Bank of America, Van Nuys Boulevard, 1968.


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While researching online, I came across these 1968 photographs of the Van Nuys branch of Bank of America shot by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

The bank at 6551 Van Nuys Boulevard still stands, still functions as a bank. But today the building is surrounded by the detritus of modern Van Nuys: garbage, homeless people, illegal vendors, trash, graffiti and the smell of urine.

 

The Incarcerated City.


 

_ABH2013 On these winter days, when the streets are emptied of cars, and the skies are filling with rain clouds, our neighborhood of Van Nuys cools down and empties out, revealing a strange amalgam of enormous parking lots; as well as businesses and homes surrounded by iron gates and fences.

In its entirety, these fortifications evoke prison: a high security, patrolled, guarded, and fearsome place where criminals and children are kept back by a fortress of steel and iron.

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For sixteen years I’ve lived here, always imagining that every New Year will bring an imaginative, humane and socially comprehensive new architecture into Van Nuys.

I fantasize that the parking lots will be torn up and rows of orange trees replanted in the soil. I think someone will see the enormous plots of land, now taken up with blight and decay, and see this as the new place to construct walkable communities with native plants and organic gardens surrounding little residential communes.

That is the dream, shared by some of my neighbors.

Reality is something else.

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On Sepulveda, between Archwood and Lemay, the hellish Ridge Motel is on Death Row, surrounded by fencing and covered with graffiti and garbage. It had long outlived its usefulness and functioned only as a prostitution and drug outlet, blighting its surroundings and neighbors.

Across Sepulveda, Fresh and Easy has closed, taking with it moldy produce and difficult checkouts. But sometimes I’d come here, and liked its convenience, its weird combination of English, Indian, Spanish and Asian foods, its overpriced milk, eggs and breads. And I miss that friendly manager who always smiled and helped me.

One Thanksgiving, about 2012, we bought our entire meal here and ate it back home with my mother, a pre-made, plastic topped collection of containers with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and turkey. My father had recently died, and my mother was to die two years later, and the holiday meal had a morose sadness intensified by the microwaved artificiality of our victuals.

Fresh and Easy is gone, but what remains are those walls and gates around it, and that big parking lot in front, and a reminder that even when there is no business, or no people, we will still live in an incarcerated city, a place where entrances and exits are controlled, and guarded from either imagined or real, chaos and crime.

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And those vast spaces of nothingness that are spread all over, those too are outdoor jail yards of lifelessness, neither urban or rural, human or natural.

These are the prisons that keep us captive and hold our imaginations and our existence hostage.

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Something Quiet and Urgent…


Something quiet and urgent was hanging over the radio this morning soon after I awoke in the darkness at 5:30am.

LAUSD was expected to make an announcement.

It was forthcoming:  a rumor the schools might be closed down here in Los Angeles.

The sun rose, the skies were clear, the winds blew, and it was a cold morning in December, 9 days before Christmas.

Then it was official.

The schools were, indeed, closed.

A bomb threat had been “sent electronically” (how else are communications sent these days?) and over a half million children would not go to school. Which made many of the students happy, but caused those parents, who work at jobs, to work at worrying, about their kids.

Our alerted and nervous minds went to school, where poisons and dangers and societal toxins lined up near the entrance, under the flag, ready to march past the lockers, down the hall and into the classroom. The diversity of fear, one nation under lockdown, forever ready to give up liberty before death.

Internet, Islam and San Bernardino, caution, children, unforeseen terror, substantiated threat, hoax, fear, prayers, moms, guns and explosives.

It was a day of mayoral and school chancellor pronouncements, of the FBI, the White House and the LAPD, all speaking in front of reporters, and the line of authority acting competent when deep down we know that the sick and the violent soul of humankind casts a darker shadow across our nation these days.

No wonder the blurted and un-thoughtful utterances of Mr. Trump lure us into his mad funhouse of revenge and strongman demagoguery. We know or think we know that he knows what we know. When he blurts out what’s on everyone’s minds, we imagine he can fight and win the battle.

In our country, there are many days when children go to school and nobody tells them to go home, but instead someone armed and ill enters a school and kills.

Those are the days we should fear. Those are the days that have already come too many times.

But it is hard to know what to fear first, so paralyzed with dread are we at red blood under the blackboard.

Your Dogs Are Your Children.


