Historic Van Nuys: Katherine Avenue and Vicinity

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Is Van Nuys, as some believe, a hopelessly hellish place beyond redemption?

Perhaps not.

Hidden just east of Van Nuys Boulevard, south of Vanowen, is a secret garden neighborhood of historic houses, quaint architecture and lovely homes. Katherine Avenue is the heart of it, and it has a landscaped traffic circle, a construct of such ingeniousness and calmness that it is a wonder that it is not used everywhere.  Shadier, slower moving, safer, the neighborhood could almost pass for Pasadena.

Along Katherine, and down Kittridge, there are many old houses, some dating back to the early 20th Century, with large gardens and an eclectic bunch of styles: Mission, Spanish, Wooden. Many fly the American Flag on a front porch, a marker of civility, pride and patriotism signaling that our best hope for America begins at home.

Writer and comedian Sandra Tsing-Loh lived here for a few years and wrote a satirical novel about her experience: “A Year in Van Nuys”.  Unfortunately, her humor was less remembered than her brutal depiction of the suffering of having to live in Van Nuys. 14132 Kittridge 14127 Kittridge

Walking this neighborhood I found a Mid-20th Century apartment building on the corner of Katherine and Vanowen which had been stylishly and subtly updated with a good-looking wood and iron security gate. Roofline edging was added, smartly and economically emphasizing dark horizontal strips of wood.  The whole place was neat and well-maintained with an aura of Japan. DSCF0055 DSCF0054 DSCF0053

There are also ugly new projects (14310 Vanowen) that some call improvements, including a gross trend, seen around these parts, of painting plain buildings in burgundy and gold, pasting thin stone veneers on walls and the lower parts of structures, and dropping decorative lanterns into the mix. Security lights are on all night illuminating a deluxe prison. I wrote about this trend last year at another desecration: Kester Palace. DSCF0039 14306 Vanowen

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Again, what is missing in Ms. Nury Martinez’s Sixth District are big investment and big plans. There is gridlock in Van Nuys because the people who live here are not making enough noise. They are not demanding that their community go in a better direction. The passivity of the area is understandable as many who live here are just surviving and trying to get by. But what about the larger city of Los Angeles and the re-development of the San Fernando Valley? Must it be done so poorly and so haphazardly? How many more years will Van Nuys sit with its empty stores, empty parking lots, filthy sidewalks, and battered down signs?

Mayor Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez will no doubt be attending LA River clean-ups and “pride” events but will they be building the buildings and businesses in an architectural and civic plan worthy of a “great”city? Will the city which counts among its citizens the wealthiest celebrities in the world say it has no money?

If you walk, as I did, along the better parts of Van Nuys, you will learn that there are people and places worth saving. The powers that be must recognize it.

The DePauk Family in Van Nuys.




Gilmore studio


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.”

From the Daily News. More evidence of our advanced culture in Los Angeles:

A vandal or vandals used either a BB gun or slingshot to break numerous windows in businesses and autos Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009, in Reseda. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer) (Michael Owen Baker)

Vandals shoot out windows in Reseda,  Van Nuys

Updated: 12/25/2009 12:43:52 AM PST

Vandals with a Grinch-like spirit shattered several commercial and car windows on a 4.5-mile spree through Reseda and Van Nuys, officials said Thursday.

Armed with pellet guns or sling shots, the vandals took aim at the windows between 9:30-10 p.m. Wednesday along Sherman Way, and Sepulveda and Ventura boulevards, authorities said.

No one was injured, but the vandalism rattled nerves and left several wondering just who could be so cruel around the holidays.

“It’s bad — especially these days with the economy so bad,” said Kim Yoon, owner of Variety Printing and Graphics Inc.

“Business is slow, and now we have to spend money on this.”

The alarm company that provides security to the Sherman Way printing business alerted Yoon about the vandalism at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Vandals had shot up a 68-by-88-inch window — one of three large window panels — at the shop in the 17600 block of Sherman Way.

With the massive broken window removed, a shivering Yoon and other employees were forced to wear winter coats at work Thursday until it could be covered with plywood.

Less than one block away, a large window outside Marinello School of Beauty in the 18400 block of Sherman Way was also damaged.

On Thursday, plywood served as a temporary replacement next to images of manicures, haircuts and makeup.

Vandals fired at three car windows and at Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Ventura Boulevard in Reseda.

Employees were toasting bagels inside Western Bagel in the 7800 block of Sepulveda Boulevard when the window vandals struck around 10 p.m.A pellet marred the 60-by-40-inch window, which remained intact. The pellet missed a late-night customer by only a few inches and frightened employees, said manager Adilza Ramos.

The 24-hour eatery will replace the window.

Ramos said the vandalism was disappointing.

“They are probably depressed,” said Ramos, speculating about the vandals’ intent. “They wanted to do something to show that they were here.”

Staff Writer Jerry Berrios contributed to this report.

Another Killing (Third in Two Months).

People are being shot and killed all around this city and here in Van Nuys, where three fatal shootings in the last month are putting death to the lie that crime in down in Los Angeles.

This is a serious illness, one that boggles my mind. How can we speak of spending billions to police Afghanistan and Iraq while people are being randomly killed by domestic terror here in California?

Where is outcry for the loss of human life? Where is the humanity of Los Angeles?

Man Killed in Van Nuys Shooting

Updated: Friday, 23 Oct 2009, 6:02 PM PDT
Published : Friday, 23 Oct 2009, 5:37 PM PDT
Posted by: Tony Spearman

Van Nuys (myFOXla.com) – One male was fatally shot in Van Nuys on Friday. The shooting was reported at 3:50 p.m. in the 15400 block of Vanowen Street, near Sepulveda Boulevard, said Officer Norma Eisenman of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police were looking for two suspects described only as males between 17 and 20 years old, she said.

The motive for the shooting was unknown.

Destroying an Architectural Gem in Van Nuys.

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Sylvan St. Van Nuys

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.