Van Nuys, 1926

86 years ago, the Dick Whittington Studio took these photos around Van Nuys.

Locations are unknown, but what one sees is prosperity and industry tethered to art.


The tiled bungalow with its vast wings, rafters, and a vented and vaulted front door entrance is an amalgamation of styles: Spanish, Adobe, Mission; wealth without ostentation, a type of house that might exist in Pasadena. Architects back then, trained in classical styles, could superimpose styles governed by correct proportion.


In 1926, people lived and worked here next to a neat row of trees, a farmhouse, fruit trees and a clean concrete roadway with one lone automobile.


Workman construct a cottage, surrounded by agriculture, as a suited man, probably the owner or architect, watches.


And making it all possible, the Bureau of Power and Light, housed in a neat little brick building, business conducted behind venetian blinds, rooms cooled by operable vents above sheets of glass.

Los Angeles has changed a lot since then.

(USC Digital Archives)

Eggs and Chickens for Sale: Van Nuys, CA, 1932

Residence of George Krug, 7140 Van Nuys Bl. Van Nuys, CA, 1932

Residence of George Krug, 7140 Van Nuys Bl. Van Nuys, CA, 1932


(USC Digital Archives/ Dick Whittington Studio)

Sunday in Van Nuys (Part 2)


Sunday in Van Nuys (Part 2)

In my writing and photography I try to stay as true as possible to my own observations and impressions.

Such was the case when I took a long walk through one small portion of Van Nuys, encompassing an area roughly from Columbus on the West, Kittridge on the South, Vanowen on the north and Van Nuys Boulevard on the south.

What I write and show today is just how I saw it.





Tobias Avenue , north of Kittridge, south of Vanowen, is a not-so-shabby street of single family houses, mostly quiet and mostly homely, some with open lawns, others encased in iron and cinderblock. The population is quite diverse, with surnames that include Beasley, Bowser, Lange, Cohen, Funes, Moran, Lucas, Suh, Phung, Avetisyan and Ayanyan.




USA Donuts

On Vanowen, between Tobias and Vanowen, the stores are packed closely together, up to the sidewalk, and commercial Van Nuys is at its epicenter.

It was Sunday afternoon, so the loudest noise was coming from the open doors of a storefront Spanish church, where the indoor parish was singing. There was little pedestrian traffic, other than those few waiting for buses at trash littered Metro stops.

The businesses along here cater to Spanish speakers, advertising income tax for Salvadorenos, party rentals at Teffy’s Jumper, Inc. and dining at Mi Ranchito Salvadoreno (14523 Vanowen St.) Buildings are painted exuberantly in vivid sunshine yellow with red lettering.


A dismembered tree, its limbs hacked off by ignorant tree trimmers, stood near the corner of Vanowen and VNB. The disfigurement of trees all over Los Angeles is characteristic of this city, an appalling sight for nature lovers and for those who respect arboreal rights.

Trees are needed most in this area of Van Nuys, for the streets are overly wide, and the sun beats down here, making the district hellish during the long hot summer.



6842 Van Nuys Boulevard is the new home of Champs High School of the Arts, a charter school which makes its home in a 1963 mid-century office building. The structure has been jazzed up on the exterior, with new lighting, stone and chrome to appeal to the more luxuriant expectations of modern Americans.

Hacked onto the south end of 6842 is an inexplicably ugly new structure, set back from the street, like an awkward wallflower at a high school dance.

Here again is where urban Van Nuys always go wrong. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to erect a building that does not participate in the architecture or functioning of the boulevard at all, but rather sits back, in boxy ugliness, behind an asphalt parking lot, its untenanted stores and unoccupied apartments begging for respect, with broken and boarded up windows already advertising its failure.

Van Nuys Boulevard is six lanes wide. So setting a new building back only reinforces the funereal deadness of the street. In order to bring pedestrians back, you need to make an environment that encourages pedestrianism.

The new building is banal, striped in bands of colors that are supposed to reduce the imagined bulk of the façade, but instead reduce it to insipid sections of paint strips. All over Los Angeles, the “rule” is that every large structure has to be divided into multi-colored bands of hues. If the White House were ever rebuilt in Los Angeles it would be drenched in six Dunn-Edwards earth tones.

