One Story Town


One Story Town is Sepulveda Bl., from Oxnard St. north to Victory Bl.

It is 2,569 feet long, almost a half a mile. It encompasses the Orange Line Metro Busway, LA Fitness, Costco, Wendy’s, Chef’s Table, The Barn, CVS, Dunn Edwards, Bellagio Car Wash, Wells Fargo Bank, Enterprise, Jiffy Lube and other small businesses selling used cars, folding doors, RV rentals, Chinese food, hair cutting, and ceramic tile.

The Southern Pacific freight trains once ran through the present day Orange Line, and they fashioned the district into a lumber- oriented, light industrial area. Such behemoths as Builder’s Emporium were located here, and the stretch of Oxnard that borders the old rail line has retained an industrial use.


The zoning designations for almost all the parcels along Sepulveda are commercial. They prohibit residential within walking distance of the Orange Line, and they prohibit it even though buses run up and down Sepulveda!

A beautifully maintained bus stop perfectly sited for long waits in 110 degree heat.

Available online for public research, is the Los Angeles’ ZIMAS, a website run by the Department of City Planning. Here one can select a parcel, for example, 6206 Sepulveda Blvd., where The Barn furniture store is located, and see that it occupies two parcels totaling 44,250 SF. It is not, according to ZIMAS, in a transit-oriented area, nor is it designated as a pedestrian oriented one, nor is it part of a community redevelopment one.

Someday the owners of The Barn, which has sold, since 1945, brown stained furniture in heavy wood to seemingly nobody, may choose to sell their business. And here there is enormous potential to develop a first-class residential and commercial building just steps from the Orange Line.

Residents of Halbrent St. just east of The Barn and other businesses, are on the ass-end of parking lots, illegally parked homeless RVs, and are subject to the use of their street as a speedway for cars entering and exiting Costco. Maybe, just for once, Halbrent St. might see a better development on its west side.

Every single one of the businesses, up and down Sepulveda, between Oxnard and Victory, is located, by observation, in a transit- oriented area. Yet ZIMAS states they are not.

Perhaps that will change as Los Angeles reviews its zoning, and permits taller, denser, more walkable development within a 5-minute walk from public transit.

At dusk, with the early October sun hitting the one-story buildings, there is a homely, lowbrow, neat banality to the structures along this stretch.

This is not the worst of Van Nuys. It is generally tidy. But nobody living nearby, some residing in million-dollar homes, would come here to mingle, to socialize, to sit and drink coffee, eat cake, shop or walk with their kids after dark.

Studio City has Tujunga Village.

Tujunga Village, Studio City, CA. Photo by John Sequiera.

And we, in Van Nuys, have, this:

The One Story Town: what is it and what could it be? Might this district, one day, contain vibrant restaurants, outdoor cafes, beer gardens, garden apartments, parks, trees, flowers, fountains? Why not?

In planning for 2027, 2037, 2047 and beyond why would we keep the preferences of car-oriented, suburban dreaming, 1975 Van Nuys, in place? Why are thousands of parking spaces at the Orange Line Busway used to store cars for Keyes Van Nuys? Is this the best we can do?

Could not a group of architects, developers, urban planners, government leaders and vocal citizens devise a Sepulveda Plan to transform this wasted opportunity into something better, or even ennobling?

Where is our vision? And why are we so starved for it when we live inside Los Angeles, the greatest factory of imagination, illusion and improvisation the world has ever seen?

 

Kester, the Underachiever.


He has low self-esteem. He thinks he is too skinny, too short, too overlooked.

He blames his parents, near Raymer, for spawning him into the world from an obscure and ugly industrial spot near the concrete walled Los Angeles River.

On hot days, which are frequent, he told me hardly anyone drives up to his northernmost reaches. He looks at the homeless carts, the empty parking lots behind Target, and he thinks he is like an orphan among roads in Van Nuys and vicinity.

He told me he is jealous of Sepulveda named for an explorer, and of that “pompous” boulevard hosting such notables as Bevmo, OSH and LA Fitness. “What do I have except a couple junky liquor stores where they sell malt liquor? Sepulveda is arrogant. He has money and history and power. He was born near The Mission, holier than thou, and rams his way all through the San Fernando Valley and even has a pass named after him. He has Getty and Skirball and two Zankou Chickens. He gets to go all the way to LAX and beyond. He is well-travelled too!”

“I’m only 4.7 miles long. And people use me. They know I have no ramps to or from the 101 so they travel on me as a shortcut of necessity. They don’t really want to visit me. They would rather be on Van Nuys Bl.,” he said tearfully.

I told him I had respect for him, as he, evoked in me, a sweet nostalgia.

I said I liked Valley Builder’s Supply at Oxnard, especially the piles of sand and rock. And the place next door where they put bald tires on cars as a stray, three-legged, bandana-necked dog dances in the dust and dirt around the jacked-up vehicles. I tried to cheer him up and mentioned the braceros who gather for work everyday, smiling, rubbing their stomachs, itching for opportunity. “This is the real city. This is you, Kester!” I said.

I thought he would be thrilled at the two, new, white, glistening apartments on Kester between Delano and Erwin. “Big deal,” he said. “One of the buildings has just painted a big orange tongue on the front like a Pez dispenser. It’s like they want to make me look ridiculous instead of elegant. I’m always put into the low-class category!”

He said that even churches ignored him. La Iglesia En El Camino at Sherman Way just gives me a parking lot. And then there is that lousy self-service car wash across from the church. On Sepulveda, they have new, automatic car washes with flashing colored lights and lots of suds. On Kester, people still spray their cars by hand!”

He talked about his bitterness towards Van Nuys High School which turns its playing field bleachers away from him.

