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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Stamping Out Deviancy: 1966


 

“The community was stunned last week when Capt. Eugene Linton, commander of the Van Nuys Police Division, said homosexuals, prostitution and wife swapping parties were real problems in the area”- LA Times/ October 13, 1966

In the mid 1960s, the Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys area was stunned, and shocked, to learn that vice was rampant.

To deal with sexual deviancy, the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce, led by President Dr. Fred Adelson, proposed “citizen patrols” to inspect bars and nightclubs that might be contributing to societal breakdown.

Lest the general public think that there was a complete reversion to Sodom and Gomorrah, Adelson assured that morality and progress was well entrenched with many fine shopping and medical centers, high-rise buildings and “14 well-attended churches” attesting to the general goodness of ethics in the community.

How high-rise buildings, medial centers, shopping malls and churches might reduce the amount of wife swapping and homosexuality in Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys is one of the enduring mysteries, that 50 years later cannot be answered. Perhaps florescent lighting, elevators and sealed windows cooled Mid-Century sexual desire, even when high heels, desk drawer bourbon, short skirts and high finance stoked the fires.

Whatever became of the good-minded crackdown was drowned out by the long-haired, psychedelic party that swept the Golden State around the time Jeannie popped out of her bottle.

But in recalling the tenor of 1966, we are reminded again that the reassuring voice of business, law enforcement and religious leadership has never faltered. And as Ted Cruz reminds us… will continue to inspire us even in the 21st Century.

 

 

 

Drunk Driver Arrested: September 23, 1963


Foolish Robert Norris, 25, of 4809 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, was celebrating his last day on probation and decided to celebrate. He got drunk and went for a drive. After he was pulled over, near Balboa and Vanowen, he told the police, “You’ll have to shoot me to take me back.” Then he ran away but was subdued by four cops and taken into custody.

This is a glimpse into the good old days of Van Nuys when criminals were thin and white and had Anglo-Saxon names.

Photos: Jeff Robbins
Courtesy LAPL/Valley Times

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A Great Wall on Burbank.


“Building-to-street proportion is the relationship between the height of buildings on either side of a street and the width between those buildings. An ideal proportion between these two creates a pleasant and visually interesting public realm. The public realm, therefore, may be considered as an “outdoor room” that is shaped by 
the “walls” of the building heights and the “ floors” of the roadway.

Outdoor rooms with excessively wide roadways or short building heights tend to eliminate any sense of enclosure
 for the pedestrian.”
-Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision Design Guide, 2014

Our city, with its sprawling boulevards and speeding cars, is often cursed with roads way too wide for pedestrians. Think of six-lane Van Nuys Boulevard, bordered by one-story high buildings, and worse, parking lots.

In some areas of the city, like on Pico Boulevard and in Studio City along Ventura Blvd. planted islands with trees now break-up the wide asphalt. New “outdoor rooms” with a sense of enclosure and protectiveness emerge. These are deliberate and designed for upgrading ugliness.

But sometimes even an ongoing construction project can enlighten and transform a bleak stretch of formerly wide street monotony.

In North Hollywood, on Burbank Blvd. just east of Vineland, DWP has been tunneling and installing a new water delivery system.

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And along part of the route where a deep, underground hole was dug, DWP erected 20-foot high, wood and metal-framed walls. It has temporarily transformed the commercial district of that area by slicing the four-lane road into a two-lane and creating, along the sidewalk, a European type shaded alley.

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Work Area #12, as it is officially known, requires a pit to launch a tunnel-boring machine that will travel south, along Lankershim Blvd. for more than a mile. A new water pipeline will replace the aging 1940s infrastructure.

While the construction is going on, some streets have been closed off, which no doubt contributes to aggravation and inconvenience for some area residents and businesses. But the rerouting and reconfiguration has some pleasant side effects.

On Burbank Blvd. cars now stop twice, before proceeding slowly, down a narrow road whose borders are shaded by high walls and low buildings.

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On the western edge of the excavation, two tanks tower above the road, as if heralding a ceremonial gateway into the neighborhood.

And on the south side of the street, the high walls come right up to the sidewalk, creating a shady and meandering path alongside area businesses.

The gift of this unwelcome intrusion allows us to experience a different LA with traffic calming elements. What emerges? Less cars, slower drivers, shaded walkways; walled off from the exhaust fumes and the aggression of speeding motorists. Industrial construction materials in steel, wood and concrete function as street sculpture.

For the time being, a stretch of Burbank Boulevard is a living experiment in rezoning by accident.

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Liquor Store Robbery Suspects in Custody: October 31, 1963


Photos courtesy of LAPL. Credit: Jeff Robbins

A few weeks before Artist Josef Silhavy presented his distinguished oil portrait of Thomas Jefferson to the President and Executive Vice President of the Jefferson Savings Bank in Van Nuys, the Red Valentine Liquor Store at 6735 Sepulveda Blvd. was held up and robbed of $25 on Halloween Night 1963.

Raymond Carpenter
Raymond Carpenter
Ronald Lee Ellmers
Ronald Lee Ellmers

Goateed and white-shirted Raymond Carpenter was arrested, along with his accomplice Ronald Lee Ellmers. Both men were AWOL from Fort Ord, a US Army post on Monterey Bay, CA, which closed in 1994.

The Red Valentine Liquor Store was also the scene of a shooting on June 11, 1951.

To our modern eyes, accustomed to seeing oversized vaca negras in black, XXL shirts emerge from every televised car chase, these criminals of a half-century ago are lithe, fit and neatly groomed.

If they were young, alive and looked like that today, they might be sitting at Starbucks working on their blog. Or perhaps mixing mash at MacLeod Ale.