The Day Great Architecture Comes to Van Nuys.


Proposed development at 6908 Vesper Avenue goes before the PLUM.

Proposed development at 6908 Vesper Avenue goes before the PLUM.

At last night’s Planning and Land Use Meeting a few developers proposed a few developments for review.

A 49-unit apartment building, three stories tall, was characterized as ruinous to a neighborhood of mostly single family homes.

A 5-story senior apartment complex seemed to pass muster, after its parking and setbacks were revised.


In the large land mass that is Van Nuys, there is very little construction.

The downtown is shabby, full of vacancies.  The only new businesses sell pot, massages and bail bonds.

Victory, Vanowen, Oxnard, all compete for the ugliest street awards.


I wondered, after leaving the meeting, what might happen if Mayor Eric Garcetti brought architects, developers, community leaders and the citizens of Van Nuys together to create a Van Nuys Experimental Architecture District.

It makes sense. Land is cheaper. There are vacant lots and substandard buildings. Property could be acquired cheaply and the location is great, right in the center of the SFV.

Borrowing photos from the architecture website Dezeen, I came up with some projects that might be built in Van Nuys, and perhaps objections that might be raised.


“Where’s the parking?”



“You’ll have a bunch of derelicts hanging out. And that wall is going to be tagged.”



“This is crazy. It’s way too big. And I don’t want my neighbors looking down at my wife when she’s showering.”



“I mean this is just silly. You have crazy colored windows all over the building. And the angles make me dizzy. What about something more Mission Style?”



“I agree we need some new buildings on Van Nuys Boulevard. But these should have at least 1,200 parking spaces for cars along the street. That’s how you make a development!”



“It looks like a toaster to me. And the neighborhood is all 1950s ranch houses. The circle looks like a target and that makes we worried.”



“Just because Eli Broad donates $100 million for a Van Nuys Arts Center doesn’t mean he can ram this down our throats.  I object because where are the front porches?”



“Why is one column diagonal and the other vertical? To me it seems crazy. And underneath this you’ll have homeless, skateboarders and maybe teenagers making out and doing other things they shouldn’t!”



“Ok, it’s a church. I get it. But where is the one steeple? It’s nothing like what you see in Vermont and that’s what I think Van Nuys should look like.”

1949 and 1953: Two Aerial Views Over Panorama City and the GM Plant.






From the USC Digital Archives comes these stunning aerial photos over Panorama City and the large General Motors Plant. The top on is from 1949. And then one taken four years later on January 13, 1953 showing the rapid growth of the area.

Some 15,000 new homes were built in 1953, and some 30,000 new structures added. The vast agricultural landscape was transformed into a suburban, single-family section of Los Angeles, peopled by young families with children.

The map shows that the streets, 61 years later, are still the same. The vast GM Plant closed in 1992 and is now occupied by “The Plant” shopping mall. Panorama City still teems with new arrivals.



There were 120 narcotic “Norco” tablets in the prescription bottle on March 31st.

Six days later there were seven.

The medicine was supposed to be administered to an elderly cancer patient, bedridden, in pain.

But the physical therapist probably stole the medications, stuffing 100 or more pills into his pockets.

And yesterday that was the morning news, in my life, at 5:30am. Later I drove down to Marina Del Rey and reported the “burglary” to the sheriff and filed a police report.

A mollusk on a mattress: my mother.

Unable to lift, eat, or wash herself.

A cancer victim.

A crime victim.

Dependent on live-in home care workers, visiting nurses; tethered in fragility to life, eaten away by lung and bone cancer, yet strangely alert and intelligent to her bodily decay and the circumstances around her.

I was angry, nervous, agitated, betrayed. And my mother spoke from her horizontal position and said, “The important thing is to remain calm.”

My command center was my phone, electrified with texts.

Dr. G refilling the L-Dopa.
Dr. H refilled the thyroid.
The handrails were delivered.
How could the PT spend 14 hours in five days on physical therapy?
Who lost the Access Transport card?
We need eggs.
They won’t refill the Norco without a police report.
The premium blue disposable underpads arrived.


The day was hot and windy and blinding.

And then the sun slipped down and left the last hues of light over Venice.

Calmed by a glass each of beer and wine I walked on Abbot Kinney after 7pm, moving past shop windows, past bored clerks staring into cellphones.

Everything at that hour distracted as I wandered in and out of pretty stores.

Lubricated and intoxicated, I went into Elvino Wine Shop. I tasted a Croatian Red and walked out with a French Bourgueil Cabernet Franc.

I was wandering involuntarily now, sadness sedated, lulled into a dark gray perfume store furnished like a laboratory, lined with clear glass bottles.


“Spray the Santal on your left hand,” she said.


