The Ridge Motel, at 6719 Sepulveda Blvd in Van Nuys, between Archwood and Lemay, recently closed down. Like the nearby Voyager (now demolished) it also enjoyed a debauched and degraded reputation of drugs and prostitution and illegal activities of every sort.
A long list of violations compiled by LA City inspectors is available online.
Just for nostalgia sake, I went past The Ridge one recent early evening and photographed the exterior of the abandoned building.
The style of the building, built in 1963, is somewhere between mid-century modern and Swiss Chalet in an open California courtyard. At its prime, the affordably priced motel was ideal for families. While kids swam in the pool, Dad could walk next door and buy a bottle of Scotch and a pack of cigarettes at Red Valentine’s Liquor Store where Boost Mobile is today.
Dinner at Hody’s at Victory and Sepulveda might cap off the day of excitement.
Here are the last days of The Ridge:
A new owner plans to erect a 3-4 story tall rental apartment complex in the modern style. There will be some affordable units but 85% will be market rate. GA Engineering obtained permission from the boss and sent me renderings of the new project that will replace the repellent Ridge.
In 1954, architect Culver Heaton’s design for the Van Nuys Savings and Loan, with interior murals by artist Millard Sheets, rose at 6569 N. Van Nuys Bl.
Along with other financial institutions such as Jefferson Savings, Lincoln Savings, Great Western Bank and Bank of America, they served the local community of hard-working people who opened accounts that paid 3% or 4 1/2% interest and where polite tellers, dressed in pearls and high heels, addressed customers by their last (never their first) name.
Photographer Maynard Parker shot these images of the bank exterior and interiors. They bespeak a dignified and progressive institution whose architecture was as up-to-date as its vision of a prosperous, safe Van Nuys. A sign on the outside of the building reads “The Home of Security” leaving no doubt to depositors about the solidity of the S&L.
Mr. Sheets was a prodigious artist whose work can be seen all over Southern California, most notably on the exteriors of many of those white, marble clad, Home Savings of America buildings that resemble mausoleums.
Architect Culver Heaton designed many Mid 20th Century churches in Southern California in a style of expressionistic eccentricity long departed from our stripped-down imagination. His Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale (1965) is almost campy in form with its prayerful red roof, rising like hands, above a turquoise reflecting pool and a statue of Jesus on water fashioned by Herb Goldman.
In the 1980s, there was a national scandal and shakeout in the savings and loan industry and many closed down. The de-industrialization of Van Nuys, and its decline as a manufacturing and commercial center, coincided with a tremendous increase in immigration from Central America.
Today, a Guatemalan market, La Tapachulteca, occupies the old bank property.
But last year, in a hopeful sign of better times, Boaz Miodovsky of Ketter Construction, who is the new owner, plans on demolishing the old bank which has now been degraded from its original condition. His company will design and erect a multi-story apartment house with ground floor retail. The front, on VNB, will be five stories tall and taper down to three stories in back.These illustrations, which he sent to me, are preliminary and will be further refined to include landscaping and additional detail.
Nostalgist and Van Nuys Neighborhood Council member John Hendry, who grew up and still lives in Van Nuys, alerted me to the impending demolition and asked me to research the origins of the historic structure. Quirino De La Cuesta, another VNNC member, stepped in and purchased these images from the Huntington Library.
And Mr. Miodovsky, in a nod to the old murals, will have new artwork painted within the new structure. It will be created by local artists and reflect the continuing development of Van Nuys which hit its bottom and is now climbing out parcel by parcel.
Browsing through the archives of the Huntington Library, I came across a set of photographs by Maynard Parker. They depict the inside and outside of a new home, one of 119 in a 100-acre development called Royal Oaks, south of Sepulveda, near Ventura, in 1950.
Back then there was no 405, no 101.
Sepulveda Blvd. was a two-lane road whose serpentine forms slithered through the Santa Monica Mountains, an undeveloped area of oaks, grasses, hills and clear skies. A 1939 view from Magnolia looking south shows its verdant ruralness.
