Foley’s Donuts and North Hollywood (via Japan and Vancouver)


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On a recent visit to Vancouver, I met a naturalized Canadian named Christopher Foley, who by coincidence comes from a family that settled into the San Fernando Valley in the early 1930s. Chris lived in both the SFV and San Francisco and later emigrated to British Columbia.

He showed me, in his digital scrapbook, some fascinating old pictures.

His grandfather, a movie photographer, had moved from West Virginia in the early 1930s to work in the studio system.  Later on, the family opened up a donut shop in North Hollywood called, not surprisingly, “Foley’s”.

His mom, actress Mary Foley, played a band member in “Some Like it Hot” (1959/Dir. Billy Wilder) which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

His father served in Japan after World War II, and I asked Chris for these fantastic images of his dad and people in that country.

Their clothes, including selvedge denim, are what collectors these days call “Heritage” and are sought after in both Japan and the United States.

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Holiday Inn Express, North Hollywood.


Sunrise Ford

Holiday Inn

One of the strangest juxtapositions of new development and old crap can be seen in the San Fernando Valley east of Lankershim on Burbank.

A new six-story Holiday Inn Express is going up on the south side of Burbank Blvd. within view of the “arts district” yet firmly within the auto zone of muffler, tire, transmission, oil change, lawnmower and auto sales dealers.

Imagine you are a naïve guest, perhaps from Iowa, who is coming to Los Angeles for the first time and you see this modernistic, multi-colored Mondrianlike building on Trip Advisor. You might be excused for believing that you had lucked into a real fine deal, a lovely, clean hotel with good rates right in the heart of North Hollywood.

Upon checking in, you drive up Lankershim, past Sunrise Ford with its bright red painted “Diesel Truck Repair Center”.

Lawnmower

VAS

You go up to your room and look out and see V.A.S Auto Repair and John’s Lawn Mower with its garages full of grease monkeys changing oil, servicing radiators, and loading up pick up trucks with power equipment and lawn mowers.

EBT

If you are getting hungry, after walking through all the paint and gasoline fumes, and breathing in the smell of diesel, you can pick up something to drink at N. Hollywood Liquor where they accept EBT and can also cash your check for a fee.

$1 Taco

Smoke Shop

For a stroll you might stop by for a bite to eat at Tacos Manzano where Taco’s Tuesday is only $1. Or go directly next door to the Smoke Shop or Harry’s Auto Repair where the smog experts work behind cinderblock murals of Marlboro cigarettes and hookah. Pick up some pot at any of the medicinal pharmacies along the way. Marijuana is to modern Los Angeles what rice is to China.

Los Burritos

Quick Lane

If you don’t want burritos on the cheap you can have a more expensive burrito at Los Burritos or go across the street and get an American style burrito burger at Denny’s. If you crave nightlife you can go to El Zorro nightclub right next door to the Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center.

In another 50 years, a new generation of vaca negras will waddle past here, orange drinks in hand, and wonder if that bad old motel with prostitutes and vagrants will ever be torn down.

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.

1981: Burbank Boulevard at Fulton Ave – SP 2658


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.

Ben Avenue


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.

Among the Right Angles


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.

Carfree Living

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…..