Up on the second floor, a muscular, middle-aged salesman with high Charles Bronson cheekbones and slicked back hair stood in his Zaaz exercise shop waiting for customers who would get on a machine, plunk down two grand and vibrate their bodies into athletic form.
His name was Eddie. He was born, Italian-American in East Cleveland, OH. I met him many months ago and we stopped again to speak today at Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.
I may have been walking around the mall in a catatonic state of Zyrtec. Tired, not going anywhere in particular, I had just browsed Apple laptops, tried on Hugo Boss jackets and was gliding on the second level of the mall like a cloudy whisper of oceanic fog.
Empty, adrift, morose, I was swimming in circles, unmoored from the sea of purpose and ready to be hooked by Zaaz.
Eddie noticed my dourness and asked how things were going. And then he spoke of his own spiritual self-affirmations, his belief in the Lord Savior Jesus Christ, of good things ahead. And he asked me what I believed in.
I told him I was born and raised a Jew, Bar Mitzvahed but not a believer. So he stepped up on the machine, an exercise pulpit palpitating with electric vibrations, and from above he spoke down to me, a congregant, about my heritage, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, Joseph and Mary and God. He talked of shalom, and peace, and evil in the world, his formidable biceps holding tight to the handles and shaking with impulse and motion.
Still moving on the whole body vibration machine, he revealed his own doubts, his down days when he had no money, his deflated acting career. He spoke of his intimacy with Jesus, the touch of God, the God who had once been a man and died on the cross to save the world and return it reborn.
He got off the machine. And stood down on the marble floor, feet planted firmly, looking at me, man-to-man, eye-to-eye as a mall choo-choo train chugged and whistled past.
He then wrapped up his short sermon with a quote from Proverbs 2:7:
“He will keep the salvation of the righteous, and protect them that walk in simplicity.”
We shook hands in earnest. And I walked from J Christ to J Crew in search of my next ministrations.
Not often is Van Nuys convinced it is a community, but last night, about 40 of us pretended it was, and gathered in the Columbus Avenue School to hear LAPD’s Senior Lead Office Vince DiMauro talk about the crimes that are a trademark of our district: prostitution, gangs, tagging, noise, and vacant properties.
We were in a well-ordered academic hall, which I had last seen at my elementary school, Lincoln Hall in Lincolnwood, IL some four decades ago.
An upright piano, lunch tables stacked into the walls like Murphy beds, a state and a national flag on either side of the stage, a cop speaking kindly to attentive citizens, present among us were these venerable elements of American civic life and values.
And then Donna from the Mary Magdalene Foundation got up to present her plea for the prostitute as victim, which set off some incendiary cerebral explosion in one of the candidates, who found her characterization of whore as human indefensible. His outburst provoked some other outbursts, but the uproar lasted only briefly, and back into good manners we went.
Middle-aged and older women provided, as they usually do, the moral backbone of the meeting. Voices, articulate, erudite, educated, spoke of grating and gross indecencies in the hood: thumping boom-box music parties, tagging, pot smoking derelicts, trash, litter, burglaries. Looking around at the room, at some of the carefully lip-sticked pale faces, nice tailored burgundy jackets and lovely little pink cardigans, one temporarily forgot that outside these school doors life was grosser, poorer and coarser.
Some of the attendees last night came out and admitted to being long-time residents of Van Nuys. One man moved here in 1958, others had been here since 1965, 1973, 1979. They had stayed here, lived and loved it, every bit as much as Sandra Tsing-Loh hated it. And it was those lovers of Van Nuys who go to community meetings. And dare to imagine that life can lawful and orderly, clean and respectful, decent and courageous.
Optimism, inserted into despondency, can be revolutionary.
One of the delights of living near Van Nuys High School is watching a car full of kids park nearby, hang out for a while, and then deposit bottles and drug paraphernalia curbside before driving off.
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.
The Kesteridge Neighborhood Page on Facebook is a group of citizens who are actively monitoring issues affecting Van Nuys. We are located in the area between Victory on the south, 405 on the west, Sherman Way north, and Van Nuys Blvd. west.
We regularly post and keep an eye on crime , traffic, properties, as well as prostitution, police patrols, potholes, litter, pets, barking dogs, noise, helicopters, LAPD, etc.
Our group is growing and is kept in regular contact with the LAPD and the Van Nuys Community.
Please consider joining if you care about your community.
Phil DePauk, who now lives in Virginia, has been a follower of this blog for a few years
and he graciously sent me some new (old) photos from his family archives. He is the young boy in these photos.
Phil DePauk and his extended family lived in Van Nuys in the 1940s and 50s and operated a well-known local photo studio located at Gilmore and Van Nuys Bl. It closed in the early 1960s.
One of the other addresses that pops up is: 14204 Haynes St. a block located just west of Hazeltine. Phil either lived or spent time here.
A recent Google Maps view shows that the neighborhood is still single-family residential, but now many of the once plain and friendly houses are sheathed in ironwork and other embellishments of modern paranoia.