The 1000-acre estate of General Sherman was subdivided into various tracts, and given a pretentious name: Royal. There would be Royal Oaks and Royal Woods and Sherman Woods. These luxury homes in California Ranch, Early American, English Tudor and other styles would nestle in the low foothills of Sherman Oaks and usher in a new chapter of suburban life for the socially upward class of settlers.
The first subdivision, Royal Oaks in Sherman Woods, was a $1,100,000 investment in land and construction cost. 100 acres and 119 sites were priced between $6500-$9500 each and “fully improved with paved streets, sewer and water systems, underground wiring and ornamental street lighting.”
A December 4, 1949 LAT advertisement assured that the “smog-free” estate community was carefully restricted and protected against harmful encroachments.
Ironically, this same community today lives amidst the biggest encroachment of all time: the concrete, noise, fumes and traffic of the 405 and a furiously angry pack of speeding, distracted women in SUVs whose disregard for life and law afflicts and curses the roads 24/7.
Let us exit 2016, and return to the peace and quiet of 1950: less cars, no freeways, and dappled sunlight peaking through the marine layer……
The house in the photos, a model home, is, even by today’s standards, a substantial and beautiful place. There are large oak trees and a gently sloping lawn caressing a copiously large and expansive house of strong and graceful lines.
Un-ornamented and quietly self-assured, the architecture is ahistorical and gracious. A three-car garage, casement windows, large overhanging roof and a newly paved street proclaim affluence without ostentatiousness.
Inside, there is a dining room wallpapered in faux stone and a modern ceiling fixture -not a chandelier- hanging over a light wood table with low backed chairs. Even in 1950, California design was advanced. Who, in West Hollywood today, would not kill for this room?
In the living room, there is a large, abstractly printed, sectional, rattan leg sofa. It sits against a wall of sheer drapes and floor-to-ceiling windows. An Oriental coffee table, low-armed chairs, dark shaded lamps, and a wood paneled ceiling effortlessly meld the West Coast with the Far East.
The kitchen is charmless but functional, all in white metal, illuminated by flush ceiling fixtures, and equipped with double ovens, work stations, and a sit-down, countertop desk with an upholstered chair and a dial telephone.
Try these peanut butter and celery canapés. They’re marvelous.
There is an indoor/outdoor casual room, probably the only type of room we don’t make anymore, paved in brick; furnished in metal, washable chairs, and served by an open brick passage where food and drinks might be passed from kitchen maid to seated guests. A hanging starlight fixture and a large, potted metal tree reference nature and the outdoors.
Back when we were on Leyte Island killing Japs we never thought we’d be sitting here a few years later drinking Mai-Tai’s!
A guest room has shag carpeting, pleated drapes and sliding glass doors. There is wall-to-wall carpeting. And twin day beds with an L-shaped coffee table topped with a ceramic dove and a bowl of wax fruit, a writing desk with drawers and a decorative lamp. Here, visiting niece Helen or Uncle Homer or the Haynes Sisters stayed for weeks on end after arriving at Union Station from Chicago or Kansas City or Grand Island.
If you need anything from the linen closet ask Beulah and she’ll get it for you.
The presentation of an ideal lifestyle, the yearning for comfort and luxury, the conception and presentation of a story, these are those elements of fantasy wrought into reality and sold to us by imaginative and innovative builders, architects, designers, decorators, marketers and public relations professionals.
These are the images on the surface of Maynard Parker’s black and white photographs.
The untold story, left out of these gorgeous photos from 66-years-ago, is the enslavement of work, the onerous debt, the ecological destruction and the wanton wasting of the Golden State’s open spaces, all sacrificed under the altar of material house dreams. When we have it all how do we know when we have it all?
We still want to live here. We are just lost getting here.
A few weeks ago, around 7:30 at night, I received a phone call from an upset stranger.
“Paul Dunbar” said he was a neighbor. A woman had given him my number. And told him Andrew, at “Here in Van Nuys”, might be helpful.
