Yesterday was CicLAvia


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Yesterday, Sunday, March 22nd, was CicLAvia in the San Fernando Valley.

Lankershim Boulevard, from Chandler to Ventura, and Ventura to Coldwater Canyon, was closed to cars.

I rode from my house near Sepulveda and Victory to the starting line at North Hollywood Station.

It was foggy.

Mayor Eric Garcetti: articulate, young and progressive, spoke before the opening.

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It was a perfect San Francisco day to ride bikes in Los Angeles.

Cool, overcast, gentle.

And the sometimes indifferent people were seemingly transformed into better ones.

A cop saw me inflating my bike tire before the race and said, “Let me walk you down to where they have a bike repair station.”

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Shopkeepers along the route waved and handed out chapstick, water, and energy bars.

In Studio City, I stopped and ate a Belgian waffle at Waffles DeLiege food truck.

Fortified and energized I turned around and rode the route back to the starting point in North Hollywood. And continued down Chandler.  Making my way home, under trees and cloudy skies, along deserted streets .

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Alma Imogene Payne Waters (1922 – 2014) at 14336 Gilmore St., 1952


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Don Waters (b. 1954), who grew up in Van Nuys and now lives in Missouri, has been a longtime reader of this blog.

After seeing my recent photos of Gilmore Street, he recognized one particular bungalow court at 14336.

His parents, Donald (1929-2007) and Alma (1922-2014) had lived there in the early 1950s.

A 2007 obituary provides some family biography.

Don, very considerately, sent me a 1952 photograph of his mother, standing in the courtyard of the complex.

It must have been a quite pleasant neighborhood to live in: schools, government offices, stores, and churches, within walking distance.

In 1952, the San Fernando Valley was on the precipice of speeding into the future full throttle.

And now, in 2015, we look back and wonder what went so very wrong.

Nobody wears skirts in Van Nuys anymore.

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Gilmore St.- Diptychs


Here are six diptychs I created from yesterday’s walk down Gilmore St. between Kester and Tyrone.

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“You write a blog to improve Van Nuys? That’s good cause this place needs a lot of improvement.”-Man at Central Lutheran Church

 

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Gilmore St. Between Kester and Tyrone


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I walked along Gilmore this morning, a varied street one block north of Victory, and found old bungalows, church gardens, crappy apartments and neatly tended ones; along with a shoe repair shop, new Chinese food and a Mid-Century pharmacy.

Gilmore is an old street. A sidewalk was paved in 1929, but the road goes back further than that.

It was part of old Van Nuys, near town, school and church.

In the obliterating 1950s-70s, many old houses were torn down and replaced with rentable apartments, way before the revived fashion for “Mission.” If Gilmore had been preserved as only homes, it might look like today like a neighborhood of Pasadena.

 


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Guns, gangs, crime.

One might understand a small shopkeeper viewing the aforementioned with fear or suspicion.

A Photographer?

Yes it is the photographer, with a camera slung around his neck, who gets the nasty stares and the unwanted questions.

At the colorful Kovacs Pharmacy, a pharmacist came out, confronted me and wanted to know why I was shooting photos.

She asked for my card. I had none. I told her I was a photographer.

She went back inside.

Does one need to have an answer for taking a photo? Would you ever dream of walking up to a stranger- talking on the phone- and asking who they were calling? Would you walk up to a driver stopped at a light and ask, “Why are you driving?”


 

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At 14417, next door to Kovacs, time stands still as faded light illuminates a garage set way back in the yard, the kind of house and garden that once dotted this street.

At Sylmar Avenue, the Van Nuys Elementary School is still handsome and historic, roofed in red tiles and painted in warm tan.

The infamous spray marker of the Barrio Van Nuys (BVN) marks a fence outside of a bungalow court across from the school.

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The Central Lutheran Church, whose white and red brick façade on Victory at Tyrone seems sad and neglected, has a surprisingly vigorous and lush group of edible gardens spreading over at least a half acre or more of land. Very well-tended and green, the vegetables and plants propagate magnificently in fertile soil alongside wooden stakes and raised beds. It looks like a future bumper crop. Its gentle greenery stands in stark contrast to next door car repair and vacant parking lots.

When people talk about the revival of Van Nuys, of making the community better, they might start by visiting a street like Gilmore. Narrow and walkable, tree-shaded and neighborly, it has a variety of both individuals and institutions who are already contributing positive change to this district. They are feeding the homeless, educating the children, planting organic gardens and making Van Nuys come to life in the most unexpected and surprising places.

A Van Nuys Experimental District.


What if there were a Van Nuys Experimental District for architecture?

I mentioned this to Andreas Samson last night, the idea of building, near the Busway and the Civic Center, a walkable but unique area of designed urbanism.

Integrating old buildings against striking new ones might help bring revitalization to the dead zone.

Looking online at photos at Archello reveals that the rest of the world, from Vietnam to Australia, already does that.

Here are some examples of new urban design–some of which may be applicable to Van Nuys:

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

Unstable Atmosphere/ Yesterday, a Strange Light


Yesterday, I went downtown. I took my camera. And I drove, in my meandering way, locally, hunting for light and shadow.

I left Van Nuys and went through Griffith Park and picked up Glendale Blvd where it emerges in Silver Lake and runs down into Echo Park.

