The Ridge Motel, at 6719 Sepulveda Blvd in Van Nuys, between Archwood and Lemay, recently closed down. Like the nearby Voyager (now demolished) it also enjoyed a debauched and degraded reputation of drugs and prostitution and illegal activities of every sort.
A long list of violations compiled by LA City inspectors is available online.
Just for nostalgia sake, I went past The Ridge one recent early evening and photographed the exterior of the abandoned building.
The style of the building, built in 1963, is somewhere between mid-century modern and Swiss Chalet in an open California courtyard. At its prime, the affordably priced motel was ideal for families. While kids swam in the pool, Dad could walk next door and buy a bottle of Scotch and a pack of cigarettes at Red Valentine’s Liquor Store where Boost Mobile is today.
Dinner at Hody’s at Victory and Sepulveda might cap off the day of excitement.
Here are the last days of The Ridge:
A new owner plans to erect a 3-4 story tall rental apartment complex in the modern style. There will be some affordable units but 85% will be market rate. GA Engineering obtained permission from the boss and sent me renderings of the new project that will replace the repellent Ridge.
Even if you have given up on LA, cursed its tackiness, screamed at its traffic, revolted from its inanities, choked on its air and dreamed of exile from its toxicities, you might be seduced on Sunday afternoon, as I was yesterday, by a place hidden away that seems like a small town in the Poconos.
I accompanied a friend on an errand. She manages properties, and was cleaning up after renters at a small house on a street called Lake Shore Avenue.
East of Glendale Blvd, south of the 2, west of Elysian Park, it sits snuggly into a hill that blocks the setting sun. Shady, built with little bungalows, it bisects, at Effie, an institution: Gateways Hospital and Community Mental Health Center.
A mid-century sign sits at the entrance to the facility.
Egregious, garishly lettered in big vertical typeface, it announces, creepily, its authoritative medicinal mission (rehabilitation, research, hospital) as if they were triple feature films from the 50s like “I Want to Live”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “The Blob.”
We parked on Effie and looked ahead at a wide dirt path climbing up a steep hill where nets were laid down to trap water and debris that may pour down here fiercely.
My friend went to work on her property, and I climbed up the trail.
Around me were dried, parched grasses, the remnants of homeless blankets and bags of clothes, and, at the top of the hill, a stucco shack of a house, with a pitted asphalt driveway, and a wooden deck. It was guarded by ziggurat cinder block walls and reinforced steel window bars.
The dilapidated home was a find, unusual in its state of disrepair. For we live in a city of brutally competitive property investment, where every top elevation has been captured by someone richer. This mountain hideaway lacked the hidden cameras, the expensive cars, the pool, and the pretense to architecture. An eccentric hermit might inhabit it.
Moby if he had no money might live here.
Its views stretched out to Silverlake, downtown, and tall radio towers across the way. Yet it was an uneasy isolation. It felt dangerous, not reassuring.
Bucolic and rustic in Los Angeles never exists in purity.
Helicopters and sirens in the distance, the threat of fire, the presence of people without homes, the surprise of events that might end our life erupting from the deepest earth, or from a violent intrusion through an open window. These are the sights, sounds and conjurations of the imagination haunting happy moments.
That is how that house and hill felt.
Back down on Lake Shore Avenue I walked past institutional houses, illuminated by industrial floodlights, set along the street, behind gates. Two older men were on the stoop of one place, smoking. They nodded to me and I waved back.
Outside the property of Gateways, dominating the bright part of the hill on Lake Shore Avenue, was a tall, two-toned, red and white brick house looming over a row of old garages. Homely, graceless, squinting in the sun, it refuted the lovely myth that everything historic is charming. The white “sanitary” bricks, glossy and washable, were often used in the 1920s on building facades for bakeries and cleaners.
A small signifier of community well-being, a landscaped traffic circle, ended my walk up Lake Shore.
That idea that a street could come together in a circle, unified by architecture, common purpose, cafes and conversation, there was something of that here, but I saw no other pedestrians. The only movement was daylight in retreat, shadows moving over the street.
After walking around, I came back to my friend’s property and went inside. We stacked dishes in the dishwasher, carried out bags of food from the refrigerator, and a basket of dirty towels. She turned on the alarm and locked the door. We got in the car and left to return to the real city beyond.
In 1954, architect Culver Heaton’s design for the Van Nuys Savings and Loan, with interior murals by artist Millard Sheets, rose at 6569 N. Van Nuys Bl.