Van Nuys, CA

I wrapped up my daylight walk in urban Van Nuys, by going south down Van Nuys Boulevard, on the west side of the street, where empty storefronts met fallen leaves on a cloudy and cold autumn afternoon. There was not a single man or woman walking from Vanowen to Kittridge, and I did not encounter humans until I turned right, and found a lively bunch of food carts in the back parking lot.

Spanish speaking people, who now predominate in Van Nuys, prefer enclosures, such as small streets, landscaped and illuminated alleys, and places where people walk. The much sought after revitalization of Van Nuys Boulevard will never occur because the street is too wide. The plazas of Spain, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, not to mention the courtyards of any place other than the US, are the gathering places of urban dwellers, who come on foot to congregate, to shop, to watch, and to walk.

And so it was on a Sunday afternoon, when Van Nuys Boulevard was dead, the life of the city was conducted in back of stores, near the church, in places where the walls and the buildings provided enclosure, safety and structure.

In any plan for the future, the planners should try to reduce the size of the streets, bring back small parks, small lanes, and narrow streets where a sense of community and walkability can be fostered.

Sunday Afternoon on Kittridge St.

It was late Sunday afternoon in December, here in Van Nuys.

The air was brisk, the sun was low, a pork butt simmered in the slow cooker.

This is the time of the year when you can see the mountains beyond the orange trees.

Days are brief and what gets done gets done quickly. The Christmas season is sewn in living threads joyous and melancholy, lonely and familial; aching, sad, reverent and intoxicating.

Football, films, electronics envy; shopping, eating, packing presents; drinking orange beer under red lights where the smell of pine, vanilla and chocolate is pervasive, these are some of the elements placed here annually.



I walked yesterday, in waning light, along Kittridge, a neat and well-kept street of homes between Columbus and Van Nuys Boulevard.

West of Kester, Kittridge is a ranch house neighborhood entirely built up after World War Two. Within living memory of some, this area was once entirely agricultural. What lay west of Van Nuys High School was the vast beyond of walnut and orange trees, ranch lands and open spaces. Within 15 frantic years it was developed or destroyed, depending on your viewpoint. And by 1960, it was the Valley we know today, structurally, not demographically, of course.

The homes here are solid, the lawns (mostly) cut. The flat streets and sidewalks recall a Chicago suburb, a place where American flags are flown, and bad news and bad behavior is kept quietly behind drawn drapes.

Van Nuys, CA 91405

Two friendly eccentrics were outside yesterday: a man who looked like Fidel Castro with an engraved “RICK” metal belt buckle, and his beer mug holding friend. They stood on the corner of Kittridge and Lemona as workmen re-sodded Rick’s lawn.

I spoke to them briefly, repeating my infernal line. “I write a blog about Van Nuys called Here in Van Nuys.”

“Here in what?” asked the beer mugger.

Here in Van Nuys,” I said.

“You work for the government?” he asked.

“No. Let me take your photo,” I said.

“No. You got a card?” he asked.

I handed him my printed business card.

“So you write what?” he asked.

“A blog, called Here in Van Nuys,” I said.

The older man with the Fidel Castro beard knew exactly what a blog was. He also complimented my camera and my quilted jacket.

I moved on after that, and crossed to the east side of Kittridge.






On the east side of Kittridge, north of Van Nuys High School, the street is grounded in civic and religious solidity by the presence of St. Elisabeth’s Catholic Church and the enormous VNHS.

Rod Serling might have come here to film an episode of The Twilight Zone, so awash in normalcy and Americanism that one could be dropped here and think that nothing had changed in Van Nuys since the Eisenhower administration.

Notably eccentric and interesting collections of houses line the street, ranging from neat bungalows to sprawling pre-war ranches. They are placed on long, narrow lots, going back far, into deep yards, but they seem to have been immunized from the decline into squalor infecting some older streets in Van Nuys.

I stopped and stood in the parking of St. Elisabeth’s across from a tall white spire bathing in the remaining daylight. People were gathered, under umbrellas, for an event involving food and prayer.

And the second part story of my Sunday walk will continue in another essay….



Lovely 24 Hours in the San Fernando Valley…,0,1155543.story

Cindy vs. Nuri

On Tuesday, July 23rd, two women, Cindy Montanez and Nuri Martinez, will face off in a special election to decide the next leader of LA’s 6th District which includes Van Nuys, Arleta and Sun Valley.

