Van Nuys Boulevard was made in 1910, open for traffic and business in 1911.
It was the heart of the San Fernando Valley, and apparently a quite pleasant and neighborly place to shop.
Cars were parked at a diagonal (like Glendale’s Brand Blvd. today) which effectively and passively narrowed the wideness of the street. It was a more pedestrian friendly boulevard.
But in 1954 Victory and Van Nuys Boulevard were widened. The high intensity lights came later, but the effect was to turn the street into a type of freeway, perfect for cruising, but inhospitable to much else.
The 2014 view is what we see today, a wide street stripped of appeal, whose stores are either vacant or taken up with low rent bail bonds, and cheap crap.
Wide streets are not where people walk and shop. They want trees to shade them. They want to cross the street without walking across six lanes of speeding cars. Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino and Tarzana, all the wealthier parts of the San Fernando Valley, have all grasped this basic fact of life and have planted trees and landscaped medians to humanize their business districts.
What accounts for the neglect other than a lingering racism and an inability to formulate a plan financed by government and developers? If a sea of blond-haired people started coming here, would Mayor Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez suddenly spring into action? Why is Van Nuys different than Highland Park, Encino, North Hollywood or Burbank? Are we somewhere on Mars?
The postcards are (once again) courtesy of Valley Relics. The 2014 photo is taken from Google Street views.
Some of the enormous, picturesque, and historic postcard collection amassed by Tommy Gelinas and his Valley Relics has passed through my hands.
The San Fernando Valley, only 100 years ago a largely agricultural area, dotted with newly established towns, became the fastest growing part of the United States in the 15 years after WWII.
Postcards from visitors who passed through here; visited olive groves, rode streetcars through vast planted lands, absorbed all the sunshine, boosterism and hucksterism of that time; radiate in words and pictures.
Around 1910, Pacific Electric advertised a 101-mile-long, one-day trolley trip for one dollar. “The Scenic Trolley Trip” visited 10 beaches and 8 cities.
“Paralleling the mountains from Los Angeles to the ocean, then 36 miles along the Seashore. Parlor Car; Reserved Seats, Competent Guides. FREE ATTRACTION-Admission to largest Aquarium on Pacific Coast; Ride on the LA Thomspon Scenic Railway at Venice; Admission to Camera Obscura, Santa Monica.”
It sounds thrilling.
And imagine, men in suits and women in long dresses riding all day in wool coats, felt and feather hats, with many layers of undergarments, not even an ankle exposed.
Thirty or so years later, the Tower Motor Hotel at 10980 Ventura Blvd in Studio City was smartly streamlined with gas pumps in front, steam heat and air-cooled rooms.
Bing Crosby, who lived in Toluca Lake, was the most successful singer of the 1930s. A postcard sent from a fan who visited Lakeside Golf Club near Mr. Crosby’s home wrote: “I’ve seen him playing two mornings this week.”
A 1930s view of Van Nuys, along Sylvan Street, towards the Valley Municipal Building, shows diagonally parked cars and a “Safeway” store.
On another postcard, showing the Encino Country Club, a Model T is parked under a shady oak in a verdant landscape of hills and orange trees.
It may be too much to extrapolate truth and fact from these postcards. They were advertisements for businesses, meant to promote and sell.
But my heart tells me that Encino, Van Nuys and the rest of the Southland were magical back then.
Assisting Tommy Gelinas of Valley Relics in his cataloging of unique and historic items related to the San Fernando Valley, I came across this June 1974 postcard sent from Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys to a family in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
“My Dearest Ones,
Sorry I haven’t wrote sooner but so worried and upset over Mother. Almost lost her. Her pulse was dropping down to 15 from time to time. Then a week ago last Sunday she had a heart attack in the hospital. A week ago today they did surgery and put a pace maker in. She looks great and feeling so much better. If all goes well she will go to my place a week from today.
Edie and Jim”
The medical center, still standing but greatly enlarged at 15107 Vanowen St., is described as a “unique circular medical center, located in the San Fernando Valley.”
I had published some of these a few years ago, photographs sent to me by Philip DePauk, a one-time resident of Van Nuys who now lives in Virginia. His family owned a photo studio on Gilmore near Van Nuys Boulevard and his father and uncle also worked for a Ford dealership located here.
These images are both stunning and sad, sad for the lost way of life that once existed here, a gentle place where orange groves and endless vistas promised opportunities and happiness in a state where agriculture, industry and education were all advanced and the envy of the world.
Modern people often dismiss the past by citing the prejudices of that era. Women who could not work. Gays who could not marry. Japanese rounded up during WWII. Blacks and Hispanics who were relegated to ghettos, kept out of the workplace, discriminated against in every sense of the word. These were all bad aspects of law and custom thankfully banished.
Yet our landscape, moral and cultural, is degraded worse today. This I believe.
Living as we do now, in a completely tolerant California, are we not victimized, all of us, by the crude violence, the grossness of language, the vulgarity of dress, the assault of trashy behavior, that demeans all of us? We live in a Van Nuys that shames us. Some of us react by renaming our neighborhoods Lake Balboa, Sherman Oaks, Valley Glen. Others just flee by moving away, abandoning Van Nuys Boulevard, crawling deeper into our digital drugs, withdrawing from human interaction which is often uncivilized and often barbaric.
One small example….
On my street, I often see cars parked in the shade. When the drivers move on, what’s left behind are fast food wrappers, cans, and bottles in the gutter. And at LA Fitness, going to my morning workout, I see a parking lot littered with junk food from last night’s fitness members. At the alley next to SavOn, people urinate in broad daylight. Prostitutes walk the street. And these are just examples of our less violent behavior.
Where is our respect for ourselves and for each other?
In the DePauk Family, typical of that time period, there is a certain modesty to behavior. There is no “attitude” just hard working, well groomed people who conduct themselves with some decorum.
And for the generation whose lives were tempered and toughened by the Great Depression and World War Two, a flooding street was a good photo, not a moment for an emotional breakdown and an online fit of anger.
The one negative photo in this set, in my mind, is the widening of Victory Boulevard (1954) and the cutting down of trees that once lined the street. For this act of civic “improvement” spelled the end of civilized Van Nuys, making the hot streets hotter, the speeding cars faster, the abandonment of walkable and neighborhood oriented life lost to the automobile.