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.

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


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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…..

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Califa Between Kester and Natick.


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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.

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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?

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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.

6100 N. Cedros Ave.


Van Nuys, CA 91401 Photo by Andy Hurvitz

A corrugated metal building with pitched roof, concrete floor and whirlybird ventilation, one of three structures in a row, stands at the corner of Cedros and Calvert.

The neighborhood is a mix of immigrants living in old houses and apartments, as well as light industrial companies: air conditioning, auto repair and body shops, marble and stone wholesalers, pest control and towing companies. There are many children nearby mixing moms with guns and gangs, the toxic air of auto paint, the rumbling beats of mariachi, the sounds of shopping carts and glass making their way to the recycler, dogs barking behind iron fences in concrete-paved front yards.

But a few doors down, at 14741 Calvert, later this year, MacLeod’s Ale Brewing Company will open and serve home brews in the British style, an exotic addition to a neighborhood where gasoline and tequila are the liquids of choice.

Posture Contest, Van Nuys, 1958


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It is hard to imagine that there were once posture contests and posture winners in Van Nuys.
Leaders, like President/General Eisenhower, stood straight.

On May 5, 1958, The L.A. Examiner wrote: “Loretta Fountain, 17, of Van Nuys High School, brushes away tears of joy as she holds trophy for best posture in senior girls division of posture contest.” Ms. Fountain was joined by Barbara Hinze, 14, Van Nuys Junior High, junior girl winner; Harold Lindsey, 18, Banning High, senior boy winner; Paul MacGregor, 14, Sutter Junior High, junior boy winner.

Today youthful good posture has been replaced by the slouching, texting teen.

(Photos: USC Digital Library)

Chandler Boulevard 1940s


Chandler Boulevard 1940s

A Pacific Electric “Hollywood” Streetcar travels down placid and empty Chandler Boulevard sometime in the 1940s. This mode of transport was removed in the early 1950s as the private car took over Los Angeles.

(Alan Weeks Collection)

2/19/14


52 years ago, in Park Ridge, IL, a 28-year-old woman labored in Lutheran General Hospital for 20 hours and gave birth to me.

Yesterday, we were together again, at 8:30am, inside UCLA Medical in Santa Monica, CA to hear the news that her cancer had spread from lung to bone and most likely would kill her within months.

There were tears in the office, and treatment talked of but not promised, because there was not much that could be done to arrest and blockade a disfiguring and painful disease. Aggressive killing cells, moving fast, were taking over every bodily pathway and steering this woman, my mother, into death.

Back at the apartment, I called 90-year-old Aunt Millie, my mother’s sister in Chicago, to tell her a grave prognosis. Simultaneously, we burst out crying, she wailing that her little sister was not supposed to die before her.

Later on, in the sun, I sat with my mother in the open door of her apartment, by her knee, as she spoke of her disbelief. I told her I didn’t want to see her in any pain, that if she had to die, it should be quickly.

To wish your mother to die faster seems obscene, blasphemous, selfish.

But every choice pondered, in treatment or without, lead into the same dead end: 2 months, 4 months, 8 months…

A vulture phoned later, a cousin who traffics in crystals and angelic communications. He spoke, like an infomercial, of “amazing” cures down in Mexico, and “unbelievable” results.

Topped in yarmulke and baptized in mysticism, he droned on in monologue, flavoring his pitch with prestige (“Harvard” and “M.I.T”), cliche and promise (“Think outside the box” and “alternative treatment”). Gross and unrelenting in salesmanship and insanity, the voice of this bearded charlatan claimed godlike knowledge that might save a dying person.

But the huckster claiming the miracle cure has no power over us.

Our immediate family was inoculated in skepticism, disbelieving in the afterlife, doubtful of religious fervor, resigned to believe that death is death and without merit except in its extinction of pain.

Dreams of heaven were not on my mind, only the distant past.

I saw again the Super 8 movies taken by my father as my mother pushed a stroller around Indian Boundry Park in Chicago in early Spring, her black hair and skirt blowing in the March winds. I saw days spent with my younger mother in love, the warm breath of life, memory, kisses, spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove, the days spent on the porch watching the rain pour down on Birchwood Drive; I also recalled the explorations into old neighborhoods, the angry fights, the dramas and battles over bad report cards, the shame when I came out and my eventual acceptance and her grudging respect, the fierce warrior who always thought my best days were still to come; she with her inexhaustible conversations and inability to stay silent long, how can her voice go away! How can my mute words replace life itself, extinguished cruelly and helplessly by the biological necessity of dying?

2/19/14: a dark day, an unforgettable birthday. It ended, as many days in Los Angeles do, eating sushi. Me, my brother, my sister-in-law and my 7-year-old nephew went out to dinner, drank sake and split raw fish rolls. And I blew out a single candle on top of vanilla ice cream and fried bananas as the entire restaurant sang Happy Birthday.

Waiting for the Bus on Sepulveda


Bus Stop Crebelley, Vaud, Switzerland © 2013 Gerald Verdon

Bus Stop
Crebelley, Vaud, Switzerland
© 2013 Gerald Verdon

Later this year, friends and family from Zurich, Switzerland will visit here in Van Nuys. In that lovely nation public transport is dignified, clean, cheap and abundant. (see photo above)

The visitors will see Los Angeles with Swiss eyes, a city where trash sits on Sepulveda in both human and inhuman formations. Only Disneyland and Magic Mountain will come close to presenting an ideal city. That’s our American dream.

But for the bus riders who must wait in the sun, without protection, for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes, before a bus arrives, for these people trudging up to work at low paying jobs putting bagels into bags, or unloading boxes, imagine how their day starts before work?

Imagine they must sit here at the beginning and sometimes the end of their day. And think of what this says about Los Angeles, that our bus system is so neglected that people are treated no better than garbage.

What do Mayor Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez plan to do about this?

734 Bus at Sepulveda and Busway, Van Nuys, CA.  By Andy Hurvitz

734 Bus at Sepulveda and Busway, Van Nuys, CA. By Andy Hurvitz

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