After a dozen non-productive and self-destructive years of Councilman Tony Cardenas, the district is still one of the least appealing areas of the San Fernando Valley. Downtown Van Nuys is dying, its post office closed, its shops vacant. The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council is a long-running joke, producing theatrics and anger instead of cleaning up the streets.

Why Van Nuys should continue to suffer is one of the strange mysteries of our city.

It is centrally located, adjacent to North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, an easy commute to Woodland Hills, Studio City and Hollywood. It is served by buses and three freeways, so it certainly does not lack transportation. On many streets there are stunningly beautiful homes often used for filming movies and commercials.

The downfall of Van Nuys, which was established in 1911, began after WII when regional shopping centers replaced mom and pop stores. The widening of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, the elimination of diagonal parking, the ripping down of old houses to make way for large government buildings, the influx of immigrants who were poorer and less educated, the slumlords who bought up apartments and let them decay, the emptying out of legitimate business to make way for pot shops, massage parlors and bail bonds, all of these contributed to the El Crappo aura. And basically El Crappo is all one sees driving along Van Nuys Boulevard.

Whomever wins on Tuesday, Ms. Montanez or Ms. Martinez, both ladies (I like that word) will have to dig in her heels and bring shovel-ready action to Van Nuys, and concentrate with all her might in rebuilding a civilized and thriving district that is no longer the laughing stock of Los Angeles.

Vanowen, Gloria and Gaviota


West of the 405, on Victory and on Vanowen, the vast spaces of Van Nuys open up to parks, golf courses, airport runways, and planes taking off and coming down. The skies are bigger, the vistas wider, the winds windier. And the potential for escape and discovery beckons on foot or bike.

Once this area was the domain of the Joe Jue Clan, a Chinese-American family whose large asparagus farm, near Vanowen and White Oak, flourished from the 1920s-50s. Surrounded by tennis courts, the old family barn still stands.

Van Nuys, CA 91406 Built 1947

Driving east near Woodley last week, I passed 15931 Vanowen, three mid-century semi-detached houses with horizontally paned windows. Lined up like planes in a hangar, the sharp, upward, angled pitched roofs pointed, like arrows, towards nearby Van Nuys Airport.

Curious, I returned last night, near dusk, with Andreas Samson, and explored the teeming urban apartments and semi-rural side streets along Vanowen, Gloria and Gaviota. And we stopped to investigate 15931. (built 1947)

Van Nuys, or Lake Balboa, as this area prefers to call itself, is deceptive. Along the main streets, the apartments are packed, full of working Latino families, the backbone of California. Last night we bumped into an old friend from the gym, a Guatemalan guy on Gaviota who owns a restaurant on Sepulveda and was returning home, in his pickup, exhausted.

Along the side streets, an old world still co-exists with the newer slum dwellers. There are large, deep, expansive properties, many planted with citrus trees, up and behind fences and gates, behind iron. Armenians, Latinos, and Asians bought up these fortified compounds, built up houses and rental units, or let the dry grasses and dirt take over.

Van Nuys, CA 91406

6709 Gloria Ave

Shamamyan Armenak Residence

Contrasts are everywhere: the picturesque Spanish casa from the 1920s next to the peeling frame shack, the lushly watered front yard of native flowers and the concrete paved SUV car lot. Guns and roses, skateboarders and speeding cars, a man hitting golf balls on his front lawn.

On Kittridge at Gloria, ferocious pit bulls kept by a friendly, toothless woman behind a broken-down dirt yard sit next to an Armenian owned limousine company, a home business behind lion bedecked gates and stucco pediment and columns.

Rich or poor, native-born or naturalized, the predominant domestic style is violence deterrence. Gates, alarms, barking dogs, steel, concrete, cinderblock, “no trespassing” signs. Each property, born sweet, evolves, like an enlisted soldier, into battle-hardened, tactical, offensive, lethal toughness.

Van Nuys, CA

Van Nuys, CA

At 6652 Gaviota, one unfortified mirage appeared: a sweet, middle-aged woman on her front lawn in a house-dress, watering a large tree with a garden hose.

We stopped to talk to her, startled by her openness and friendliness, her casual banter (“I was born and raised around here. I have been renting this particular house for 32 years”), intrigued by her whole retro setting and persona: white frame house with porch, tree swing, steel awning windows and asphalt driveway, and her manner of attire, mid-century Kansas farm wife. An American flag on a pole stood off in the distance, a skinny rail of a young man came down the driveway to fetch mail from the mailbox.

