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.
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.