Along with other financial institutions such as Jefferson Savings, Lincoln Savings, Great Western Bank and Bank of America, they served the local community of hard-working people who opened accounts that paid 3% or 4 1/2% interest and where polite tellers, dressed in pearls and high heels, addressed customers by their last (never their first) name.
Photographer Maynard Parker shot these images of the bank exterior and interiors. They bespeak a dignified and progressive institution whose architecture was as up-to-date as its vision of a prosperous, safe Van Nuys. A sign on the outside of the building reads “The Home of Security” leaving no doubt to depositors about the solidity of the S&L.
Mr. Sheets was a prodigious artist whose work can be seen all over Southern California, most notably on the exteriors of many of those white, marble clad, Home Savings of America buildings that resemble mausoleums.
Architect Culver Heaton designed many Mid 20th Century churches in Southern California in a style of expressionistic eccentricity long departed from our stripped-down imagination. His Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale (1965) is almost campy in form with its prayerful red roof, rising like hands, above a turquoise reflecting pool and a statue of Jesus on water fashioned by Herb Goldman.
In the 1980s, there was a national scandal and shakeout in the savings and loan industry and many closed down. The de-industrialization of Van Nuys, and its decline as a manufacturing and commercial center, coincided with a tremendous increase in immigration from Central America.
Today, a Guatemalan market, La Tapachulteca, occupies the old bank property.
But last year, in a hopeful sign of better times, Boaz Miodovsky of Ketter Construction, who is the new owner, plans on demolishing the old bank which has now been degraded from its original condition. His company will design and erect a multi-story apartment house with ground floor retail. The front, on VNB, will be five stories tall and taper down to three stories in back.These illustrations, which he sent to me, are preliminary and will be further refined to include landscaping and additional detail.
Nostalgist and Van Nuys Neighborhood Council member John Hendry, who grew up and still lives in Van Nuys, alerted me to the impending demolition and asked me to research the origins of the historic structure. Quirino De La Cuesta, another VNNC member, stepped in and purchased these images from the Huntington Library.
And Mr. Miodovsky, in a nod to the old murals, will have new artwork painted within the new structure. It will be created by local artists and reflect the continuing development of Van Nuys which hit its bottom and is now climbing out parcel by parcel.
Browsing through the archives of the Huntington Library, I came across a set of photographs by Maynard Parker. They depict the inside and outside of a new home, one of 119 in a 100-acre development called Royal Oaks, south of Sepulveda, near Ventura, in 1950.
Back then there was no 405, no 101.
Sepulveda Blvd. was a two-lane road whose serpentine forms slithered through the Santa Monica Mountains, an undeveloped area of oaks, grasses, hills and clear skies. A 1939 view from Magnolia looking south shows its verdant ruralness.
The 1000-acre estate of General Sherman was subdivided into various tracts, and given a pretentious name: Royal. There would be Royal Oaks and Royal Woods and Sherman Woods. These luxury homes in California Ranch, Early American, English Tudor and other styles would nestle in the low foothills of Sherman Oaks and usher in a new chapter of suburban life for the socially upward class of settlers.
The first subdivision, Royal Oaks in Sherman Woods, was a $1,100,000 investment in land and construction cost. 100 acres and 119 sites were priced between $6500-$9500 each and “fully improved with paved streets, sewer and water systems, underground wiring and ornamental street lighting.”
A December 4, 1949 LAT advertisement assured that the “smog-free” estate community was carefully restricted and protected against harmful encroachments.
Ironically, this same community today lives amidst the biggest encroachment of all time: the concrete, noise, fumes and traffic of the 405 and a furiously angry pack of speeding, distracted women in SUVs whose disregard for life and law afflicts and curses the roads 24/7.
Let us exit 2016, and return to the peace and quiet of 1950: less cars, no freeways, and dappled sunlight peaking through the marine layer……
The house in the photos, a model home, is, even by today’s standards, a substantial and beautiful place. There are large oak trees and a gently sloping lawn caressing a copiously large and expansive house of strong and graceful lines.
Un-ornamented and quietly self-assured, the architecture is ahistorical and gracious. A three-car garage, casement windows, large overhanging roof and a newly paved street proclaim affluence without ostentatiousness.
Inside, there is a dining room wallpapered in faux stone and a modern ceiling fixture -not a chandelier- hanging over a light wood table with low backed chairs. Even in 1950, California design was advanced. Who, in West Hollywood today, would not kill for this room?
In the living room, there is a large, abstractly printed, sectional, rattan leg sofa. It sits against a wall of sheer drapes and floor-to-ceiling windows. An Oriental coffee table, low-armed chairs, dark shaded lamps, and a wood paneled ceiling effortlessly meld the West Coast with the Far East.
