At the height of the Cold War, a brave and liberal minded group of progressive people marched through Los Angeles and eventually ended up in Moscow where they worked to defuse tensions between the US and the Soviet Union.
Los Angeles at that time was a conservative, anti-communist city whose main industry, Hollywood, was just emerging from the blacklist and any association with Russia was tantamount to career suicide.
The Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) was an American anti-war group, created in 1957. Its purpose : resist the US government‘s testing of nuclear weapons. It used non-violence to oppose atomic military tools.
The group was often attacked as pacifist and for its welcoming of African-Americans into the fold.
Photograph article dated December 22, 1960 partially reads, “Eight foot–sore peace walkers marched through the Valley Wednesday on the 11-month tour that will take them from San Francisco to Moscow, Russia. The placard-bearing marchers, who represent the Committee for Nonviolent Action, stopped Wednesday night at Highland avenue and Hollywood boulevard in Hollywood. They will remain in the Los Angeles area until Christmas day when they will resume their march toward Tucson, Ariz. In addition to having their board and room paid for by the committee, which is composed of 60 Americans, the hikers have seven administrators and advance publicity men making the tour with them.” Bruce McIntyre, 20, leads the peace walking team along Ventura Blvd. near Noble Ave.
There was a time in Los Angeles, many years ago, when young women had figures, and older men, with community support, hired them to present awards to “good driving” teenagers.
The Road-E-O Safe Driving Contest promoted safe rules of the road.
Strange to our modern eyes to see scantily dressed pretty girls handing out trophies for good driving.
Imagine, in 2016, the outcry if this type of event took place today.
“How come all the girls are white?”
“Are you trying to fat shame people who aren’t thin?”
“What about hot guys presenting hot awards?”
“Cars are evil. You shouldn’t be promoting driving. Biking and walking are better.”
“It’s creepy to see an old guy in a suit with a young girl. I read on Wikileaks that man cheated on his wife!”
But in 1959, when people still trusted government and business leaders, it was all for a good cause: to make the automobile indispensable to Los Angeles and to make sure the car was central to any and all activities of life, work and leisure.
Photograph caption dated May 27, 1959 reads, “Diane Olson, 16-year-old Junior Miss Sherman Oaks, presents Sherman Oaks Teenage “Road-E-O” winner’s trophy to Rick Mahn, VanNuys High School senior, while his sister Cynthia, 21 Miss Sherman Oaks, looks on. Mahn racked up the highest score ever recorded locally.”
Photograph caption dated May 28, 1959 reads, “Winners in Sunland-Tujunga Junior Chamber of Commerce Road-E-O safe driving contest proudly display trophies and certificates they won for their driving abilities. From left are Joseph McKeon, first; Doris Williams, second, and Melvin Kuznets, third.”
Photograph caption dated May 20, 1959 reads, “For Skill Driving – Del Moore, TV-Radio personality and Sherman Oaks resident, and Diane Olson, 16year-old Junior Miss Sherman Oaks, display trophy which will be presented to winner of Sherman Oaks Jaycee “Teenage Safe Driving Road-E-O” Saturday.”
Browsing through the archives of the Huntington Library, I came across a set of photographs by Maynard Parker. They depict the inside and outside of a new home, one of 119 in a 100-acre development called Royal Oaks, south of Sepulveda, near Ventura, in 1950.
Back then there was no 405, no 101.
Sepulveda Blvd. was a two-lane road whose serpentine forms slithered through the Santa Monica Mountains, an undeveloped area of oaks, grasses, hills and clear skies. A 1939 view from Magnolia looking south shows its verdant ruralness.
The 1000-acre estate of General Sherman was subdivided into various tracts, and given a pretentious name: Royal. There would be Royal Oaks and Royal Woods and Sherman Woods. These luxury homes in California Ranch, Early American, English Tudor and other styles would nestle in the low foothills of Sherman Oaks and usher in a new chapter of suburban life for the socially upward class of settlers.
The first subdivision, Royal Oaks in Sherman Woods, was a $1,100,000 investment in land and construction cost. 100 acres and 119 sites were priced between $6500-$9500 each and “fully improved with paved streets, sewer and water systems, underground wiring and ornamental street lighting.”
A December 4, 1949 LAT advertisement assured that the “smog-free” estate community was carefully restricted and protected against harmful encroachments.
Ironically, this same community today lives amidst the biggest encroachment of all time: the concrete, noise, fumes and traffic of the 405 and a furiously angry pack of speeding, distracted women in SUVs whose disregard for life and law afflicts and curses the roads 24/7.
