Foley’s Donuts and North Hollywood (via Japan and Vancouver)


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On a recent visit to Vancouver, I met a naturalized Canadian named Christopher Foley, who by coincidence comes from a family that settled into the San Fernando Valley in the early 1930s. Chris lived in both the SFV and San Francisco and later emigrated to British Columbia.

He showed me, in his digital scrapbook, some fascinating old pictures.

His grandfather, a movie photographer, had moved from West Virginia in the early 1930s to work in the studio system.  Later on, the family opened up a donut shop in North Hollywood called, not surprisingly, “Foley’s”.

His mom, actress Mary Foley, played a band member in “Some Like it Hot” (1959/Dir. Billy Wilder) which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

His father served in Japan after World War II, and I asked Chris for these fantastic images of his dad and people in that country.

Their clothes, including selvedge denim, are what collectors these days call “Heritage” and are sought after in both Japan and the United States.

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Historic Van Nuys: Katherine Avenue and Vicinity


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Is Van Nuys, as some believe, a hopelessly hellish place beyond redemption?

Perhaps not.

Hidden just east of Van Nuys Boulevard, south of Vanowen, is a secret garden neighborhood of historic houses, quaint architecture and lovely homes. Katherine Avenue is the heart of it, and it has a landscaped traffic circle, a construct of such ingeniousness and calmness that it is a wonder that it is not used everywhere.  Shadier, slower moving, safer, the neighborhood could almost pass for Pasadena.

Along Katherine, and down Kittridge, there are many old houses, some dating back to the early 20th Century, with large gardens and an eclectic bunch of styles: Mission, Spanish, Wooden. Many fly the American Flag on a front porch, a marker of civility, pride and patriotism signaling that our best hope for America begins at home.

Writer and comedian Sandra Tsing-Loh lived here for a few years and wrote a satirical novel about her experience: “A Year in Van Nuys”.  Unfortunately, her humor was less remembered than her brutal depiction of the suffering of having to live in Van Nuys. 14132 Kittridge 14127 Kittridge


Walking this neighborhood I found a Mid-20th Century apartment building on the corner of Katherine and Vanowen which had been stylishly and subtly updated with a good-looking wood and iron security gate. Roofline edging was added, smartly and economically emphasizing dark horizontal strips of wood.  The whole place was neat and well-maintained with an aura of Japan. DSCF0055 DSCF0054 DSCF0053


There are also ugly new projects (14310 Vanowen) that some call improvements, including a gross trend, seen around these parts, of painting plain buildings in burgundy and gold, pasting thin stone veneers on walls and the lower parts of structures, and dropping decorative lanterns into the mix. Security lights are on all night illuminating a deluxe prison. I wrote about this trend last year at another desecration: Kester Palace. DSCF0039 14306 Vanowen


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Again, what is missing in Ms. Nury Martinez’s Sixth District are big investment and big plans. There is gridlock in Van Nuys because the people who live here are not making enough noise. They are not demanding that their community go in a better direction. The passivity of the area is understandable as many who live here are just surviving and trying to get by. But what about the larger city of Los Angeles and the re-development of the San Fernando Valley? Must it be done so poorly and so haphazardly? How many more years will Van Nuys sit with its empty stores, empty parking lots, filthy sidewalks, and battered down signs?

Mayor Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez will no doubt be attending LA River clean-ups and “pride” events but will they be building the buildings and businesses in an architectural and civic plan worthy of a “great”city? Will the city which counts among its citizens the wealthiest celebrities in the world say it has no money?

If you walk, as I did, along the better parts of Van Nuys, you will learn that there are people and places worth saving. The powers that be must recognize it.

Old Style Street Signs.


I’ve long been an admirer of the older street signs in Los Angeles.

They emit the characteristic and regional style of a time and place. Their lettering is crisp, stylized, and easy to read.

According to this LA Times article, the city began to produce the distinctive shotgun shaped, dark blue porcelain, metal signs in the 1920s.

As the city grew, in the 1930s and 40s, the signs became markers of urbanism, uniting the vast region under a single style.

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Along Kittridge Street in Van Nuys, near where I live, I found this poetic sounding trio of survivors: Norwich, Lemona and Saloma.

Metal poles with decorative finials add elegance.

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Further east on Kittridge, a newer sign, in medium blue, looks cheaper and functional. It is attached to a plain metal pole.

It does its job, like a vinyl replacement window in an old house.

But a public sign should, in a civic sense, not only shout out a name, but do it with a flourish, and a sensibility.

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Imagine Berlin or San Francisco without their unique street signs.

The old sign makers understood that we as a city are lost without proper signage.

Boulevard of Blankness.


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According to City Data, the area of Van Nuys bounded by Roscoe Boulevard on the North, Woodman Avenue on the East,Burbank Boulevard to the South, and the 405 on the West, an area of 7.2 square miles, contains some 100,000 people at a population density of 13,271 per square mile. The LA Times claims 110,000 lived here as of 2008.

