Griffith Observatory, 1930s


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Courtesy of Nathan Masters, I found these fascinating vintage images which the USC Digital Libraries recently added to their Dick Whittington Photography Collection.

They show a family or friends (Dufay?) on what seems to be a Sunday type of outing, in the mid 1930s, up to Griffith Observatory, which had opened on May 14, 1935.

In the midst of the Great Depression, or perhaps because of it, people took care to dress up in dignity and elegance.

Lankershim and Victory: 1930


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83-years-ago, the San Fernando Valley was an all together different place than today.

Rural and urban, it was dotted with Spanish style gas stations, grocery stores, small houses; orange and walnut groves, neatly designed and well-kept businesses, with swept curbs and gracefully articulated architecture. Store signs were designed to fit into architecture and each letter and every proportion was sensitive to the greater architectural whole.

Photographer Dick Whittington worked this region back then, and his images are kept, for posterity, in the archives of USC.

Heartbreaking it is to see what has become of the corner of Lankershim and Victory today, a grotesque piling together of cheap plastic sprawl and indifferent commerce, junk food and junk culture. Even without looking, people know the location Lankershim and Victory is synonymous with ugly. Guns, crime, speeding, littering, illegal everything…that is what it is today.

What started out with great promise, California, is now ready for the apocalypse.

Historic Van Nuys: The Jue Joe Clan.


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The Internet is a strange thing.

Yesterday, while Googling for “Bike and Van Nuys Blvd.” in a search for a bike store, I came upon a family blog about a Chinese immigrant, born 151 years ago, who came to California to work on the railroad and ended up owning hundreds of acres of agricultural land and running a successful asparagus farm in Van Nuys in the 1930s.

“Descendant of the 2nd emperor of the Song Dynasty (Zhao Gunagyi), Jue Joe was born and raised in a chicken coop, in 1860. He grew up dirt poor and vowed that his descendants would never suffer as he had. So at the age of 14 he sailed alone to California, working as a cabin boy, and jumped ship in San Francisco. He sailed with 16 lbs of rice and landed with 1/4 lb left. So he went to the Chinese Six Companies for help. They sent him to St. Helena and Marysville to work the vineyards. Then he found work on the Southern Pacific Railroad. In the Mojave Desert he met Otto Brant who was hoboing his way to L.A. They became friends and together hoboed to that destination. According to San Tong, Jue Joe learned business from Otto Brant and what land and water would mean to future settlers of the L.A. Basin. “ - written by Auntie Soo-Yin.

In 1913, California passed a law that forbid aliens (Non-Americans) from purchasing land in the state. The openly racist ALIEN LAND ACT was aimed at a growing and prosperous Asian population whose success threatened white hegemony in the Golden State.

But Chinese born Jue Joe was friends with the very powerful Otto Brant. The fascinating story of how Otto Brant helped his Asian friend purchase land, in spite of the restrictive law, is retold by Auntie Soo-Yin:

“Jue Joe’s friend was Otto Brant, a prominent member of a Los Angeles land syndicate. Jue Joe discussed with Brant his desire to own and farm land in the San Fernando Valley.

“The name of Otto Brant’s land syndicate was the “Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company,” formed in 1909. It had 30 members all prominent leaders of L.A. (Harrison Otis and Harry Chandler of L.A. Times newspaper, Wm. Mulholland the L.A. Water Commissioner, M.H. Sherman, Grant the founder of Santa Fe Railroad and California Bank, H.J. Whitley the sub-divider, I.N. Van Nuys, to name a few).

Together the Syndicate controlled Tract 1000. In it Brant reserved 850 acres for his Title Insurance and Trust Company and, within the acreage, platted Van Nuys, Marian (Reseda), and Owensmouth/a.k.a. Canoga Park).

You could buy a small farm 1 to 10 acres, or a large farm 100 to 600 acres. In 1920 he reserved a large parcel for Jue Joe: 300 acres of prime property from Vanowen St to Haynes, and from Hayvenhurst to Balboa Blvd. It was segregated from a large ranch owned by Mr. Van Nuys, later was part of the Anderson Ranch, then bought by Mr. Dickey who later sold to Jue Joe.

Brant ( and later Brant’s estate after his death in 1922) held the Jue Joe property as Trustee for the benefit of Corrine and Dorothy until they came of age. When they came of age the land was deeded to them pursuant to the original trust documents.”

Auntie Soo-Yin fondly remembers her time in the 1930s growing up and living on a large agricultural ranch in Van Nuys, whose boundaries today sit just west of the Van Nuys Airport along Vanowen:

“I loved our homestead. Our ranch was self-sustaining. We had our own gas pump, an auto- and repair shop, fruit trees of nectarines, oranges, pears, apricots, lemons, figs, walnuts, etc. We grew strawberries, grapes, corn, and vegetables of all kind. Behind the big red barn that faces Vanowen St. we had a large chicken coop.”

The story of one American family in the San Fernando Valley, who didn’t let little obstacles like racism and the Great Depression get in their way…….