And then I was in my car driving in darkness over Beverly Glen.

The love theme from Spellbound played.

I saw Ingrid Bergman holding onto Gregory Peck, wrapping him in love, rescuing him from collapse, guiding him through danger, analyzing his dreams, fighting his delusions, saving his life.

CicLAvia Event: Sunday, April 6th 9am-5pm


This Sunday, April 6th, from 9am-5pm, Wilshire Boulevard, from Downtown LA to Fairfax, all six miles, will be free of automobiles and entirely owned by pedestrians and bicyclists.

The event was created by CicLAvia, an organization promoting healthier and humane alternatives to the dystopia of LA’s car enslavement. 100,000 people are expected to attend this free event which can be walked or biked along any starting point.

Public transportation is the best way to get there.

Those traveling near this area by car are warned that traffic will be nightmarish.

Rain in Van Nuys: November 14, 1952

From the USC Digital Archives come these photographs of flooding in Van Nuys at Tyrone and Sylvan Streets (a block east of the Valley Municipal Building) after heavy rains.

Caption reads: “Mrs. Agnes Snyder removes debris from car on flooded street. Wayne WIlson (bare foot) crosses St. Overall views of flooded Tyrone Ave. — cars submerged. Kids in stalled car.”

There are smiles on the faces of people, a lack of jadedness, that seems characteristic of that era. The hardship is harmless, nobody is getting hurt, the flooding is inconvenient and messy, but they are making the best of it.

Imagine the same situation in today’s Van Nuys.

A herd of fatties stuck inside their SUV, DVD player and boom boxes blaring, everyone on their mobile phones, three enormous women with tattoos, dressed in black leggings, broadcasting their “movie” on their smartphones with scowling and angry faces, never knowing how to live in the moment.

Tom Ford’s Style Makeover


Last night I was trying to make use of the lamentable offerings on Roku and found myself on the Conde Nast Channel.

Offerings included a snappy series of style makeover videos hosted by Tom Ford, a handsome fashion designer who once ran Gucci.

In each short, Mr. Ford and a middle-aged editor at GQ appraised a guy who needed stylizing.

An array of schmucks, always under 35, with nice hair and nice jobs, stood in front of a white studio backdrop.

Mr. Ford, tanned, expensive and exfoliated; large glasses, fingers on his chin, looked them up and down.

“You are quite handsome, do you know that? But your eyes have crow feet,” he said to one man.

“You have premature gray hair,” he said to another 30-year-old, “Your eyebrows need trimming. The eyebrows are the architecture of the face.”

Onto these men went layers of Tom Ford clothing: oversized wool turtlenecks, tight jeans, high boots, suede jackets, and strangling scarves.

And upon completion, he would render his verdict based on the men’s new clothes and grooming.

“Now you look like a successful restaurant owner!”

“Now you are ready to be the CEO of the company!”

“If you want to be President in five years this is how you have to dress!”

He delivered his opinions with the confidence of a scientist and the reliability of a psychic.

Who would argue with Mr. Tom Ford, a man of large ego and white teeth, who rode into fame’s frontier pushing brands and image, marketing and makeover, money and manliness?

Perhaps I would.

Well-knotted neckties and well-tailored suits, polished dress shoes and good hair might count for something.

And many live thinking that if I only knew what I wanted to do in five years I could figure it out.

Mr. Ford, no disrespect intended.

But please fuck off. People like you bring us down when you bring us up.

The only expert we need is our own conscience.
Perfectionism demoralizes.

The Best Thing to Happen in Van Nuys in 50 Years…..(is a month away)




The best thing to happen in Van Nuys (in the past half century) is about a month away from opening.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Company must already exist because they have a Facebook page. But further proof is evident at 14741 Calvert St. (east of Kester, three blocks north of Oxnard) where workers installed tanks and sinks, concrete counters and concrete floors, and a large cold storage room.

MacLeod will brew and serve fresh British style ales. Married owners Jennifer and Alastair Boase are carving out a civilized niche of craft brewing in the industrial heartland of old Van Nuys. Joining them is Head Brewer Andy Black who left Rhode Island, studied his passion in the UK, and came out to California.

Like Eagle Rock Brewery, also housed in a concrete industrial building, MacLeod will have a cinderblock facade. Nothing will really show the passerby that something great is happening inside.

But just wait until May…..




Striped Buildings.

A developer presented a plan for senior housing, on a site at Vose and Van Nuys Boulevard, at last night’s Van Nuys Planning and Land Use (PLUM) meeting.

This is along that very wide part of Van Nuys Boulevard where the blight of downtown Van Nuys gives way to an airy nothingness of expanse into the Valley moonscape. Eight lanes of roadway go north and go south, past McDonalds, Aamco Transmissions and Earl Scheib’s Paint and Body.