Heart of this district is a blank-walled canyon of bleakness, Van Nuys Boulevard. It was once a thriving commercial street, full of fine looking Mid-Century Modern banks, small stores, and family run businesses where the windows were washed and the sidewalks swept daily.

In the 1950s through the 1980s it was a cruising area, taken over by young people and cool cars.

And now it is a dump.


 

It seems that this blog, for over 8 years, has reported ad nauseum on this wasteland of shuttered shops, littered parking lots, and vast expanses of asphalt surrounded by decay.

And yet, two blocks from Van Nuys Boulevard, there are some lovely and historic streets, well maintained houses, people and their properties who are trying to keep neatness and bourgeois respectability evident in their front yards.

The bottom line is the bottom line. There is not a plan, nor a large scale investment, nor a vision for Van Nuys Boulevard. There are piecemeal and weak proposals put forth by well-meaning people to make it “bicycle friendly” or “pedestrian friendly”. But who the hell wants to spend time in the 100-degree heat, soaking up the smell of urine in doorways, stepping over dog shit, as the smoke of illegal food vendors blows over the parked cars and idle trucks who have flunked their smog inspections?

The current environment is a hellish place, one whose continuing demoralizing existence blights the whole community of Van Nuys.

One hundred thousand people who live here deserve better.

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Mythical, Magical Valley Relics


On a mythical, magical day, a Saturday, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement for the Jews, I drove west to Chatsworth, across the Valley.

Dead ahead were the red and rocky Santa Susana Mountains. The temperature was probably about 106. The wind blew. The skies were clear. The air was sparkling. God was silent and beyond sight.

Crisp and fresh and hot were the walls along the new Busway, paralleling Owensmouth, a tidy industrial district north of Woodland Hills where tile shops and auto body stores are housed in flat, one-story windowless buildings. Lush plantings and solar lights line the deluxe bicycle path that is turning the wasteland of the West Valley into a denser, urban, bicycle and bus oriented urban green city.

This place once had two aspirations: asphalt and air conditioning. Pave over acres and erect an air-conditioned office, shopping mall and condo. This is all changing. The pedestrian now is protected, like an endangered species the government wants to propagate. If he is young, he will ride a bike and a bus. If he is old, he will live near shopping and walk to assisted living.

But I digress.

I was passing the future on my way to the past.

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Destination was Valley Relics, 21630 Marilla St. Chatsworth CA 91311, begun and run by Tommy Gelinas, a tall, bald, large-footed native of this area who grew up here in the 1970s, and who still bears traces of the druggy, rocky, high and anti-intellectual time that gave birth to our current era. Inked on both arms, footed in Size 13 Nikes, he seems inoculated against age, forever young, curious and energetic.

Burned into him, like the daily sun of the Southland, is a passion for collecting all the signs, photos, yearbooks, cars, matchbooks, postcards and historical junk of the San Fernando Valley. His mission is to make something out of a place that some people think is nothing.

Outside there was a small sign, Valley Relics, and I drove past it, unaware, and had to turn around. I parked and walked up to the entrance. Waiting outside, was a table, and Shane, a tanned, well-built man signing guests into the facility.

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Inside, I was hit by a burning blast of red and orange neon signs: gorgeous electrical advertising that once lit up the dark California nights of the San Fernando Valley: Mustang, The Tiffany, Palomino, Outrigger, Liquor.  Names that conjured up mythologies and movies.

The Horseman and The Gambler.

The Surfer and The Drinker.

The San Fernando Valley when it was young and magical, fresh and enchanting.

And people back then acting out lives, buying for their imagined selves.


What exactly was the San Fernando Valley?

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Looking around Valley Relics it was everything from Nudie’s Cadillac Eldorado Convertible decorated with handguns and thousands of silver coins, to an elaborately painted mural covering a VW Bug, KNAC “Pure Rock 105.5”, Dairy Queen and Bob’s Big Boy, Van Nuys Hardware Company, Alcoholics Anonymous; menus from Bailey’s Fresh Frozen Ice Cream, Smokey Joe’s, the Smoke House, Ho-Toy’s Restaurant; and Robert Fulton’s Junior High School Class of 1955.

60 years ago, hardly anyone in the SFV was a Chinese, a Cowboy or a Steamboat Captain, but we lived, ate and educated ourselves in those identities.

There were pictures and blueprints from developer Bob Symonds’ 1951 Valley Plaza and a bright yellow sign from Olsen’s Realty (“Hunting a Deal? Don’t Miss Us!”) at 10640 Sepulveda Blvd, Empire-1-8647.

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And lit up again was the yellow, red and green sign from Henry’s Tacos, a beloved and cheap food mediocrity of Mexican beans and burritos which stood on the corner of Moorpark and Tujunga for over 50 years, and was replaced last year by something uglier and less loved.

