Dreaming of Exile


 

DSCF2360Even if you have given up on LA, cursed its tackiness, screamed at its traffic, revolted from its inanities, choked on its air and dreamed of exile from its toxicities, you might be seduced on Sunday afternoon, as I was yesterday, by a place hidden away that seems like a small town in the Poconos.

I accompanied a friend on an errand. She manages properties, and was cleaning up after renters at a small house on a street called Lake Shore Avenue.

East of Glendale Blvd, south of the 2, west of Elysian Park, it sits snuggly into a hill that blocks the setting sun. Shady, built with little bungalows, it bisects, at Effie, an institution: Gateways Hospital and Community Mental Health Center.

A mid-century sign sits at the entrance to the facility.

Egregious, garishly lettered in big vertical typeface, it announces, creepily, its authoritative medicinal mission (rehabilitation, research, hospital) as if they were triple feature films from the 50s like “I Want to Live”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “The Blob.”


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We parked on Effie and looked ahead at a wide dirt path climbing up a steep hill where nets were laid down to trap water and debris that may pour down here fiercely.

My friend went to work on her property, and I climbed up the trail.

Around me were dried, parched grasses, the remnants of homeless blankets and bags of clothes, and, at the top of the hill, a stucco shack of a house, with a pitted asphalt driveway, and a wooden deck. It was guarded by ziggurat cinder block walls and reinforced steel window bars.

The dilapidated home was a find, unusual in its state of disrepair. For we live in a city of brutally competitive property investment, where every top elevation has been captured by someone richer. This mountain hideaway lacked the hidden cameras, the expensive cars, the pool, and the pretense to architecture. An eccentric hermit might inhabit it.

Moby if he had no money might live here.

Its views stretched out to Silverlake, downtown, and tall radio towers across the way. Yet it was an uneasy isolation. It felt dangerous, not reassuring.

Bucolic and rustic in Los Angeles never exists in purity.

Helicopters and sirens in the distance, the threat of fire, the presence of people without homes, the surprise of events that might end our life erupting from the deepest earth, or from a violent intrusion through an open window. These are the sights, sounds and conjurations of the imagination haunting happy moments.

That is how that house and hill felt.


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Back down on Lake Shore Avenue I walked past institutional houses, illuminated by industrial floodlights, set along the street, behind gates. Two older men were on the stoop of one place, smoking. They nodded to me and I waved back.

Outside the property of Gateways, dominating the bright part of the hill on Lake Shore Avenue, was a tall, two-toned, red and white brick house looming over a row of old garages. Homely, graceless, squinting in the sun, it refuted the lovely myth that everything historic is charming. The white “sanitary” bricks, glossy and washable, were often used in the 1920s on building facades for bakeries and cleaners.

A small signifier of community well-being, a landscaped traffic circle, ended my walk up Lake Shore.

That idea that a street could come together in a circle, unified by architecture, common purpose, cafes and conversation, there was something of that here, but I saw no other pedestrians. The only movement was daylight in retreat, shadows moving over the street.

After walking around, I came back to my friend’s property and went inside. We stacked dishes in the dishwasher, carried out bags of food from the refrigerator, and a basket of dirty towels. She turned on the alarm and locked the door. We got in the car and left to return to the real city beyond.

 

 

 

Westwood in the 1970s


Kim Bunje
Kim Bunje
Norm Neal
Norm Neal
Bill Gabel
Bill Gabel
Bill Koegler
Bill Koegler
Jay Jennings
Jay Jennings
Bobby Cole
Bobby Cole
Arnold Freeman
Arnold Freeman

On Facebook (of course) there is a group called “Westwood Village in the 70s and 80s.”

Photos used in this post come from that page and are duly credited.

I wasn’t there back then, so I cannot attest to the apparent excitement, vibrancy, energy and entertainment that existed in that district forty years ago. All I know is that many say Westwood is in decline.

Los Angeles is a faddish city. Nobody in the 1970s would have thought Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Atwater Village, Downtown Los Angeles or Third Street Santa Monica to be cool. They were dead places back then, not yet discovered or annointed as the haven for young consumerism.