Let us exit 2016, and return to the peace and quiet of 1950: less cars, no freeways, and dappled sunlight peaking through the marine layer……
The house in the photos, a model home, is, even by today’s standards, a substantial and beautiful place. There are large oak trees and a gently sloping lawn caressing a copiously large and expansive house of strong and graceful lines.
Un-ornamented and quietly self-assured, the architecture is ahistorical and gracious. A three-car garage, casement windows, large overhanging roof and a newly paved street proclaim affluence without ostentatiousness.
Inside, there is a dining room wallpapered in faux stone and a modern ceiling fixture -not a chandelier- hanging over a light wood table with low backed chairs. Even in 1950, California design was advanced. Who, in West Hollywood today, would not kill for this room?
In the living room, there is a large, abstractly printed, sectional, rattan leg sofa. It sits against a wall of sheer drapes and floor-to-ceiling windows. An Oriental coffee table, low-armed chairs, dark shaded lamps, and a wood paneled ceiling effortlessly meld the West Coast with the Far East.
The kitchen is charmless but functional, all in white metal, illuminated by flush ceiling fixtures, and equipped with double ovens, work stations, and a sit-down, countertop desk with an upholstered chair and a dial telephone.
Try these peanut butter and celery canapés. They’re marvelous.
There is an indoor/outdoor casual room, probably the only type of room we don’t make anymore, paved in brick; furnished in metal, washable chairs, and served by an open brick passage where food and drinks might be passed from kitchen maid to seated guests. A hanging starlight fixture and a large, potted metal tree reference nature and the outdoors.
Back when we were on Leyte Island killing Japs we never thought we’d be sitting here a few years later drinking Mai-Tai’s!
A guest room has shag carpeting, pleated drapes and sliding glass doors. There is wall-to-wall carpeting. And twin day beds with an L-shaped coffee table topped with a ceramic dove and a bowl of wax fruit, a writing desk with drawers and a decorative lamp. Here, visiting niece Helen or Uncle Homer or the Haynes Sisters stayed for weeks on end after arriving at Union Station from Chicago or Kansas City or Grand Island.
If you need anything from the linen closet ask Beulah and she’ll get it for you.
The presentation of an ideal lifestyle, the yearning for comfort and luxury, the conception and presentation of a story, these are those elements of fantasy wrought into reality and sold to us by imaginative and innovative builders, architects, designers, decorators, marketers and public relations professionals.
These are the images on the surface of Maynard Parker’s black and white photographs.
The untold story, left out of these gorgeous photos from 66-years-ago, is the enslavement of work, the onerous debt, the ecological destruction and the wanton wasting of the Golden State’s open spaces, all sacrificed under the altar of material house dreams. When we have it all how do we know when we have it all?
We still want to live here. We are just lost getting here.
A recent run of work inside a Ventura Boulevard real estate office brought me into the world of those listings, words and photos, meant to build the self-esteem of homes.
I speak of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and its breathless descriptions of current residences offered for sale.
Awkward, ill-proportioned, ungainly, ostentatious, oversized, outdated, gaudy, trendy, remodeled, modernized, updated, whatever their individual personality characteristics and physical appearance, once they had undergone descriptive transformations via agency wizardry, they each emerged as self-confident houses ready to graduate into acceptance of offer and transfer of title.
As anyone who spends time in Studio City or Sherman Oaks knows, there once existed a lovely pair of communities where tree-lined streets and charming cottages co-existed with larger and wealthier hillside homes. But lately, the obliteration and demolishing of sweet little places and the replacement of small and human with enormous and robotic, has become a frenetic, greedy and exhausting activity.
6 bedroom, 7 bath, 5,000 sf houses on 7,000 sf lots, and every single one of these places as indistinguishable as pennies in a piggy bank.
Their owners are an exotic lot of ethnicities whose names are unpronounceable but mostly sound like San Fernando Valley streets spelled backwards.
4533 Casa Grotesqua was purchased in July 2014 for $795,000 by Kraproom Namdoow and Sordec Notluf. And after a $60,000 kitchen upgrade was sold for $2.1 million to Edisrevir Yrotciv, an attorney.
14432 Moonshine Drive, Studio City is an outstanding 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with walking closets, a two-die for pool, expansive windows overlooking bustling, sophisticated Ventura Boulevard. It was completely remodeled in 2014 by designer Enitlezah Agneuhac and features stone ground fountains, heated toilets and high security children’s playrooms monitored by close circuit cameras. It is now offered for sale at $2.1 million.
