The Last Days of The Ridge Motel.


 

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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.

Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.
Courtesy: The Museum of the San Fernando Valley.

Here are the last days of The Ridge:

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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.

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Royal Oaks, 1950


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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Cigarette anyone?

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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.

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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!

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 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.

Maynard Parker


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.

 

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The Plaintive Call.


 

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.


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Dunbar Family Pool.
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Just Beyond the Fence Behind the Dunbars.
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A backyard paradise which will have an audience in the next few months.
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A single famly house now developed as a multi-family rental property.
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.

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Construction for the new multi-family development on a single-family lot.
The New Homes of the LLC Family.
The New Homes of the LLC Family.
“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.

A few hours later in the afternoon, the first story of the new guesthouse rises over the Dunbar fence.
The first story of the eventual two-story house rises above the Dunbar fence.
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Privacy Under Assault.


 

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?

Julius Blue, Whites Only, Van Nuys, 1948.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dec 3 1987

The Once and Future Panorama City.


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In Panorama City near Roscoe and Tobias, a once bustling shopping center, housing a Montgomery Ward and Electric Avenue, sits in desolation and decay.

Acres of asphalt, decorated with some tree islands, surround windowless buildings paint washed in blues, pinks, grays, and greens.

A bustling, prosperous, crowded shopping center closed down and emerged as a 21st Century ghost town. The stores died but the ghosts are alive.
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Los Angeles is like that. A wagon train of commercial banality moves around the city, setting up camp every decade and replacing what came before it. Melrose and Westwood were hot in the 80s and now it’s Santa Monica. Downtown LA was dead for so long. Now it is ascendant, and should stay that way until about 2030. Culver City is competing against Century City. Pasadena is jogging to keep in place, and upstart Glendale is emulating Beverly Hills.

And Reseda, Panorama City, Van Nuys, and Northridge are on life support.

Up there at Roscoe and Tobias something so vast and so important, a place that hundreds worked in, and thousands shopped at is gone, and waiting for a new huckster and a new plan.

What follows is purely imaginary but may contain some grains of truth.

No doubt, when the powers that be ordain it, it will be “mixed use” and appear gentle and green and village like. There will be fountains and benches and lounges and 14 movie theaters and 2 Costcos interspersed between senior living, child friendly, family welcoming, diversity hiring, green-certified and wifi-enabled promises.

The LA Times and the Daily News will write about it. But nobody will read it. An uninformed citizenry is the best choice for a nation hoping to remain powerless or for a community uninterested, unprepared and unlearned in its own future.

There will be a groundbreaking event with Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilwoman Nury Martinez, LA Philharmonic Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the St. Genevieve Catholic Church Choir, the Kaiser Permanente/Westfield Mall Hospital Executive Board, along with LAFD red fire trucks, LAPD black and white police cars and actors Eric Estrada, Mario Lopez, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez. KCAL will interrupt regular broadcasting to cover “breaking news” here.

Today’s event marks the revitalization of Panorama City!

This is a new day for Panorama City with walkable, urban living 20 miles north of the city center.

This will be the finest shopping center between Van Nuys and Pacoima!

When civilization comes to Los Angeles it has to be underwritten by banks, the Chinese Government and the Westfield Corporation.

I imagine it will be centered around walking. But no buses will stop here.

There will be 100 affordable income apartments renting for $2800 a month, and 4,000 market priced units starting at $800,000.

There will be an 8-story tall parking structure for 5,000 cars, and 10 bikes and high-security cameras surrounding it all.

In the 110-degree heat, black spandex clad people will drive here in their air-conditioned SUVs. They’ll eat organic ice cream,  climb artificial rock walls, work out at the new 24 Hour Fitness and emerge to drink ice coffee. They will eat Unami Burgers, drink Golden Road beer, and shop at Crate and Barrel. Every weekend, three new blockbuster films will screen here, and thousands of tattooed fatties in flip-flops will pay $16 a ticket to watch computer generated toys destroy the Earth.

President Donald Trump will send congratulatory messages to the community where nobody voted for him and promise “amazing and unbelievable things” for Panorama City. Forgotten was his promise to deport which would have brought the population of the area to less than 100 people.

Or maybe none of the above will happen, and the big frontier will go on a little longer, a reminder of what shopping center life was like in 1975.

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El Color de La Vida.


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Before the cold rains struck the San Fernando Valley late Monday afternoon, dark and menacing storm clouds went into formation.

Seen from the empty asphalt of an abandoned parking in Panorama City, the view east lived up to its name. The craggy, inky, rock-topped San Gabriels permitted fog to brush their face.

Eager to pursue the dark light show, we drove east on Roscoe where it opens up under the high voltage lines, across the valley, under the concrete freeway, cutting diagonally up Tuxford, emerging into the industrial abattoir of Pacoima where death and life, and light and shadow hunt under smokestacks and behind motels.

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The rains came down on Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Road, soaking Chabelita’s Restaurant, Gallardo’s Auto Repair, Fierro’s Muffler, Franco Tires, JC and Son Welding, and the Coral Bells Motel.

And then, in the mode of Los Angeles, the sky cleared. A vast, blue vista opened up. A cold wind followed.

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Carrying our cameras, we passed men who eyed us with suspicion. Señor Fierro came out of his muffler shop and kindly asked us why we were taking pictures. I handed him my card and told him how beautiful the sky was. He seemed to agree.

These people work hard. They come from lands where blood soaks the cross and breaks the heart. Now they weld metal and change tires and cut hair and dig trenches. Here are these Americans whose presence makes us American.

San Fernando Road is also part of Route 66. The historic state sign says so. The old motels along the highway attest to a long history of travellers who made their way into California: on foot, by automobile, in the back of trucks, hidden inside freight trains.

They got here and slept on the floor, two or three to a bed. Some had no papers. Some had no money. They were somewhere strange and hostile, but free, free to pursue and put down roots and stop running.

But death caught some too young. Some died under trains, running across tracks after the signal, or purposely running into death to escape the misery of life.

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Pacoima is strong. Its buildings are painted in the deepest blues, oranges, yellows, reds and greens. There is no room for ambiguity in hue. The choices are laid out in bright sunlight. The devil and the angel battle here. You can eat well or go hungry. You can get pregnant and high, or go to school and study hard. You can pray or you drive drunk into a wall. Pick the orange off the tree or the prostitute off the street. It’s up to you.

On walls, adjoining muffler shops and liquor stores, are murals of mythological, cultural and aesthetic magnificence. Poor Pacoima has more beautiful public art than Beverly Hills. And there is even a wall-sized portrait of that savior and scoundrel El Niño. Artist Levi Ponce is the Michaelangelo of this district.

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El Niño, as we all know, is in town for a few weeks. He may pay up or he may skip town without leaving payment. Nobody knows.

But Pacoima will carry on.

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