The Wild Bunch Blog has some interesting photos (supplied courtesy of Richard McCloskey) of the cars, guys and girls who cruised along Van Nuys Boulevard some 41 summers ago.
These young people and their gas guzzling muscle cars were enjoying their last summer of cheaper oil.
In 1973, after the Arab-Israeli War, OPEC got together and helped create the first “Energy Crisis”… and a gallon of gas went from 33 cents a gallon to as high as 60 cents.
1972 was also the summer of “American Graffiti”, a film which nostalgically looked back 10 years earlier to 1962, a time of greasers, cars, hanging out, and being young.
Now we look at these photos, themselves archival relics, and wonder how Van Nuys was ever so young, so thin and so very white.
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.”
The chrome, metal, motor and wheels crowd gathered at Bob’s Big Boy, as they do every Friday night, to partake of a parking lot full of old restored cars.
One old man had an old crank shaft Model T and was showing a crowd how to turn the engine on.
There was a very long purple Cadillac, and more than the usual collection of mid 1960s Chevys.
Fifty-two Fridays a year, vintage autos and their lovers gather here; even as we fall deeper into the 21st Century, our hearts are stuck in place in a country and century that no longer exists.
I went shopping for a new car with an old lady. My mother.
Our first stop was Honda on Santa Monica Blvd. A kindly, older salesman, who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, approached us. We asked him about the Civic and he let us go for a test drive.
With my mom at the wheel, and me in the passenger seat, the old salesman sat in back and said little or nothing about the car. His only words were, “Turn left” and “Turn right on 11th”.
When we got back to his office, he made a feeble attempt to negotiate. We were not going to put down more than $2000 and wanted payments under $180.
The negotiations ended, quite cordially, right there and we walked out.
We went over to Hyundai in Van Nuys where the salesman stand around a lot and my Mom has significant trouble pronouncing the brand name. A nice guy named Steve said he had more cars for us to see in a lot up the road. We took a ride with him and when we got to the storage lot, it was padlocked, so we drove back to the dealership and he let us out and we said good-bye and thanks.
At Galpin Mazda, we were scheduled for a 1pm appointment, but upon our arrival the salesman was not there. The receptionist said, “He has family trouble today”. So someone else, with a barely audible name, showed us the Mazda 3: sedan and hatchback.
Here is where I, a Mazda 3 owner, stepped in and started pointing out the various features to my mom. The salesman didn’t say much of anything. I showed her the Bluetooth, the storage, the seats, the great cup holders. The salesman smiled.
We wanted to know about the advertised internet deal of $169 a month with $1700 down. “Oh, that is for the iSport not the iSport3. With Bluetooth, the payments will be around $190, not including tax.”
He wrote down some figures and we put it into a bag and walked out.
No salesman seemed to really care about his cars or his prospective buyer. Maybe selling cars is like having sex. The salesman needs to get excited. He must anticipate a climax.
Why else does the sight of an elderly car buyer completely cause otherwise aggressive, eager and hard-driving salesman to lose interest?
Valley Relics posted this circa 1940 color photograph of Van Nuys Blvd. facing south (towards Sherman Oaks) near Victory Blvd.
Two things in the photo stand out that are different from today: the streetcar running up the center of the street and the diagonally parked cars.
For many years, people have spoken about the loss of the streetcar as a viable way of transportation around the Southland. Many think that the sprawl of this city makes streetcars irrelevant and automobiles the only solution.
But streetcars traversed the sprawl of Los Angeles from the beginning, going across hundreds of miles, even when much of the land was undeveloped. They brought the Pasadenan to Venice and transported the Hollywoodian to Chatsworth. They were above ground and had open windows. No city of millions of people can be without a viable public transport. And cars–polluting, crowding, noisy, inefficient, expensive, deathly–are the most self-centered and self-destructive machines ever put inside a city. Los Angeles has been demonstrably more dysfunctional since the Red Car tracks were torn up.
Diagonal parking is a way of making shopping more convenient and serves to slow down traffic and discourage speeding. While current day Councilman Cardenas proposes raising metered parking rates in the midst of the Great Recession, the old photo above shows a thriving and much more appealing Van Nuys, with free diagonal parking, than exists today.
2009 has been the year that the American auto industry was temporarily rescued from its deathbed by an infusion of Federal money and the “Cash for Clunkers” program.
And this year has also seen the return of cruising on Van Nuys Bl., which was once the heart and soul of the auto culture parade in Los Angeles.
Ironically, it has been the needy dealers who gave. Thanks to the empty lot generosity of defunct Rydell Chevrolet and the newly resurrected Van Nuys Cruising Association, literally hundreds, if not thousands of vintage cars and restored vehicles are now congregating and parking near the corner of Burbank and Van Nuys Boulevard.
In Ralph’s parking lot, 4&20, the Mobil station, and all along VNB north of Burbank to Oxnard, there was an enormous and enthusiastic collection of car lovers and their cars.
Culturally, these events may be nothing more than big car love-ins. But one could not help but notice the American flags, the overwhelmingly white faces, the fat and freckled faced ladies in the lawn chairs, the crew cuts and blue eyes, the NRA, POW, McCain/Palin and Marine insignias, the smiling LAPD officers… the subconscious nostalgia for a San Fernando Valley that exists no more. This was on the night that Obama spoke his big speech on health care, and one wonders who in this crowd might be grumbling dark thoughts about the coffee complexioned leader of the free world.
But all that is nonsense. Pure speculation. This is all about having fun, isn’t it?
Photo: Here in Van Nuys
Very soon, sooner than we might imagine, there will most likely be hundreds of dealerships, all over California, whose vast acreage will be emptied.
People are simply not buying or leasing as many cars. Auto companies are not producing. There is a depression in the car industry.
What can we do with the leftover land underneath these closed dealerships?
I wish that these enormous plots of oil soaked asphalt, which once existed and thrived as a testament to our voracious hunger for cars, would somehow be converted back to orange groves or some agricultural use.
Culver City has a wonderful farmers market, that comes here Tuesday afternoon. What if this “progressive” city were to tear up this defunct auto dealership and plow its asphalt into dirt and grow organic fruits and vegetables here?
Humans will always need to eat. Our appetite for the gasoline powered automobile is not eternal.
As big and powerful and immortal as GM once was, it could not survive in a nation that had no policy for reducing its dependence on oil.
Think about it. For 30 years, GM has been struggling. And that is just about the amount of time that the US has been involved in an ongoing “Energy Crisis”. When the price of oil goes up, people drive less or think about buying smaller cars. When the price goes down, the drivers go back to larger cars and trucks. What company could possibly produce vehicles to withstand this constant instability of fossil fuels? Would you expect McDonalds to stay profitable if beef went from $10 a pound to $300 in one year?
Give GM some credit. They have revamped and improved their autos so that they are just as good as anything Tokyo produces. Quality is not the issue, the national lack of an energy strategy is. It influences everything from terrorism to Iraq, from sprawl to global warming.
The car makers have missed one point in these years, however. They would have been better, all along, if they had been forced to produce energy efficient cars, and cars that did not emit pollutants.
Instead, we’ve spent the last 30 years in a fantasy where we can consume all the deadly oil we want, and then wonder why our planet and our industries and our way of life is standing under the executioner’s rope.