Van Nuys: September 21, 1960


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Among the stranger aspects of modern American life is that we have gotten over old 1950s fears (Communists, homosexuals, fluoridated water, rock and roll) but have now supplanted new, sometimes exaggerated terrors to replace the old ones.

The above photograph by George Brich (LAPL) was published in the Valley Times on September 21, 1960 and read, “Jeanne Avery, 15, 14155 Cohasset St., Van Nuys, adds to the view along palm-lined Van Nuys boulevard, community’s main business street. The community is the largest in the Valley.” Van Nuys is nearing its 50-year anniversary and is being celebrated as one of the most beautiful and productive cities in the Valley.”

Can you imagine the outcry in 2016 if an adult male photographed a 15-year-old girl on the street and published her name and address in the LA Times?

“Thank you George Brich for violating my daughter’s privacy! Now every crazy pervert in the world will know where she lives!”

“This is completely wrong. No young woman, no matter how attractive should be photographed by a stranger and have her address published in the paper!”

In 1960, America had a benevolent and innocent view of itself. It was considered an honor for a teenage student to be photographed in the local paper. And nobody meant anything ironic in describing Van Nuys as “one of the most beautiful and productive cities in the Valley.”

In 2016, the average American, the average person living in Van Nuys is probably photographed hundreds of times a day, in security camera videos, in mobile phone images, waiting in a car at a red light, filling up for gas, withdrawing money at the ATM, driving through McDonalds, or stopping to shop at Target.

But the intentional photograph by camera on a public street has now become a provocative act. Its artfulness, its quirkiness, its freedom has been put on probation. Public photography itself is now under suspicion.An art form and a means of communication has volunteered to restrain and censor itself. Even when no law has been broken, and no privacy invaded. And this in itself is irrational and a denial of our American way of life.

There is nothing against the law in taking a photo of a person on a public street. You don’t need their permission.

They understood that in 1960.

 

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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Van Nuys City Directory, 1940


The Los Angeles Public Library has a collection of city directories dating back to the late 19th Century and these are now mostly available online.

Of course, I turned to browse at the 1939/40 San Fernando Valley City Directory, all 674 pages of it, with its detailed listings of every single person, property and business in the entire valley at that moment in time.

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Van Nuys is described as a “model suburban homes community of Los Angeles City; strategic and important business center. Municipal administration headquarters for Los Angeles in the annexex area of San Fernando Valley.” Population 35,000. (Population in 2015 is estimated at 140,000)

The Valley, on the eve of WWII, was about to undergo changes unforseen and unprecedented. It was a unique conglomeration of modern convenience and the dusty rustic.

It was a time when men and women wore hats and dressed up to go out. And people spoke in hushed terms about health concerns and family secrets. Nobody said fuck in public, and the fat tattooed lady was only found in the circus.

While people were private about private matters, they were at ease having their names, addresses and professions printed on a publically distributed platform.

It was a folksy time when business owners adopted nicknames for themselves. “Bran” and “Dee” Funkhouser, for example, owned the Bran-Dee Brass Rail and Cafe at 6308 Van Nuys Boulevard. Their menu emphasized alcohol: beer,  cocktails, wine, lunches and sandwiches.

California was at its most golden moment, still basking in its abilities to welcome [white] newcomers, while radiating an image of wholesome enterprise, carefree recreation, opportunity for all. It stood confident and inspired envy for its education, innovation and technology. It was the home of the movie stars, cattlemen, aviators, oil men and just plain happy folks who swam in pools and ate oranges off the tree.

From the ocean to the mountains, tired people came here to strike fortune, escape gloom, pursue health and happiness, and emerge energized and reborn.

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History Online


 

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In the public record, and available online, are millions of building records, in The Department of Building and Safety, encompassing a large part of the history of the city of Los Angeles.

I discovered this great trove of fascinating information during a recent employment incarceration at a Sherman Oaks realty agency.

When we received a listing, we went online and pulled up permit records related to a particular property. This was part of my duties, along with stuffing plastic fingers and plastic spiders into hundreds of orange and black Halloween bags destined to hang on doorways south of Ventura Boulevard.


 

My neighbor’s home at 15139 Hamlin went on sale yesterday.

I pulled up a 1933 building permit for the property.

These records are available for anyone to view. And are not confidential, private or top-secret. They are part of the public record of building safety in our city.

15139 Hamlin was built by Fred J. Hanks who lived down the street at 15015 Hamlin (since demolished). Mr. Hanks estimated the total construction cost of the home at $2,000.

Incidentally, I plugged $2,000 into the US Inflation Calculator and found that amount to equate to $36,606.92 in 2015 dollars.

Mr. Hanks built a two-bedroom house with one bathroom and a kitchen, living room and dining room on a 50’ x 137’ lot with garage for about thirty-six thousand 2015 dollars.

The current values for housing properties in Los Angeles are truly insane. They are fed by a frenzy of speculation and collusion by appraisers, property owners, banks and realtors and seem to reflect no sane relation to either income or reality.

Van Nuys, between Kester and Sepulveda, above Victory, is stuck in a strange rut. The houses here are expensive enough (over $500,000) but are mostly unaffordable for new home buyers. But there are few that sell for over $650,000 so developers have no interest in purchasing old or dilapidated houses, pouring $100,000 into them, only to find that their $600,000 investment cannot sell for over that amount.

As a result our area has quite a number of empty houses, and others that sit on large parcels of land that could be developed for more housing. People sleep on benches, and on the street, or spend $3000 a month for renting an apartment and they all could be owning a house if only the economics of our times permitted.

Perhaps someone sensitive and aesthetic, with modern tastes and an artistic eye will purchase 15139 Hamlin. Or, as seems more likely these days, the house will be obliterated by concrete driveways, 30 cheap exterior lantern lights sitting on stucco walls or iron gates, vinyl windows and Roman columns, and five Hummers parked in front with four on the street.

People once had little money but could build cheaply and practically and pleasantly. Now they have little money, but they build as if they have millions, and the result is a vandalizing of our communities producing pimped-up houses that will again go vacant and unsold when the next downturn hits.

They knew something in that Great Depression year of 1933 we need to learn all over again.

 

 

306 W. Valencia Ave. Burbank, CA, 1979


 

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Last week, I ventured along Victory Boulevard in Burbank.

And I came across a one-story stucco building at 306 W. Valencia Ave. built in 1940, with round porthole windows and horizontally striped overhangs.

I posted photos of the structure on this blog which Dwayne Baldridge saw.

Mr. Baldridge was connected to 306 W. Valencia Ave. and had spent time there in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He sent me photos some of that era which I am posting below.

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“My new (now ex) wife leaning against our 1970 Mustang in front of our apartment looking east, just a couple of days after our wedding, taken 7/2/81”

 

 

"My Mother, Father, younger Brother, Maternal Grandfather and Grandmother at a simple party to celebrate my Grandparents Anniversary taken in late 1979."
“My Mother, Father, younger Brother, Maternal Grandfather and Grandmother at a simple party to celebrate my Grandparents Anniversary taken in late 1979.”
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“Me with my girlfriend on our first official date around June 1979”

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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