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.
Terry Guy has an excellent collection of photos on his Flickr page chronicling North Hollywood and the old Southern Pacific line which ran along today’s Metro Orange Line Busway.
Photo above (near Valley College) is the intersection now converted into a landscaped bike/bus transit line.
Life has improved (sporadically and unevenly) in parts of Los Angeles, due in large part to investment in public transportation, which has lead to greater vitality and revitalization in formerly neglected parts of the city. One can see evidence of that in Mr. Guy’s historic North Hollywood images.
Last Wednesday evening, August 22nd, a speeding teen from Glendale jumped the curb at Magnolia and Ben and decapitated a fire hydrant and concrete light pole. 4,800 volts of lethally electrified water gushed out. Two women, Stacey Lee Schreiber, 39, and Irma Zamora, 40, raced to help and were killed when they stepped into the high voltage water. The teen driver survived.
Curiosity and morbidity drove me over to Ben Avenue in North Hollywood yesterday. I parked near the accident corner. A woman placed flowers at a temporary shrine where many candles and hand-written notes expressed grievance and condolence.
Ben Avenue needs no more pain.
Broken sidewalks and brown lawns, dog shit and peeling paint, rattan blinds pulled down outside windows, the 5200 block of Ben Avenue is a hanging-on kind of place oddly jumbled and cheaply built, where 1940s houses sit next to 1960s apartments and nothing seems permanent but the certainty of sadness, decline and loss.
And something tragic and preventable blew in here last week, and murdered without reason, two innocent women who knew nothing but empathy for their executioner.
The new community growing up around Lankershim and Magnolia is a place of right angles. Lofts and windows, rooflines and balconies: all are straight and horizontal, crisp and clean.
I walked around here today, mid-day, in the white sun, along Chandler, McCormick, Blakeslee and Magnolia, in-between new apartment rental offices, new hair salons, new trees, into new pie and new beer restaurants. UPS and Federal Express trucks, moving trucks, street sweepers, security guards and parking violation officials swarmed everywhere, bringing goods and dropping fines.
It was déjà vu for me, remembering my daytime walks in New York City around Tribeca, Soho and Noho in 1988, selling advertising for the brand new New York Press. The west side of Tribeca was just developing, and people were opening yoga salons, restaurants, and bars and looking at their reflections in the glass, just as they do today. I was in an urban frontier, tamed, not by the lasso and rifle, but Robert DeNiro and JFK, Jr.
Frenetic, and fast, promiscuous and pretentious, I was full of energy and youth, dressing well, working out, caught up in an endless chase for sex and security and a way up. I ate in every good restaurant on my $15,000 a year salary and ended up with anyone who I laid my eyes on.
And I saw that urge today, as I walked past guys pouring out of the gym, and sexy girls on their cellphones, and the eternal sunshine of the spotless streets, a corporate paradise rented out and made up like a real city, but really just another atomized blot on the desert.
A “friend” of mine, who moonlights as an escort and personal trainer, rented an apartment in one of the large complexes near the Red Line and told me many sex workers inhabited his building. But in the bright sun, under the bright signs, on the well-swept sidewalks, all is clean and happy and progressive. And one must remember that one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, Doc Johnson, earning millions and employing hundreds, is headquartered nearby.
Anyone who comes to LA and says he is not a whore is also a liar. And anyone who attempts to make an honest living here will surely fail.
Los Angeles does not often impress in civic infrastructure, but this corner and pocket NE of Universal City comes close.
Of all the places in the San Fernando Valley, this one has taken off the most, in self-creation and self-realization, in the last five years. It has done it by refuting and rebelling against the old car-centered model of Los Angeles.
You don’t need it here. You can get around on your bike, on foot, via subway, and go see an art movie, drink a craft beer, live in a loft, and attend live theater. You can work out with elliptical trainers, free weights, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and step and dance classes. Live comedy and live readings of short stories are performed at The Federal. You can go to school, study and earn a degree at the Art Institute of Hollywood.
It’s a young place again, a dense, digital and creative section remade in the style of the early 21st Century. A place where hanging out on a coffee shop sofa is sometimes industrious, and working in an office cubicle is often useless.
Everything in Los Angeles starts as an experiment, and has its day in the sun, so to speak. Westwood, the Miracle Mile, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Canoga Park, all were started in a blaze of optimistic boosterism , like a Presidential campaigner, promising a lot and then sputtering and stalling and sometimes falling to pieces.
Along the edges of North Hollywood, the old decay and weedy lots sit, like determined and patient killers, ready to strike back and take down life. And with a deathly silence the ancient Verdugo Mountains, back there in the distance, watch the silly activities and wait…..