We took some photos of her, and continued our walk, ending up, as all walks in Van Nuys must, in the presence of the Holy Trinity: La Iglesia, La Lavanderia, and El Licor. (Allan’s Liquors).


Allan's Liquors


Andy and Autumn.

Lasaine Ave.

Lasaine Ave.

Facade/6606 Lasaine Ave.

Facade/6606 Lasaine Ave.

Kitchen: 6606 Lasaine Av.

Kitchen: 6606 Lasaine Av.

It was blustery, cold, and windy. The skies were full of fast moving malevolence and I was speeding east on Vanowen, coming from lunch at Evergreen on Sherman Way, burning off fuel and the last evaporated remnants of Soju which also means “burned liquor” in Korean. I was sober, but I was sad, just my nature, brought into more vivid clarity after I saw an old friend for lunch who now lives in Boston and will not be returning to LA.

I was in my car, in my head, listening to Sylvia, David Raksin’s 1965 movie soundtrack about a mystery woman from back east investigated by a new lover in Los Angeles.

A blue open house sign on the corner of Louise and Vanowen advertised “Andy and Autumn”, two realtors. Alliterative and suggestive, it took my name, suggested a short story or film noir (“Susan and God”?) and reflected the weather: gray, moody, autumnal.

I drove up one of those gross cul-de-sacs packed in with remodeled ranch houses, where architects had gone shopping like some go to Ross or Marshalls, and had come out with bags full of bargain facades, cheap and badly made, in English, Spanish and Persian Colonial, slapped onto one-story houses crammed all together with big garages, big cars and big people.

Here live successful and normal people doing well in life.

Come look at them.

They live behind the smoked glass, the shutters, the awnings, the iron gates. They live inside air-conditioning ten months a year. They get their news from Fox News and their feelings from Facebook.

Andy and Autumn’s open house (at 6606 Lasaine Ave. in Lake Balboa) had an open door, opening into a dark, high ceilinged entrance. I knew, before I stepped in, that I was back in Barry and Helene/Frances and Paul territory, my relatives in Woodland Hills and West Hills. I was in their kind of home, built in the 1970s, covered in wall-to-wall brown carpets, beamed ceilings, red vinyl kitchen tile and dark brown cabinets with de-luxe garbage compactor and overhead florescent light fixture.

The only authenticity missing was a large boiling pot of chicken soup with onions, carrots and celery cooking on a July afternoon in the San Fernando Valley and a red-haired, nasal-voiced woman yelling, “Herman! Your sister is on the phone!”

There was a second floor, up a flight of brown-carpeted stairs, and four or five small bedrooms with brown carpet, and three bathrooms also in brown carpet.

Other buyers walked through the house, young couples and old couples, one looked Jewish and one was definitely Muslim in her head covering. The world may be exploding and angry, but here in the San Fernando Valley we are all Americans, dreaming of ugly houses we cannot afford and hoping for deliverance from unavoidable debt and unintended celibacy.

I spoke briefly to the realtors standing in the dark 1970s living room, a dark space from a dark decade where light rarely entered a house except from television.

I told them I was a writer and a photographer and gave them a card. And then I walked out, down a sidewalk, past the other pleasant and plastic monstrosities, architectural travesties, brutes in vinyl , gruesome and deformed; proudly and pitifully unaware of their unimaginable homeliness.

One beastly residence had two octagonal porthole windows, crooked vinyl panes, a Spanish tile roof and a pipe railed 1980s balcony clashing violently with a five-armed ornate lamppost, all elements fighting a generational war of ornament.

Ornament at War.

Ornament at War.

A few minutes on some streets in Lake Balboa, CA can induce vomiting.

I drove off, in my car, and went south down Louise, made a left on Victory and ended up inside a two-car garage in another pocket of the San Fernando Valley where my battles continued online and alone.





Rose Days



6610 Orion Ave



Along the pretty streets in the lush neighborhood north of Victory, west of Sepulveda, on Peach, Orion, Firmament, and Lemay Streets, there are numerous roses at the peak of bloom.

The flowers sit on properties with big lawns, round driveways, mature trees, picket fences; all-American looking estates, many dating from the 1940s.

Most still retain an open appearance, but on Peach, especially, the iron walls of garish and hostile security fences have broken up the grand openness and quaint neighborliness that once marked this district.