There are many cars in these photos. Phil’s father worked at Wray Brothers Ford which was located near the intersection of Calvert and VNB, two blocks n. of Oxnard.
I wrote to Phil this morning to clarify some family facts and here are his words:
“My Dad worked as a mechanic at Wray Brothers Ford from 1948 to 1958.
After Ford, my Dad worked at Pacific Tire and Battery Co. on Sylvan St. across from the old library.
My Uncle Ed (now age 83, sharp as a tack and living in Canoga Park) started working at California Bank (Sylvan and VN Blvd) after his discharge from the Army.
He subsequently worked at numerous other banks before retiring as a Vice President. My Uncle Dan was the manager of the McMahans used furniture store before his transfer to Marysville. My Uncle Bill started his own photo studio in North Hollywood. My Uncle Ed lives in Canoga Park and always enjoys reliving memories and making new friends if you have an interest.”
Fresh and Easy moved in, a few years ago, into a mid-century shopping center on the SE corner of Vanowen at Sepulveda.
The first time I went to this British import I left unimpressed. It was like buying groceries at IKEA. It felt impersonal and cheap.
But gradually, in these years of lots of want and little cash, the nearby store with its handy $5 off coupons, green cards, self-service checkout, and reasonably priced items, grew on me.
A very friendly store manager recognized me, and she always said hello. I would quickly come down the aisles, with my reusable canvas bag, and snap up bananas, packaged lettuce, shredded carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, eggs, milk, cream, 99-cent French bread… and get out quick. Salmon and chicken, beef and pork, sausages and luncheon meats, everything was stocked and easy to get. Esoteric mustards, organic soups, Indian and British foods were mixed into the eclectic shelves. Balsamic vinegar, almond milk, coconut rice, clam chowder soup: oddness and affordability.
The parking lot was not crowded. It was easy to get in and out of.
And, unlike Trader Joes, the drivers were not eye-rolling, mirror-checking, sunglasses on botox bitches behind the wheel. The de-facto driver was that sweet 200-pound mama in black spandex in a 1994 Nissan, slow and steady and smiling.
But that all might change. Forever.
Now it seems that Fresh and Easy will be closing hundreds of its stores in the US. The official announcement has not been made for the Van Nuys location, but the rumors of its impending demise seem ominous.
If F&E leaves, we will have the dirty but interesting 99 Ranch Market, specializing in Asian foods and decaying fish smells; and the bigger and equally strange Jons up on Sherman Way, well stocked with produce, but short on anything eaten by college graduates or urban metrosexuals: jars of Armenian pickled vegetables, bins of dried chilis, Mexican carbohydrates and sugary desserts, Mexican sodas, Mexican pork fat, freezer fulls of pork butt, pork head, pork shoulder, and plastic wrapped two-dozen quantity chicken leg packages, 50 pound boxes of Sun Detergent and aisles of frozen Russian Vodka.
Fresh and Easy was Van Nuys’ last chance to reach out to the Prius crowd. People who shopped here were poor but grew up rich.
If it dies, so do the dreams of all young, pale, tattooed and hungry gamers, bloggers, consultants and artists who live north of Oxnard.
From the always wondrous USC Digital Library:
On June 11, 1951 there was a shooting at a Van Nuys liquor store.
Wounded was Frank M. Bailey.
From the LA Conservancy (words are quoted):
“ACTION ALERT UPDATE:
Century Plaza Hotel Project in Final Environmental Review
Planning Commission Hearing Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
Century Plaza Hotel (1966).
As you may know, the 1966 Century Plaza Hotel in Century City was threatened with demolition in 2008 to make way for a proposed mixed-use project. If you were one of the many people who supported its preservation, thank you!
Through intensive advocacy, strong local leadership, vocal public support, and collaboration with the developer, the hotel was saved and incorporated as the centerpiece of the mixed-use development plan.
The plan has entered the final stage of environmental review, with the preservation option as the preferred project. This preferred plan will preserve the hotel building while allowing for new construction of two 46-story towers at the rear of the site.
This plan has the input and support of the Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as neighborhood groups in the immediate area surrounding the hotel.
We are not asking for letters or e-mails in support of the preservation project, but we wanted to keep you informed on the process and let you know that if you would like to comment as a member of the public, there will be several more opportunities to do so.
The first is this Thursday, August 23, at a meeting of the Los Angeles Planning Commission at Van Nuys City Hall.
Planning Commission Hearing
Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
Pacific Electric car no. 5110 rolls along the “Central Business District” of Van Nuys in July 1952.
Frolics Restaurant (seen on right) was at 6216 Van Nuys Blvd.
While it is not a fancy street by any means, it is an arguably bustling and more interesting boulevard than present day. There is diagonal parking along the street, the road has not yet been widened (1954), there is a bright red streetcar going past and the buildings lining the road have windows and doors that “look out” onto the sidewalk.
All of this has been obliterated by the government monstrosities along the east side of the street whose blank walls and banality forever keep Van Nuys in a hellish 1975 architectural limbo.
