This is what came into my in-box today from my subscribed “Van Nuys” Google Alert:
Yesterday, I was at my mother’s bedside, as I have been many Sundays since January.
My 10-year-old niece Ava was there too, propped up in front of my mom on the rented hospital bed, her violet eyes shaded by a straw hat. And my sister-in-law Pri sat nearby in a white leather chair, resplendent in white crochet shorts, and a fitted denim shirt covering her fit and polished body.
Outside the windows, whose northern view stretches from Hollywood to Santa Monica, the Marina sky blew weird and malformed haze and clouds, the type that indicates rain in any normal city but whose presence in the Southland is always ignored.
We were talking about mean girls, and then we were talking about kitchen renovations, moving a refrigerator to the other side of the door. We were talking about a new couch in the Living Room. And I was invited to do my imitation of my brother at work, which evoked laughter from his daughter.
And then there was a thunderous boom. Followed minutes later by the sirens and the fire trucks speeding down Admiralty Way.
I went onto Twitter and checked Venice 311. I learned lightning had struck 7 people. Every few minutes I looked. Until The Tweats said a body was floating near the shore.
And then they confirmed a man was killed by what we had heard, electrocuted in the Pacific Ocean near Washington Boulevard.
He went into the water and entered eternity on an 8 million to one chance.
Later on, as it always does in Los Angeles, the sun came out. We lifted my mother out of her bed, into her wheelchair, and pushed her along Washington Blvd. past skateboarders, bikers, and runners.
On the beach, near the sand, were parked the trucks from KCAL and KABC and cars from LAPD. Above us helicopters hovered in the sky.
These were the only clues that something tragic and meaningless had recently come out of the sky, weather that blew fast, dark and deathly over the water, taking away 20-year-old Nick Fagnano, a student swimming on a Sunday, a young man loved by family and friends.
I stopped by MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys last night.
The mood was low-key. Scottish music played. People sat on stools in the cool air-conditioning. The servers were jokey.
Brewer Andy Black, serious and studious as usual, was in back testing his brew for sugar content.
At the new wood tables up front, people sat, drank beer and ate pizzas and truck food from Haute Burger.
This good looking couple came all the way from Haskell Street in Lake Balboa.
And outside the brewery, as night closed in, the dented cars and steel fences stood motionless as another long, hot day on Calvert Street went dark.
Edward Ruscha [roo-SHAY] (b. 1937) has had a long career in Los Angeles making poetry out of banality. His photographs of Los Angeles apartment buildings, gas stations and other drive-by scenery was ground breaking art in the 1960s.
“26 Gas Stations” (1962) ,with its now widely available Rockwell Standard Font, has been copied so much it has turned Rusha into cliché.
I found these fascinating studies of parking lots seen from above that Ruscha made in 1967. They show Van Nuys (and North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks) paved over and baked in sun. Patterns of suburban development, diagonal lines and box stores, trailer parks and shopping centers, become cubist abstractions from Ruscha’s bird’s eye view.
These are all in the collections of the UK Tate Gallery. They sell for many thousands of dollars, are collected by wealthy people, and hang on the walls of large homes from East Hampton to Knightsbridge.
When you are sober, remember: some very important people in the art world consider aerial photographs of Van Nuys’ parking lots as collectible art.
The parking lot at Wendy’s (6181 Sepulveda at Erwin) is full of trash. It has been that way for many months.
The scene: shopping baskets full of garbage, discarded clothes, fast food containers, and all the litter that a Wendy’s can produce.
Conversations with the man who cleans the parking lot at Wendy’s, along with a visit to an employee at Wendy’s has produced no results. They tell me that the responsibility for cleaning belongs to LA Fitness Van Nuys, even though the towing signs along the cinderblock are all “Wendy’s”.
LA Fitness takes care of everything in their newly paved area, but Wendy’s takes care of nothing except what is directly around the sidewalks on their building perimeter.
Why is this tolerated?
Sheer laziness and neglect and the refusal to take responsibility and pride: that is Wendy’s doing.
The victims are anyone who lives in Van Nuys and the surrounding community.
MacLeod’s held a special event, this past Sunday, for beer bloggers at its new brewery in Van Nuys.
The actual opening is Sunday, June 22 at 14741 Calvert St.
Artisanal cheeses, Scottish crackers and biscuits were served alongside pints of The Little Spree (Yorkshire Pale Ale).
The vibe was clean, fresh, friendly and authentic.
There is nothing like it in LA. And it may carve out a new niche of lower alcohol beers brewed authentically British.
Richard McCloskey’s images of Van Nuys Boulevard in the early 1970s, the cruising and the cars, is now for sale at Art Prints.
The photos show young people having a good time while hanging out, congregating on the street, and in the shopping center, which still stands next to Gelson’s on Van Nuys Boulevard.
Cruising, as Kevin Roderick in LA Observed explains, “began before World War II, spread across LA with the car culture of the 1950s and 60s, crested when the baby boomer hordes were at their most numerous and bored, and finally faded after the LAPD shut down the boulevard in the 1980s.”
The GM plant in Panorama City (1947-1991) built many of the cars that roamed the street. It paid its workers well, who in turn bought cars and produced children to drive them.
The cars were fueled by cheap gas (29-33 cents a gallon) which ended after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo doubled the price of fuel and forced Americans to abandon wasteful muscle cars.
Once the cars were gone, the pretty girls and the gritty guys packed up and went away.
Van Nuys settled into its current state of illegality, drift and decline.
From the Department of Water and Power photo archives, comes this photograph of the Norvord Building at 6420 Van Nuys Boulevard, just north of Victory, circa 1940.
Van Nuys Boulevard, before it was widened in 1954, had diagonal parking, as Brand Boulevard in Glendale does today.
In looking at the above photograph, one can see that the 1920s building, had, by 1940, undergone some modernist facade renovations with curved glass at Mode O’Day and streamline signage at Arnold W. Leveen Hardware. The simple and lovely “Van Nuys Stationary Store” had a discreet sign and an awning to shade the interior from the sun.
Van Nuys Boulevard was a walkable, civilized, clean and prosperous street in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. Locals shopped here and patronized small businesses who in turn watched over the community. That was Van Nuys 74 years ago.
And what is it today?
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.
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…..