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Near Effie Street, I stopped. And I saw dark clouds hover over the silver skyline, glass glistening coldly.

I parked where dozens of people sleep on the sidewalk next to a storage building and the street ends at steep, ugly concrete stairs. Climbing the steps, I stood near the metal rails and looked towards our downtown draped under an impending storm.

Yesterday, Sunday, a strange light and gentle gloom came in and out, an alternating atmosphere of rain and cold windy gray.

Thoughtlessly happy Los Angeles wore an unfamiliar face. The city everyone thinks they know once again confounded me.

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Near 4th and Main- View NE

I drove on to my destination at 4th and Main.

Downtown, at the art loft, a show at 2A Gallery was closing. The works were those painted by my friend Tam Warner’s father, Orien Lowell Greenough. He died, poor, in 2008. He was a liberal who hated war. His creations on canvas satirized, in depth, the hypocrisy and brutality of the killers and statesmen who run this world. His time had Stalin, Hitler, and Khrushchev.

We have ISIS and Putin, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

The men who put on the show, Clay and Calvin, and their 2A Gallery, had recently come into my friend’s life, nurturing, elevating and sanctifying the late painter and his work. His daughter, after a run of mistreatment by another gallery, was grateful for their care and love.

It seemed as if Orien Lowell Greenough and his work were again going to find recognition in Los Angeles, full validation that had eluded him when he was alive, the story of so many artists, and writers.

And then Calvin and Clay confirmed that they were not only closing the show, but closing out their life in Los Angeles. They would be packing up and moving to McComb, Mississippi to live in a more affordable area. They would leave in 30 days, and drive 4 days across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, eventually arriving in The Magnolia State, where the flag still flies the colors of The Confederacy.

Everyone was sad. But none more so than my friend, who had made a connection with the newly departing angels who had came out of nowhere to champion undervalued Orien Lowell Greenough.

Tomorrow, there may be money in art, but today you need to eat. Like the dead artist, the living gallery was squashed by the bottom line.

The truth is that they could not afford to live in Los Angeles any more. Or perhaps the truth is that they chose not to live in Los Angeles because home was somewhere else. Truth is subjective- so the artist claims.

Their departure is a loss to this city.

And when I left the loft, calmed by two evaporating beers, I drove in the dark rain through dystopian concrete canyons. I lost my way downtown, and found that my usual entrance onto the 101 was closed. I had to make a detour, a rerouting of my way home, that took me down old Temple Street, and over to Rampart, where I found a wet and slow, hidden and unfamiliar way to get onto the freeway and back home.

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Hart Street, Firmament Avenue, Sherman Way and Sepulveda.


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Yesterday, between the rains, after the air had been washed, the skies were radiant. And enormous cumulus clouds towered above, bottoms gray, tops white. The sun came and went. Streets of dark shadows ended in blinding light.

I walked in the wind up Sepulveda, north of Vanowen, and went left along Hart Street.

This is a neat neighborhood of mostly well-kept houses on generous lots. It is not rich here, but the general feeling seems contented. There are no sidewalks but lots of walkers.

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Near Sepulveda, at 15322 Hart, there is a burned-out house with a lovely second floor balcony and no trespassing signs on a gate; secluded and romantic, it awaits rebirth from ruin.

At 15439 Hart, someone is selling a 1970 (?) Yellow Ford pickup truck.

15521 Hart (built 1952) is a white house with blue awnings. Though it faces south, into the hot sun, there are no shades trees in front.

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Firmament Avenue is the last street in this neighborhood east of the 405 freeway. Large houses and empty lots, well kept estates, battered weed infested places, townhouses and bungalows, all are found on the block between Hart and Sherman Way.

These are the kind of typically Californian streets that make people from other states uneasy. They mix danger with intoxicating beauty, ruin next to richness. Is this a good or a bad place? In this area an old lady might come outside and offer you apple pie… or aim a gun at your head.

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7110 Firmament could be a location in a 1940s Van Nuys movie with its roadside mailbox, cyclone fence, picket gate and wood houses set way back behind mature trees and overgrown ivy.


Next door, at 7128 Firmament, a brown stucco house with a red tile roof and white balustrade bedecked wall is carefree and liberal with its architectural elements. They are seemingly picked out of air and dropped onto a large lot hidden behind black screened fences and decorative lanterns. A Nury Martinez election placard is planted near the driveway.

Up at 15549 Sherman Way, Helen Towers (built 1972) is a large, 93-unit apartment building with a pool and lots of parking set on an acre and a half property right next to the on-ramp for the Northbound 405. Strangely bucolic, it seems well kept, if a bit dated.

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At the Starbucks (15355 Sherman Way) a man ignited himself in burning flames last week and later died. I stopped off there for iced green tea. There were no signs of death, only life, and frozen faces glued to phone and screen.

My walk back home took me past the Royal [6920] Sepulveda Apartments, a “K” shaped, two-story complex frivolous in design, far from royal. Built in 1961, the 92-unit complex seems sex-soaked and secretive, untethered from anything around it, a floating, decadent motel of licentious and libidinous acts. Surrounded by parking, for quick escapes and quick arrivals, behind its closed drapes lie transient guests.

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