The real listings on the MLS are too grammatically mangled to reprint here. If they were homework assignments handed in to English teachers in any 7th grade class, they would all be graded F.
But why bother proof reading listings for houses selling for one, two or three million dollars?
When your mortgage is $9,000 a month, there is very little time left over for reading or writing.
The Joseph Schlitz Brewery on Roscoe in Van Nuys was an especially popular destination in the 1950s through the 70s.
The adjoining Busch Gardens, with its array of exotic birds and lush waterfalls, was another fantasy environment of natural artifice, like Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm, a fake beloved world for visitors to Southern California to write home about.
I have scanned many cards (owned by Valley Relics) of the famed gardens, and one in particular caught my eye.
Postmarked March 4, 1960, it was addressed to Miss Donna Friedl, 1921 Maynard Avenue, Cleveland 9, Ohio.
I did not pay for this card they give it to you for visiting the brewery, from Grandpa Friedl.
Something in his wry comment leads me to imagine Grandpa Friedl as a white-haired, humorous, kind man who might have snuck past his wife to offer his granddaughter Donna some candy before dinner.
That was a long time ago.
Nobody has a young daughter named Donna any more.
“The Fabulous San Fernando Valley” is another postcard unintentionally funny.
For here is a view of what looks like Sepulveda Boulevard, somewhere east of the 405, (today’s Galleria) with the dam and mountains in the distance, and thousands of cars packed into the foreground.
Fabulous? The grandiose superlatives of Southern California (best weather, best women, best bodies, best schools, best place to live) were spoken of so often, that the actual truth seemed blasphemous. It was, and is, sometimes very ugly here, boring beyond belief, polluted and blindingly plastic. An early 1960s walk up a Sepulveda, north of Ventura, would lead you past auto junkyards and tacky motels, but you were in a “fabulous” place, didn’t you know it?
Sixty or seventy years ago, many restaurants fashioned themselves as Western places, with steaks on the menu and wagon wheels on the wall.
Saddle and Sirloin was a small chain with “steaks aged to tenderness” and at their Palm Springs location, in 1949, Daddy and Mother were sitting down to eat a steak and found time to write to their daughter Florence in Newcastle, Indiana and tell her just that.
“We’re about to eat a steak, it’s balmy outside,” Mom wrote. Her appetite and her temperature lead one to salacious thoughts. Perhaps she looked like Jane Russell, with dark red lipstick. With love and dinner and hot weather….. could the bedroom be far behind?
Otto’s Pink Pig Restaurant at 4958 Van Nuys Boulevard was another well-known place whose warmhearted postcard promised “Otto’s Famous Baked Ham Sandwich, Best in the US” and “Mike O’Shea’s Special Salad Supreme.”
Their motto: Big Enough to Serve You- Small Enough to Know You.
Eating out, dining in a restaurant, was not done several times a week, as is the case today. People ate at home. They ate what Mom cooked.
So it was a special treat to go to Otto’s and dine on such fare as Filet of Sole Marguery or Roast Long Island Duckling (shipped fresh by refrigerated freight train?).
Hearty, friendly, generous with drink and food, sensibly priced: was it all of those things?
Long gone and obliterated, the neighborhood, an off-ramp of banality, is now home to strips of office buildings, medical offices, and Sherman Oaks Hospital. There is nothing exotic, fun or magical here as there was when Otto’s Pink Pig lived here.
At twilight, last night, the new Ralph’s in Sherman Oaks, stood glistening under cloudy skies.
Dressed up and standing alone on the corner of Hazeltine and Ventura: metal panels and squash-colored inserts, coffee-tinted siding alongside creamy towers.
And a profusion of plants everywhere, succulents in the thousands, and grasses, and trees and roses and brown bark, bark laid down in trenches all around the building, even along the loading dock.
Hygienic, modern, urbane, green.
Friendly to pedestrians and the disabled.
A bright RED plastic sign with the oval circle encircling RALPH’s FRESH FARE.
A new supermarket had come to Sherman Oaks, vaulting over old timers and neighborhood groups and homeowners fearing “urban” might bring the shvartze, the illegal and the hipster to this corner of the valley.
But at 7 pm last night there was no sign of humanity on the sidewalks around Ralph’s.
It had passed the Los Angeles test for a great building. It looked good and kept the streets clean and empty.