The kitchen is charmless but functional, all in white metal, illuminated by flush ceiling fixtures, and equipped with double ovens, work stations, and a sit-down, countertop desk with an upholstered chair and a dial telephone.
Try these peanut butter and celery canapés. They’re marvelous.
There is an indoor/outdoor casual room, probably the only type of room we don’t make anymore, paved in brick; furnished in metal, washable chairs, and served by an open brick passage where food and drinks might be passed from kitchen maid to seated guests. A hanging starlight fixture and a large, potted metal tree reference nature and the outdoors.
Back when we were on Leyte Island killing Japs we never thought we’d be sitting here a few years later drinking Mai-Tai’s!
A guest room has shag carpeting, pleated drapes and sliding glass doors. There is wall-to-wall carpeting. And twin day beds with an L-shaped coffee table topped with a ceramic dove and a bowl of wax fruit, a writing desk with drawers and a decorative lamp. Here, visiting niece Helen or Uncle Homer or the Haynes Sisters stayed for weeks on end after arriving at Union Station from Chicago or Kansas City or Grand Island.
If you need anything from the linen closet ask Beulah and she’ll get it for you.
The presentation of an ideal lifestyle, the yearning for comfort and luxury, the conception and presentation of a story, these are those elements of fantasy wrought into reality and sold to us by imaginative and innovative builders, architects, designers, decorators, marketers and public relations professionals.
These are the images on the surface of Maynard Parker’s black and white photographs.
The untold story, left out of these gorgeous photos from 66-years-ago, is the enslavement of work, the onerous debt, the ecological destruction and the wanton wasting of the Golden State’s open spaces, all sacrificed under the altar of material house dreams. When we have it all how do we know when we have it all?
We still want to live here. We are just lost getting here.
A few weeks ago, around 7:30 at night, I received a phone call from an upset stranger.
“Paul Dunbar” said he was a neighbor. A woman had given him my number. And told him Andrew, at “Here in Van Nuys”, might be helpful.
Mr. Dunbar explained that he lived with his wife and two children in a home he has owned for the past 16 years. His 1950s ranch has three bedrooms, and a large den facing a backyard pool. It is a classic old Valley house. But it is now under assault.
A few months earlier, the house behind the Dunbar’s was sold and purchased by an LLC. That entity was now constructing two houses, intended for rental use, on an 8,099 sf lot, zoned R1 (single family).
The back house, entirely new, will rise up two stories and contain a two-car garage below, and living spaces upstairs. The renters will enjoy an outdoor balcony whose view will be the Dunbar pool below and the back of the Dunbar House where all activities, indoor and outdoor, will be under the scrutiny of strangers.
A backhoe had dug up all the vegetation, and had deforested the backyard. A naked slat wood fence was all that stood between the neighboring houses. Rising up, like Godzilla over Tokyo, was a new 22.5-foot high house with many windows.
The egregious backyard neighbor’s two houses will be rented out. The renters (whomever they are) will live, and look down, across the entire width and breadth of the formerly private property. At night, the Dunbar Family drama will be a stage show for prying eyes.
Exhaustively, and in detail, Paul Dunbar kept records of the various letters, emails and phone calls he made to many city agencies and offices: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, District 6; Assembly member Adrin Nazarian; LA’s Department of Building and Safety; City Inspectors,the City Attorney’s Office. Senior Lead Officer Erika Kirk, LAPD, even intervened, with no results.
The upshot of the situation is that a speculator can buy a home on a single-family lot and put two houses on one lot with a “variance”.
All the neighbors in the area are aghast. They know anybody can now come in and demolish. And then construct two new, rentable houses on old, one-family 8,000 SF lots. A bad precedent has been set.
“What is the point of investing your life savings and a large portion of your monthly paycheck into a single family neighborhood? The city decides they will change it with no explanation/warning. And NO representation to voice your feedback, unless you spend more money and time for an attorney to fight what is already a done deal?” Mr. Dunbar asked.
Van Nuys, in the aftermath of the recession, has regained most of its pre-2007 property values. But the average house in our neighborhood might be worth $550,000. If a home sells for $500,000 and needs $150,000 worth of work to remodel it, there is little incentive to flip it if the ceiling is only $700,000.
Therefore, the only way to make property profitable in Van Nuys is to carve up the pieces and put some income producing business on it.
Some speculators are trying the LLC route. Others are engaged in various nefarious scams.
