Greg, from the blog, West SFV, made his way over to our latest civic triumph in Van Nuys, the obliteration of the 1925 First Lutheran Church.
Phillip DePauk lived in Van Nuys in the 1950s. His grandfather owned a photography studio located at Gilmore and Van Nuys Blvd. These photos come from his archives and he kindly consented to allow me to publish them.
In Mr. DePauk’s images, one can see some of the rapid changes that came to Van Nuys in the late 1950s and early 60s: demolition of old houses on the site of the Valley Governmental Center, the widening of Victory Blvd.
Before WWII, Van Nuys had been a small town surrounded by orange and walnut groves. One could literally walk from Van Nuys Bl. over to Hazeltine’s agricultural area. After the war, the Valley and California exploded in population. Every square acre of land was developed for housing, shopping malls, freeways, and factories.
We often think of the 1950s as a halcyon era of perfect families and happy times.
But the seeds of California’s destruction were born in the 1950s. The car was king so roads were widened and pedestrians marginalized. Vast shopping centers destroyed local shopping and emptied out Van Nuys Blvd. Historic old houses were razed and replaced with faceless office towers and parking lots. Citrus groves were obliterated and local agriculture disappeared from the San Fernando Valley.
And conservatives welcomed vast migrations of undocumented workers to California as a source of cheap labor.
And liberals championed an ethnic centered curriculum to teach children that American history mattered less than group think identity. And that ethnic empathy for some triumphed over lawful behavior for all.
And conservatives said that government was evil. The same government which might have enforced the law.
And liberals said that government could do everything. Robbing individuals of the consequences of their own actions.
And Californians went to the polls to ignorantly legislate by ballot those issues that were already decided by lobbyists spending millions on TV advertising.
And today we live in the midst of what we have wrought.
No place in Van Nuys looks as good today as it did in 1950 and Mr. DePauk’s photos, even of flood ravaged streets, somehow seem more civilized than a sunny day on Vanowen and Kester in 2010.
Van Nuys Bl.
From the USC Digital Archives:
“Photographer: Glickman. Date: 1958-03-26. Assignment: Saticoy School evacuation plan, 7850 Ethel Avenue, Van Nuys. G119-20: Children evacuate class rooms in predetermined plan for disaster”.
At a MODCOM meeting last night, I learned that an Art Deco architectural gem in Van Nuys may be destroyed.
Engine Company No. 39 was built in 1939 and has all the dignity, solidity and beauty of governmental buildings from that era. It sits just across the street from the Valley Municipal Building and is a handsome civic structure.
An article in the Contra Costa Times quotes Councilman Tony Cardenas:
“Councilman Tony Cardenas said he appreciated the beauty of the building, which was built in the Art Moderne style, but added the time had come to replace it.
“Today, probably as much as ever, people can appreciate how important it is for us to have the best — the best equipped, best-manned fire department in the country,” Cardenas said.
“This is an opportunity for us to invest in the community of Van Nuys and to replace the 70-year old station,” he added. “Not that everything that is at least 70 years old needs to be replaced, but I think it’s important that we do our responsible duty when it comes to facilities.”
This quote, by Councilman Cardenas, shows a very short sighted and appalling ignorance of both history and community. While nobody would argue for the need to have the best fire protection available, why does this necessitate destroying a historically significant building?
During Mr. Cardenas’ tenure, the old Whitsett Home, built by the man who founded Van Nuys in 1911, was bulldozed and now there is an empty lot on the site. Now Mr. Cardenas wants to literally remove one of the finest examples of 1930′s streamline design in Van Nuys.
The secession of a neighborhood of Van Nuys which now calls itself “Sherman Oaks” was a recent embarrassment to Mr. Cardenas. But how and why would people want to live in Van Nuys, which remains, at least on its main thoroughfares, filthy and unspeakably ugly and wears its badge of shame without shame? Is Mr. Cardenas on a mission to bring down Van Nuys or build it up? One has to wonder….
Van Nuys was once the jewel of the San Fernando Valley. It’s civic pride was embodied in buildings like the Fire Station No. 39. Along with the old library, the old post office and the municipal building, these were walkable and civilized arrangements for conducting one’s daily business.
Are there not acres of empty parking lots, underutilized industrial lots, and vast acres of crappy broken down ugliness lining such streets as Sepulveda, Van Owen and Kester? You mean, Mr. Cardenas, that the only possible location for a new fire station is on the site of one that dates back to the administration of FDR?
Van Nuys is crying out for someone with a vision, and a sensitivity to beauty, and instead we are under the administration of a boor who would allow the destruction of one of the finest examples of streamline moderne architecture in Los Angeles.
The photographs show a city undergoing vast demolition and reconstruction, especially in downtown LA. This was the era of urban renewal and grandiose high-rise projects. Odd movie-set type houses, strange juxtapositions of paper thin stucco cottages and exotic trees, empty moonscapes, sad fluorescent-lit cafeterias, plywood faced storefronts, decaying neighborhoods…this is what it looked like in LA, 40 years ago.
A documentary frankness on film.
“Wow, what a cool picture! That little shop on the corner is my grandfather Frank Preimesberger’s Van Nuys Printing shop. He started the business in 1942 after moving to Van Nuys from Pierz, Minn. The business was passed to my uncle Lee Preimesberger in the 1960s, and he ran it until his death in 1993. Grandpa and Grandma lived on the corner of Hazeltine and Emelita for 40 years, and they both died in 1982.
Forgot to mention that the print shop was located at the southwest corner of Calvert and Tyrone streets. Tyrone was notorious for flooding problems, as you can see here.”
Redwood City, Calif.
The other day,
I was walking down a street that I have driven down hundreds of times before: LaCienega, just south of Sunset.
Suddenly, I discovered a Japanese style garden apartment with an ornate red gate and plantings of bamboo and pine. A plaque on the exterior said this was “The Lotus” and it had been constructed in 1928.
A two-story structure that should have been in some corner of Kyoto. I half expected a woman in a Kimono to come outside and welcome me with a tray of tea.
You can live here for many years and never quite know the city. Just when you’ve tired of the grossness, and your mind can only conjure up an endless stream of billboards and traffic, you may find yourself inside an aesthetic jewel, long hidden from the passerby, built long ago, and still home to a special few who can retire here at night in a fantasy world separate and apart from the banality beyond the gate.
From what I’ve read, they may convert this property to a bed and breakfast. “The Lotus” is part of makes Los Angeles bewitching and forever an enigma.