He ridiculed the remodeled Kester Palace apartments south of Victory as “refried beans” and “tacky.”

Most angrily he attacked the mini-mall on the NE corner of Victory where the trash and the shopping carts full of garbage are always left on the Kester side of the building.

I tried to change the subject.

“What about MacLeod Ale? I know it’s not on Kester but so many of its patrons drive down you to get there!” I said.

“Don’t mention MacLeod. They have it easy on Calvert Street. That street is twice as ugly as I am but they still get crowds of fans. Life is really unfair!” he said.

Then I had to, unfortunately, break the news to him that Metro is planning to demolish 58 buildings from Kester to Cedros along Aetna and Bessemer to accommodate a future light rail storage and maintenance yard.

“What? That’s crazy. Why would they destroy all those small businesses where people make a living? This is madness! Why does Van Nuys keep shooting itself in the foot? Do you mean to tell me that part of Kester will be taken away and devoted to floodlit rail yards right in the middle of old Van Nuys?”

“Yes. The great new transportation future of Van Nuys, with light rail, requires the dismemberment of one of its solid, dense, walkable districts. That is always how it works in Los Angeles. You must wipe out the old to create the new!”

He started to cry.

“It’s not part of my family but do you mean they will also knock down the old metal-sheeted, pitched roofed, fruit packing houses on Cedros and Calvert? Those go back to before WWII. Those are really lovely reminders of old Van Nuys,” he said.

“Yes. I’m afraid they will demolish those too,” I said.

After spending time travelling, walking, and observing Kester, I understood that he was, truly, different from the louder, noisier, bigger, wider roads. He struggled to voice his own identity. He watched as less deserving streets around him got more and more action, and he slipped, quite often, into self-pity.

In other cities, perhaps in Italy or Mexico, a Kester might find love with his shadows and frumpiness. His shy virtues of walkability and modesty, independence and eccentricity, could give him a solid living and self-respect outside the US. Poets would write of Kester, painters would paint him. The monogram “BVN”, sprayed so artfully, so often, on the walls of Kester, would be stitched into the world’s finest garments.

But cruelly, in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, the majority stamps him only as Kester, the Underachiever.

 

We Put Up With A Lot in Van Nuys


 

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6224 Cedros Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam

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Last year, there was a large estate for sale on a very nice block of Orion St. north of Victory. The house was on half an acre. It had a pool, a guest house, gates, a security system, c.c cameras, a new kitchen, four bedrooms, three bathrooms and about 4,500 s.f. of space. The asking price was about $1.2 million.

I went to an open house and met the realtor. He told me the owner had bought the place only 9 months earlier, but had decided to sell after he realized his street was in a prostitution area.

The home stayed on the market for some six months and then was taken off. I don’t believe it was ever sold.

There are conditions all around Van Nuys right now that we are asked to be compassionate about.

Our beautiful and verdant Orange Line bike path, built and landscaped in 2005, is now home to some 20-30 homeless people who set up tents and temporary housing in the bushes, under the trees, between Sepulveda and Kester.  Nury Martinez’s office summoned cleaners, trucks, men and machines last Friday morning at 10:30am to clean up the mess. And by 1pm the stragglers were back setting up their encampment.

The same situation exists in Woodley Park where the bird sanctuary, the hiking trails and the thick woods are now carved out with garbage, make shift trailers, old cars, tents and debris.

Why is this allowed! Why?

There once was a lovely, large, gorgeous park where you went to hike, bike, walk, run, fly model airplanes and play golf. Now you are trespassing on a halfway house for people between beds, whose bad luck and bad life you must make exception for. You once picked flowers here. Now you pick up needles.

Illegal dumping. Grass uncut for five years. Sober living opening next door. Prostitution in broad daylight. Cars running red lights. Burglaries, robberies, kids drinking beer in the car and throwing their cans on the street. Kids getting high and dropping their marijuana containers on the curb. Sticky condoms on the street.

You ask why a homeless man can move into an empty house on Kittridge and Columbus and live there for a year, using the entire property as his outdoor storage unit, with household debris covering the back and front yards and up and down the driveway. And it takes a year to get him out. 50 emails were needed. Countless letters, phone calls.

And across the street, an unsold property on Columbus is now used as a storage lot for old dilapidated cars. There are some 40-50 sitting in the backyard, their oil leaking into the ground, their gasoline tanks ready to be ignited so that an explosion might happen any day in the heat and the wind.

Another property owner buys a single family house zoned for one house and builds another, rents them both out, and even has two addresses on one single family lot. And he gets away with it.

All the aforementioned were told to Nury, told to the LAPD, discussed on Next Door, written about on this blog, Tweated, Facebooked and officially complained of by residents here.


We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

And sometimes we are told that calling out what we see- by what it is- makes us insensitive or callous.

On Next Door, I was told that I used a “vile word” when I described whores walking on Sepulveda. The most searched term on this blog is “whores on Sepulveda” and has been for eleven years. There is some connection between Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and prostitution. The entire city knows it. Why deny it? Why is “whore” suddenly a forbidden word? Didn’t Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds star in a movie musical called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?”

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And now we are told to have a heart for the new euphemism, “Human Trafficking.”

But who has the heart for the homeowner stuck with a white elephant house he cannot sell because he lives in the Paid Pleasure Person’s district?

Who cares about hundreds of thousands of dollars shaved off home values for people in Van Nuys, always pushed into compassion for every life except their own?

And who makes the law and who enforces it and why is it that the law nowadays is interpreted so gently, so liberally, so ridiculously against common sense and the common good that it has the strength of a wet Kleenex held up to deflect a nuclear missile?

We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

 

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…..

 

 

 

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.

Decline Press, a new short story


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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.