And remember Melrose and its heyday in the 1980s? That street has largely been forgotten, its stores a seedy and tacky collection of crap.

But Westwood, and its empty stores, its empty sidewalks, is more of a mystery since it is surrounded by afffluence, and set in a historic, climate- controlled pleasantness with a veneer of historic architecture.  One would think that walkable Westwood would still draw in the crowds.

Will the new subway along Wilshire help? Transit and new development have revitalized Hollywood, brought it up from its fifty year slump, and turned it into a crowded destination again. Who, even twenty years ago, would have imagined Hollywood as it is today with gleaming tall buildings, many restaurants, clubs, bars and packed with crowds day and night?

The cyclical nature of Los Angeles, its glib and shifting tastes and shallow urbanism is also a reason for hope. What is down and out today can become the new destination of up and coming tomorrow.

Van Nuys anybody?

The DePauk Family in Van Nuys.


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Gilmore studio

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Phil DePauk, who now lives in Virginia, has been a follower of this blog for a few years
and he graciously sent me some new (old) photos from his family archives. He is the young boy in these photos.

Phil DePauk and his extended family lived in Van Nuys in the 1940s and 50s and operated a well-known local photo studio located at Gilmore and Van Nuys Bl. It closed in the early 1960s.

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One of the other addresses that pops up is: 14204 Haynes St. a block located just west of Hazeltine. Phil either lived or spent time here.

A recent Google Maps view shows that the neighborhood is still single-family residential, but now many of the once plain and friendly houses are sheathed in ironwork and other embellishments of modern paranoia.

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There are many cars in these photos. Phil’s father worked at Wray Brothers Ford which was located near the intersection of Calvert and VNB, two blocks n. of Oxnard.

I wrote to Phil this morning to clarify some family facts and here are his words:

“My Dad worked as a mechanic at Wray Brothers Ford from 1948 to 1958.

After Ford, my Dad worked at Pacific Tire and Battery Co. on Sylvan St. across from the old library.

My Uncle Ed (now age 83, sharp as a tack and living in Canoga Park) started working at California Bank (Sylvan and VN Blvd) after his discharge from the Army.

He subsequently worked at numerous other banks before retiring as a Vice President. My Uncle Dan was the manager of the McMahans used furniture store before his transfer to Marysville. My Uncle Bill started his own photo studio in North Hollywood. My Uncle Ed lives in Canoga Park and always enjoys reliving memories and making new friends if you have an interest.”

1981: Burbank Boulevard at Fulton Ave – SP 2658


Terry Guy has an excellent collection of photos on his Flickr page chronicling North Hollywood and the old Southern Pacific line which ran along today’s Metro Orange Line Busway.

Photo above (near Valley College) is the intersection now converted into a landscaped bike/bus transit line.

Life has improved (sporadically and unevenly) in parts of Los Angeles, due in large part to investment in public transportation, which has lead to greater vitality and revitalization in formerly neglected parts of the city. One can see evidence of that in Mr. Guy’s historic North Hollywood images.

“It Was So Much Better Back Then…”



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There is a virtual place online where middle-aged mourners can gather to express their memories of a locale where towheaded youngsters, Brycreamed dads, and aproned moms drove in $4,000 Caddies along spotless streets and empty freeways and sent their kids to brand-new schools and inexpensive colleges, swam in sunny swimming pools, consumed burgers in drive-thrus, and went to happy factories in Van Nuys where cars popped off the assembly line like cookies in a bakery.

Valley Relics was started by Burbank native Tommy Gelinas and, in his words, “is a personal collection of rare photos, yearbooks, documents, postcards, toys, photo negatives, vintage signs, books, antiques, and artifacts from the 1800′s to present, from the San Fernando Valley.”

His Facebook page mirrors the website with daily updates and photos and comments on long gone places that once dotted the San Fernando Valley.

One of their most recent additions is from Gregg and Davida Symonds of Agoura. Gregg’s father, Bob Symonds, owned Sunset Farms in Sylmar and was the developer of Valley Plaza in North Hollywood.

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Valley Relics seems to be enormously successful with 27,185 likes on FB.

It preserves the past and shows us what the San Fernando Valley looked like at one point in time.