There are now businesses that are buying up houses around the area and using single-family houses as sober living halfway houses. The owners bill insurance companies thousands of dollars for each resident, and then cram six or seven un-related adults into a house. The operators can earn $20,000 or $30,000 a month paid for by health insurance, subsidized by Obama Care.
My cousin, who sometimes works in these “sobriety” houses, says they are a profitable business and he knows of people who bought up multiple $1,500,000 houses in Beverlywood and set them up as post-addiction estates. Van Nuys, with lower cost housing, is in the sights of unscrupulous people bilking medical insurance to finance these arrangements.
Other properties that are zoned for single-family houses are now being redeveloped as denser housing to encourage more intensive use of large parcels of land. Allegedly creating a more walkable city, the new “small-lot” zoning will pour additional cars onto the street day and night.
The LLC situation means that individuals are not the new homeowners. Companies owning many houses will buy up distressed properties and rent them out, and they will also find ways around the zoning laws to carve up lots and cram in homes.
Poor Van Nuys.
Even when properties are rehabilitated they are simultaneously degraded.
Who is in charge of zoning? And who is in charge of handing out permits? Why and how is it allowed that an LLC can throw up two houses on one lot in the midst of our single-family home neighborhood?
Why are we always fighting new forces intent on destroying Van Nuys?
Why are people in power deaf to their constituency?
According to WWII Army Enlistment Records, on March 9, 1942, Julius Blue, a 21-year-old Negro citizen from Walker County, Alabama enlisted at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The United States had been attacked by Japan three months earlier, and this nation was now involved in a struggle against the formidable and murderous Axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy.
Unknown to most of the world, Germany was also engaged in the world’s most advanced genocide against unarmed Jewish citizens of every nation in Europe.
America fought not only to win, but to free enslaved peoples.
When the war was over, Julius Blue, now married, made his way to Los Angeles and settled at 1655 E. 40th Place in South LA.
By 1948, Los Angeles was booming. Jobs, factories, housing: the state was on fire.
And up in Van Nuys, near the corner of Roscoe and Sepulveda, 392 single-family homes were under construction at “Allied Gardens.” Terms were very favorable for veterans. A $10,400 home with a $66.80 mortgage could be had for $400 down.
So one fine day in 1948, Julius Blue, his wife and her parents made their way up to Allied Gardens to look at the new homes.
When they got to the development, instead of being shown plans, the promoters handed the Blue Family a mimeographed document. It contained this description:
“No person whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian Race (and for the purposed of this paragraph no Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu or any persons of the Ethiopian, Indian or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian) shall at any time live upon any of the lots in said Tract 15010”
Boltenbacher and Kelton, the builders, were allowed, at that time, to restrict purchasing of their homes to only whites. They were unapologetic about their open prejudices and discriminatory policies.
In that same year, 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled against race restrictive covenants.
If Mr. Blue had been able to buy a house at Roscoe and Sepulveda, he might have tried to apply for work at the brand new General Motors plant five minutes away at Van Nuys Boulevard north of Raymer.
But that plant also discriminated against black people. There were thousands of jobs, but only a handful of black workers, mostly janitors, employed in that factory.
These are some tales of old Los Angeles told by the LA Sentinel, a black-owned paper whose news coverage reported (and continues to report) stories often ignored by the LA Times and other white-owned media.
While it is amusing in our present time, and poetically just, to imagine that the multi-ethnic San Fernando Valley was once, by law and custom, reserved only for white buyers, it is still shocking to contemplate the blatant sadism, inhumanity and unfairness of that old time racism.
Julius Blue was not the only black man who had difficulty buying a home in Los Angeles. The August 12, 1948 LA Sentinel also had this headline:
HATEFUL SIGN PLASTERED ON “KING” COLE’S $85,000 PALACE
Nat “King” Cole and his wife were planning on moving into Hancock Park but they were bitterly opposed by neighbors who feared that the dark-skinned entertainer and popular singer’s presence would reduce property values.
In 1948, Nat “King” Cole: wealthy, talented, successful, world-famous; fought to buy his own house in Los Angeles.
Think about it.
As a footnote, in 1987, Julius Blue, 65, was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting in South Los Angeles.
I don’t know whether he survived.
But his story is the story of so many black men. How they managed to stay alive and keep their chins up high is truly astonishing and inspiring. And deeply distressing.
We Americans are the inheritors of an illogic and unreason that herds men and women into racial categories.
We Americans must uphold individual, not group, character as the only standard of moral judgment.
If we again buy into con-man ideas about group wide evil, we are going back in time to somewhere dark and ignorant, not pushing ahead into enlightenment and reason.