The proposed four-story complex is on land now occupied by Baires Auto Market. Baires is housed in what looks like an old pancake house, white framed and peaked roof, in a mid-century Protestant style, where blueberries and syrup were poured after Sunday services.

Renderings of the new four-story age and memory challenged facility show broken blocks of verticality, indented and tinted, dressed up with trees and vines.

An architect and a corporate spokeswoman described the frailty of the intended residents, ideally desiccated and disabled, unable to drive, and therefore not capable of making more traffic. Kitchenless units will be occupied by dwellers who will dine in communal dining rooms, monitored and managed by round-the-clock workers, arriving in shifts, parking in one of 61 underground spaces.

Over 80, weak, needing assistance, losing their memory, infirm; the suffering of age was advertised as an attribute. For here would come those who would not need schooling or parking spaces, but just a temporary place to live before death.

And there was the illustration of the new building, broken up in colors and pieces, a collection of cliches, impossibly inoffensive.

All over Los Angeles, along the new condos on LaBrea in West Hollywood, over in Santa Monica, and here in Van Nuys, we live in-between newly erected stripes and corrugated boxes.

The new buildings have mass. But it is presented not in grandeur, but shame; fractured, divided, sliced, multi-tinted. It is a style meant to soothe communities, and to disguise big projects by making them seem small and insignificant.

It almost makes one long for the arrogance of brutalism.

The new architecture is poll-tested and market-driven, without balls or bravado.

The Virtual World


Yesterday was a beautiful day up on the sixth floor of UCLA’s Santa Monica Oncology Center as we brought my mom up into a sun-filled room with dozens of reclining leather chairs and she was connected by vein into chemo.

The wall of glass windows looked west to the shimmering ocean as the 80-degree sun blew hot and the palms swayed in the wind.

Instead of needles, blood, screams and suffering, there were copies of Martha Stewart Living, November 2010: beautiful show dogs photographed in sepia, apple pies set on wood tables, silver and purple leaves pressed onto canvas for a do-it-yourself art project. I saw Calvados and potatoes au gratin, buttery grilled beans on 18th Century Limoges china, tulip bulbs laid into the soil on a Connecticut farm.

In my hands were two bags from FLOR, full of colored carpet samples I had gathered for a client, purple and brown, green and yellow squares, laid out on the wall ledge so my mom could tell me which ones she liked.

My brother was listening to a podcast, partly; answering emails, talking to his wife, and texting his business partner as the medical anti-cancer fluid dripped and dripped, into my mother’s bloodstream, and he talked of idiot entertainment execs and the virtues of a new calendar app.

The nurse, an Asian-Californian woman, in a tan Levi’s corduroy jacket over dark brown scrubs, came to change the tube; her long, straight black hair shining in the bright sunlight, her smile warm and genuine, caring, here in the chemo spa; where all voices were subdued, all expressions were smiles, and all expectations were high.

To combat nausea, the doctor prescribed the Martian sounding Onandestron.

After the tube came out, my mother said, “That’s it?”

And the caregiver, the nurse, and the two sons wheeled her out of the sun, and into the dark elevator, down to the red Ford Focus waiting in the garage.

Califa Between Kester and Natick.


A block south of Oxnard, between Kester and Natick Avenues, four residential streets dead end at Califa.

A time capsule of a neighborhood; neat, tidy, middle-class, without trash, graffiti, mattresses and old sofas; this section of Posoville (Part of Sherman Oaks) is either Van Nuys or Sherman Oaks depending upon your biases.




The sunny aura along these streets, a dependable and somnolent monotony of the middle 1950s, is of people working and keeping up their homes, raising their kids and taking pride in their community. This could be Culver City or Burbank, so absent are those markers of decay that afflict Van Nuys only two blocks north of here.

Enormous landscaped parking lots, far too big for the modest amount of workers who work here, sit behind the white cinderblock boxes lining Oxnard.

In any European nation, or Japan, such decadent defacement of land would be unacceptable and put to denser use.

But in Los Angeles, the old American Way holds forth, but for how long?






In the future, an architect might imagine that the asphalt would be ripped up to grow local fruits and vegetables, and the acres of pavement would sprout little villages of modular homes, five or ten or twenty houses arranged around xeriscaped gardens. Residents would ride bikes, walk to the corner market and board the Orange Line to ride out to Woodland Hills, or east into North Hollywood and downtown. Shady spaces between buildings would provide great outdoor seating for cafes, benches and even fountains.

For now, the houses and the white cinderblock industries meet in oversized parking lots in an average place stripped of personality, but grateful for its fragile place on the social ladder.