“This is the main dwelling on the beautiful walnut grove estate of Dr. Sidney Walker, 17367 Parthenia Street, Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley.
Dr. Walker has employed Yokichi Oyakawa, his son, Evan, and his daughter, Lily, who left Heart Mountain [internment camp] the end of February. Walker is a retired eye surgeon from Chicago and a veteran of World War I.
He is a real champion of the Japanese Americans and will go to bat with anybody and everybody who would deny evacuees the right to return to their homes. He is enthusiastic in his praise of the Oyakawas and allows them practically all the privileges of his estate even to the use of his beautiful swimming pool. Oyakawa is head gardener and his son, Evan, helps when not attending classes at UCLA, where he is a student. The daughter, Lily, holds the position of maid. The family occupies their own modern home just a few yards from that of the doctor and his wife. — Photographer: Mace, Charles E. — Northridge, California. 6/2/45
UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library
“W.P. Whitsett recounts the tale of the founding of Van Nuys at the city’s 23rd birthday party. February 22nd, 1934.”
UCLA Library, Digital Collections.
If he could only see it now, the great progress Van Nuys has made, culturally, aesthetically, economically……
It’s a strange place, down there, along the Pacific, in Laguna, Newport Beach and Irvine.
On Saturday I went there, escaping Van Nuys, escaping anomie and suffocating heat, breezing down the 405, past LAX and Long Beach. And then into the clean, protected, and planned campus development at UC Irvine where my friend lives on a new spaghetti tangled street, a stucco housing project locatable only on GPS.
He is a professor and his tan house sits on a breezy Eucalyptus hill, alongside hundreds of other tan and brown houses and glass walled gardens that overlook a windy panorama of mega-churches, green parkways, community centers and gated communities.
Trees, windows, lampposts, paint colors, plants, every element of exterior has been plotted and chosen and codified into law so no house differs too much from any other.
My friend, gay and Vietnamese born, assured me that there was great diversity on the street, behind the vinyl windows and just blown driveways, a diversity of color, religion and gender.
We went out to lunch and drove down lushly planted Newport Coast Drive, a dizzying speedway descending to the Pacific, surrounded by gated mansionette communities of red-tiled Mediterranean styles, Reaganesque in conception, reeking of aspiration and asphyxiation, synthetic and grandiose; so many high-altitude houses packed on terraced hillsides perfumed by sprays of fog.
Two neo-classical archways stood on each side of Newport Coast Drive at Pacific Coast Highway, pretentious and plastic Arc de Triomphe models. The grandeur of the Pacific was enough for the old Newport Beach, which built modest cottages and let nature rule man. But new Newport must announce itself, as it did along this resort roadway. It must assert and announce, loudly, copious liquidity and cosmetic identity, even when it’s as false and phony as an Octogenarian’s botoxed forehead.
We parked in an outdoor mall, also landscaped with many trees and flowers, a shopping center under the arches and scented vines, where $109,000 hybrid automobiles were parked under the chandeliers, and whose lavishness was incongruously displayed next to Trader Joes and the Gap.
We came here, not to shop, but to park, illegally, and sneak down to Crystal Cove where the beach is still free and anyone in the water is equal under the eyes of God.
On the beach it was beautiful, as it always is on a day off work, with rocks and sand and gentle cliffs, waves and little tidal formations of lichen, mussels, and barnacles. It was a child’s paradise too, a natural world of salt water and aqua hues, a visual respite from video.
I was at peace on Saturday, in the present, out of my normal frame of mind darkly churning in the past or frozen in fear of the future.
I was in a good mood that day, and I was content.
I have to remember to come to the beach more often. It’s really the best part of the Golden State.
Everything bad and disturbing in California, as well as all well-meaning plans and proposals of this state, all of it is swallowed up in the tide. Nothing compares to the eternal waves and endless crash of what comes in and what goes out, around the clock. And what remains of sand, water and rock.
Here is a great old photograph of Van Nuys Blvd at Friar St. in 1950.
In 1950, there was still diagonal parking along the boulevard, an arrangement that helped to create a sense of enclosure and neighborliness. Some of the signs along the street were Whelan Drugs, Van Nuys Stationery Store and Bill Kemp Sportswear for Men. On the left side of the photo: a See’s Candies and other small retailers whose facades have been modernized behind flat slabs.
This bustling scene was already on the way out as regional shopping centers, such as Valley Plaza (1951), made their way into the San Fernando Valley and lured customers with lots of parking and giant stores.
While the massive migration of illegal immigration has certainly changed Van Nuys, the post-war decisions of Los Angeles, her government, her people and her power brokers, to widen streets and remove streetcars, to build freeways not trains, and to develop every last square inch of orange grove and meadow, these are the true killers that robbed us of our historic inheritance.
Life was more civilized back then and we can only look back in awe.
This photograph is offered for sale at DECOR ART GALLERIES 12149 Ventura Blvd. Studio City, CA 91604 (818) 755-0755