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“At The Wagmor we understand that your dogs are your children. We go above and beyond the normal expectations and look for ways to make your dogs experience special. Being away from you can be traumatic and we understand that. We provide a calm, loving and supportive environment and always use products that are chemical free. We use the quietest dryers with heat control to ensure the comfort and safety of your pet. We use top of the line shampoos and conditioners and we take pride in being one of the first dog spas to offer Oxygen treatments and Aroma Therapy. While your dog is with us we will make sure he or she is happy and content. We hope you will become part of The Wagmor family.”

At The Wagmor in Studio City, the family dog can get a specialty haircut for $100, oxygen treatment for $18 or de-matting “for severe cases” at $60.

Across the street from the Wagmor, at Wylder’s, pet services include sonic teeth cleaning, acupuncture, massage therapy and psychic pet readings.

Further down Ventura, Healthy Spot offers nutrition consultations, non-anesthetic teeth cleaning, wellness clinics, pet photography and a grooming salon.

To those who are terrified of pet food impurities, Healthy Spot assures, “we understand that dogs are more than just pets; they are family. That’s why we’re committed to providing, even the most discerning pet owners, with a full range of wholesome, organic food lines as well as a wide selection of safe and eco-friendly toys, treats, training tools, grooming products, and services. We track every pet food recall and stock only the highest quality products. Rest assured, if it’s Healthy Spot approved, it’s safe.”


1-Collages 1-Collages4There are good people, moral people, and compassionate people in Los Angeles.

Some of these people might support gay marriage, universal health care, affirmative action, gun control, and organic food labeling. They are aghast at Mr. Trump’s comments about female anatomy, disabled reporters, Muslims and Mexicans.  They nuture their children. They teach them tolerance. They tell them that a transgendered teen deserves respect and understanding.

Yet what in God’s name is going on with seeing and ignoring human beings living, sleeping, eating, defecating, and wandering the streets of Los Angeles, and all around Studio City, while dogs are being treated to luxury spas and psychotherapy?

There is a woman who has lived on Ventura Boulevard making her home on a bus bench for the last year! Her home is in front of two banks, Citibank and Union Bank.

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People are eating out of garbage dumpsters.

They are going around unwashed and unfed.

They have mental health issues that are not treated.

They sleep in alleys, under bridges, alongside railroad tracks.

They make beds in parking lots and sleep on the asphalt.

And there are many dogs in Los Angeles who live better lives than people.

How can we drive our Range Rovers up to the pet spa and spend $200 on canine hair stylings when we can’t take care of a man or a woman on the street?

How sick and misplaced, decadent and dehumanizing are our priorities?

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Jesus at Dunn Edwards.


A tailgate prayer and Thanksgiving feast was brought to the parking lot of Dunn-Edwards on Sepulveda this morning. Attending the event, sponsored by the Iglesia Mision Divina, were the very few day worker/painters who normally congregate at the paint store when it is open for business.

There was something spiritual and signficant, human, kind and touching here this morning.  IMG_9820 IMG_9821 Jesus.jpg

Obliterating the Past.


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Mr. John Hendry, resident of Van Nuys and board member of the VNCC, sent me an email alerting me to the impending demolition of two old houses on Victory east of Kester.

14827—33, one a stucco house with pillars, the other a Spanish style (1936) with an arched entrance, stand on the windswept wasteland of six-lane wide Victory Boulevard. Few who speed past here, munching frosted donuts in black spandex, bother to look at the two architecturally historic properties that soon will be bulldozed for a 9-unit apartment.

It turns out I had photographed the Spanish house a few years back. But more strangely, I realized that Mr. Hendry’s homes were not the soon-to-be-demolished ones on Victory I drove past a few days earlier.

I had seen two others with ropes and signs up the street.


 

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At 14242, east of Tyrone, on the south side of Victory, was built in 1923, and is a unique looking structure with an arched center door entrance flanked by two symmetrically placed windows framed with decorative metal hoods and lattice work.

Sentimental, pinkish, feminine, lovely: it is also on Death Row. Next to the frilly lady is a plain blue and white  frame house that looks like Dorothy Gale’s Kansas cottage. It shares the same fate as its neighbor.

92 years ago, Victory was a semi-rural street, narrow and flanked by pepper trees. It was a verdant and new settlement convenient to nearby government, post office, library, school and church. Streetcars made it possible to get to Hollywood or downtown.

In 2015, Van Nuys, willfully ignorant and wantonly wasteful, pursuant of profit and devoid of imagination, will sweep away even more of its history so that ugliness and plasticity can triumph.

We know what ISIS did to the ruins of Palmyra, Syria. And we rightly condemn it as the work of ignorant savages.

But what are we doing to our own history by our own actions or inactions?

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