel also had this headline:


Nat “King” Cole and his wife were planning on moving into Hancock Park but they were bitterly opposed by neighbors who feared that the dark-skinned entertainer and popular singer’s presence would reduce property values.

In 1948, Nat “King” Cole: wealthy, talented, successful, world-famous; fought to buy his own house in Los Angeles.

Think about it.

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As a footnote, in 1987, Julius Blue, 65, was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles.

I don’t know whether he survived.

But his story is the story of so many black men. How they managed to stay alive and keep their chins up high is truly astonishing and inspiring. And deeply distressing.

We Americans are the inheritors of an illogic and unreason that herds men and women into racial categories.

We Americans must uphold individual, not group, character as the only standard of moral judgment.

If we again buy into con-man ideas about group wide evil, we are going back in time to somewhere dark and ignorant, not pushing ahead into enlightenment and reason.

Dec 3 1987

Liquor Store Robbery Suspects in Custody: October 31, 1963

Photos courtesy of LAPL. Credit: Jeff Robbins

A few weeks before Artist Josef Silhavy presented his distinguished oil portrait of Thomas Jefferson to the President and Executive Vice President of the Jefferson Savings Bank in Van Nuys, the Red Valentine Liquor Store at 6735 Sepulveda Blvd. was held up and robbed of $25 on Halloween Night 1963.

Raymond Carpenter
Raymond Carpenter
Ronald Lee Ellmers
Ronald Lee Ellmers

Goateed and white-shirted Raymond Carpenter was arrested, along with his accomplice Ronald Lee Ellmers. Both men were AWOL from Fort Ord, a US Army post on Monterey Bay, CA, which closed in 1994.

The Red Valentine Liquor Store was also the scene of a shooting on June 11, 1951.

To our modern eyes, accustomed to seeing oversized vaca negras in black, XXL shirts emerge from every televised car chase, these criminals of a half-century ago are lithe, fit and neatly groomed.

If they were young, alive and looked like that today, they might be sitting at Starbucks working on their blog. Or perhaps mixing mash at MacLeod Ale.

Fire Party

The enormous Valentine’s Day conflagration that consumed the former home of prostitutes and drugs called the Voyager Motel brought out hundreds of firefighters.

And hundreds of spectators, photographers, cars and neighbors who eagerly and gleefully watched smoke and flames from safe vantage points near the fire site at Sepulveda and Hamlin Streets.

Children were hoisted atop parental shoulders, laughing bicycles circled streets, black clad Vaca Negras in their Sunday best waddled to box seats near the flames.

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It was the greatest entertainment in our area since an elephant stood on a driveway and hosed a car on an episode of Workaholics.

We had been driving from downtown, and on the 101 near Laurel Canyon could see a funnel cloud of dark smoke, somewhere in the NW distance, and then heard on the radio, an announcement, that there was an enormous blaze happening right near our home.

When we drove up Hamlin, the strong winds were blowing the acrid fumes south, away from our street, as if God herself had intervened to produce something dangerous and exciting within hundreds of feet from our house, without endangering any of us.

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The life risks were undertaken by 170 firefighters who spent almost three hours dousing the fire, killing it by drowning it until its fearsomeness and ferociousness fled.

For years, the Voyager Motel was a constant blight on the area. Nothing could end that local monster whose clientele paid by the hour, and whose rooms and reputation stained and demoralized everything around it. The sex and drug trade flourished. Nightly sirens and helicopters and cops buzzed the fleabag whorehouse. And then, last year, the motel was shut down, or went out of business.

One problem ended in Van Nuys, as 666 other criminal activities flourished.

Yesterday, Satan returned to finish his business at the Voyager Motel, his personal university in Van Nuys, and did it in his usual surprise way.

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VNCC Member Penny Meyer (L) pays an official visit to the fire scene.
VNCC Member Penny Meyer (L) pays an official visit to the fire scene.