The aged and decrepit mall property on the corner of Victory and Laurel Canyon will not be redeveloped anytime soon, according to the Daily News.
The young actor with the pompadour walked into North Hollywood’s Pit Fire the other night. We sat at a table, under the counter, near the open pizza oven. I had bought us both a large brown bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Short, compact, muscular, self-confident, courteous and boyish, The Shoe is a practicing marital artist, aspiring actor, and currently a bagger and cashier at Trader Joe’s.
He took a sip of the beer. “This is my first legal drink!” he said. He had been 21 for only 10 days.
“Oh, man I have so much energy,” he said. He had been down with his posse in Orange County, dancing up fights and performing in front of the camera. He wore a black and white striped knit hat and brand new Led Zepplin t-shirt.
Every tight-assed young girl who walked past us elicited his stares and then he would turn back and continue our conversation.
The Shoe had only been in LA for a few months, and lived with his girl in an apartment on Riverside in Valley Village. She was working as a stunt actor.
“Hey, have you ever been to Catalina?” he asked me.
“No,” I said.
“Man, we have to go! You, me, and my girl. They have a haunted house there!” he said with those lit up eyes and gravity-defying hair. I felt like I was Sal Mineo to his James Dean.
The Shoe devoured a small salad. I ate a large pumpkin pizza. He told me to go ahead and enjoy myself. “You have to eat!” he said. I envied his optimism and ability to stare into 2000 calories without fear.
He was sighing after the meal, thinking of everything he wanted to accomplish in life, now temporarily postponed getting up at 4am to work at T. Joes.
We finished our meal and he walked me to my car. The night was windy and cold and I was bundled up in a down jacket and wool crew-neck. He gave me a big dude hug and I thanked him for meeting me. “No. Thank you for inviting me,” he said.
The Shoe jaywalked and skipped and ran across Magnolia, cutting a sharp diagonal across the street, disappearing into the night.
Matt Jalbert writes:
“I recently spent a short time in “NoHo,” aka North Hollywood (around Lankershim and Magnolia) where I was reminded of how utterly hopeless the sprawling project of Los Angeles is. There, in a “neighborhood” marketed to a new round of real estate suckers as an “arts district,” my overriding sense was of endless pavement, aggressive drivers, frightened and forlorn pedestrians, mostly lousy food choices, and a huge oversupply of commercial space. The same holds true for much of the San Fernando Valley.
Whatever promises were made to the American middle class by the developers of such living arrangements have been proven to be outright frauds. The L.A. pattern of car-centric living, especially in the post-WWII San Fernando Valley, is a cancer on society, evident on most of the citizenry, even some of those who profit from this arrangement.
North Hollywood in 2010 is yet another example of the failure of automobile-suburbs to result in healthy communities. Unfortunately, a few pretty buildings do not save this area, like the rest of the San Fernando Valley, from the toxic arrangements of streets designed for one mode only: vast flows of automobiles. That these areas are only a few generations old, yet are well advanced in their decay and social dysfunction, is all the proof any of us should need to recognize that the great experiment has failed and it’s time to make other arrangements now.
My sense is that people are starting to wake up to the lie they’ve been fed through the mass media — the lie that their car would set them free. (Stimulated by endless AM radio advertisements for leased Mercedes that would somehow make driving more bearable?)
Drivers are frustrated and angry, because no matter how rich they are, no matter how fat their asses grow, no matter how black and shiny their car is, no matter how witty the texts they write while negotiating the racecourse that is Lankershim Boulevard — they are imprisoned in a mobile prison cell, living an attenuated existence where every action they take is bludgeoned on both ends by a soul-killing automobile trip.
Better to rip the whole place down and rebuild it in a smaller, denser space. Keep a few of those fine old buildings, but otherwise, start from scratch, because what’s left on the ground for us all at this moment is simply not worth keeping.
God help Los Angeles. 26 years into my California experience and I’m finally understanding just how truly awful that place has been handled by the hands of man — in the service of automobiles. “
Photos by Andy Hurvitz
Richard Hilton, a Board Member at the Museum of the San Fernando Valley, led a walking tour around North Hollywood yesterday.
Any time someone mentions one of these historic expeditions on foot to me, I start to nod off. I expect it to be dry and fact filled.
But this tour was amazing. We saw the exteriors and interiors of churches, a post office, an old bank, an Art Deco fire station, a Masonic temple, and explored a rich tapestry of architecture and social history.
Dr. Gerald Fecht added his pithy and erudite observations as well, further enriching us.