In war and peace, the San Fernando Valley made money-making war machinery. Tommy spoke about Lockheed, the Burbank based colossus whose WWII weaponry helped defeat Hitler and “The Japs.”

“Lockheed ranked tenth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.[14] All told, Lockheed and its subsidiary Vega produced 19,278 aircraft during World War II, representing six percent of war production, including 2,600 Venturas, 2,750 B-17 Flying Fortresses (built under license from Boeing), 2,900 Hudsons, and 9,000 Lightnings.[15]”-Wikipedia

War, porn, TV shows, shopping centers, vast home construction on an industrial scale, the history of the San Fernando Valley in the last 70 years is stupendous and enormous.

In the glass cases of Valley Relics, yearbooks, black and white photos, color post cards, and feather-penned letters from Isaac Van Nuys hold ancient history and present it to modern eyes.

Dreamed up and watered by men who marshaled the water resources of California to irrigate this dry land, the San Fernando Valley wears a mask plastic, juvenile, frivolous and fun.

Valley Relics and Tommy Gelinas have lassoed and caught in their hands a crazy and conflicted and fascinating collection of fantastical memorabilia.

Like the universe, it is boundless and still growing, encompassing everything and anything that landed on the ground stretching from Burbank to West Hills, in the years covering the American Century.

It is worth a visit, to see what it was like, and to imagine what it might have been like to live here.

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Stop, Thief!


Yesterday, around Noon, I went to meet my brother for lunch near his office at LaBrea and Wilshire.

I was early. We weren’t meeting until 1pm so I took a walk along the south side of Wilshire heading west, passing Detroit, Cloverdale and S. Cochran.

On the north side of Wilshire, I saw a middle-aged Asian woman in a green apron chasing a red-haired, plaid shirted male east towards Detroit. She was screaming, “Stop him! Stop him!” He kept looking back and outran her, eventually boarding a bus parked at Wilshire and LaBrea.

I ran too, crossing the street, breathlessly getting on the bus and telling the driver, “You have a man who just robbed a store on your bus. He is in back. I am calling LAPD!”

The driver waited. I called LAPD and reported a “hold-up” of a store on Wilshire and that the suspect was aboard a Metro bus. The police operator made me repeat the description of the suspect several times (“red hair, plaid shirt, middle-aged, white”).

I stood next to the bus, on the sidewalk and waited. The bus and its passengers, including the suspect, waited.

Then after about ten minutes, cops arrived.

Two police cars, including one unmarked, pulled behind the bus, shoved the rear engine cover up and crouched down, drawing their guns. Another car of cops went in front of the bus, and the police told us to all get out of the way.

I ran to the corner with others, and we watched, behind building at LaBrea, as the cops worked.

Then the driver got off and pointed at me, and a cop, his silver gun drawn, rushed at me and told me to put my hands up, to face the wall, to get down on the ground. His partner also ran at me, and I yelled, “I’m the one who called the police!” My hands up in the air, guns aimed at me, I was suddenly endangered and suspected of something. I don’t know what.

I was told to hand over my wallet and ID. And then I was allowed to put my hands down. The officer asked if my current address was the same as the one on my driver’s license.

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir…”

The suspect was removed from the bus, laid down on the sidewalk, handcuffed, and the other passengers got off and ran to another bus, parked down the street.

My brother came out of his office in the Samsung Tower, crossed the street, and asked me what happened.

Sweat poured down my face. We walked over to a restaurant for lunch. I ordered an iced tea, sat down at a table, wiped my face with a napkin and told him the true crime story.

Later, after lunch, I walked down Wilshire to find the lady who had been chasing the robber. I found her inside a little Korean convenience store. The cops had already visited her. Speaking not much English, she thanked me for my apprehension of the suspect, an action that might have ended my own life.

She gave me a cold iced tea.

Oh, and she said the thief had stolen three packs of cigarettes.

Valerio at Van Nuys Boulevard


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A few weeks ago I posted a two-part photo essay about my walk around Van Nuys Boulevard north of Sherman Way:

Part 1

Part 2


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I’m posting a few more images here, of buildings and businesses at the corner of Valerio and Van Nuys Boulevard.

I caught them at dusk, which was close to 8pm on August 4th.

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Ugly during the day, the strip malls and the small businesses mellow out as the sun goes down.  Hard working people come home. Some stop off for grilled chicken, fried plantains, cool and delicious aguas frescos, roasted peppers and yellow rice at Ay Papa Que Rico.

Some climb to the top of a second story mall to smoke a cigarette in an open air parking lot.

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And dwellers from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras live at English West, 14436 Valerio, a building whose name, perhaps, sounds foreign to their ears.

All photos were shot by me: Andrew B.Hurvitz.