Mr. Dunbar explained that he lived with his wife and two children in a home he has owned for the past 16 years. His 1950s ranch has three bedrooms, and a large den facing a backyard pool. It is a classic old Valley house. But it is now under assault.
A few months earlier, the house behind the Dunbar’s was sold and purchased by an LLC. That entity was now constructing two houses, intended for rental use, on an 8,099 sf lot, zoned R1 (single family).
The back house, entirely new, will rise up two stories and contain a two-car garage below, and living spaces upstairs. The renters will enjoy an outdoor balcony whose view will be the Dunbar pool below and the back of the Dunbar House where all activities, indoor and outdoor, will be under the scrutiny of strangers.
A backhoe had dug up all the vegetation, and had deforested the backyard. A naked slat wood fence was all that stood between the neighboring houses. Rising up, like Godzilla over Tokyo, was a new 22.5-foot high house with many windows.
The egregious backyard neighbor’s two houses will be rented out. The renters (whomever they are) will live, and look down, across the entire width and breadth of the formerly private property. At night, the Dunbar Family drama will be a stage show for prying eyes.
Exhaustively, and in detail, Paul Dunbar kept records of the various letters, emails and phone calls he made to many city agencies and offices: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, District 6; Assembly member Adrin Nazarian; LA’s Department of Building and Safety; City Inspectors,the City Attorney’s Office. Senior Lead Officer Erika Kirk, LAPD, even intervened, with no results.
The upshot of the situation is that a speculator can buy a home on a single-family lot and put two houses on one lot with a “variance”.
All the neighbors in the area are aghast. They know anybody can now come in and demolish. And then construct two new, rentable houses on old, one-family 8,000 SF lots. A bad precedent has been set.
“What is the point of investing your life savings and a large portion of your monthly paycheck into a single family neighborhood? The city decides they will change it with no explanation/warning. And NO representation to voice your feedback, unless you spend more money and time for an attorney to fight what is already a done deal?” Mr. Dunbar asked.
Van Nuys, in the aftermath of the recession, has regained most of its pre-2007 property values. But the average house in our neighborhood might be worth $550,000. If a home sells for $500,000 and needs $150,000 worth of work to remodel it, there is little incentive to flip it if the ceiling is only $700,000.
Therefore, the only way to make property profitable in Van Nuys is to carve up the pieces and put some income producing business on it.
Some speculators are trying the LLC route. Others are engaged in various nefarious scams.
There are now businesses that are buying up houses around the area and using single-family houses as sober living halfway houses. The owners bill insurance companies thousands of dollars for each resident, and then cram six or seven un-related adults into a house. The operators can earn $20,000 or $30,000 a month paid for by health insurance, subsidized by Obama Care.
My cousin, who sometimes works in these “sobriety” houses, says they are a profitable business and he knows of people who bought up multiple $1,500,000 houses in Beverlywood and set them up as post-addiction estates. Van Nuys, with lower cost housing, is in the sights of unscrupulous people bilking medical insurance to finance these arrangements.
Other properties that are zoned for single-family houses are now being redeveloped as denser housing to encourage more intensive use of large parcels of land. Allegedly creating a more walkable city, the new “small-lot” zoning will pour additional cars onto the street day and night.
The LLC situation means that individuals are not the new homeowners. Companies owning many houses will buy up distressed properties and rent them out, and they will also find ways around the zoning laws to carve up lots and cram in homes.
Poor Van Nuys.
Even when properties are rehabilitated they are simultaneously degraded.
Who is in charge of zoning? And who is in charge of handing out permits? Why and how is it allowed that an LLC can throw up two houses on one lot in the midst of our single-family home neighborhood?
Why are we always fighting new forces intent on destroying Van Nuys?
Why are people in power deaf to their constituency?
“Building-to-street proportion is the relationship between the height of buildings on either side of a street and the width between those buildings. An ideal proportion between these two creates a pleasant and visually interesting public realm. The public realm, therefore, may be considered as an “outdoor room” that is shaped by the “walls” of the building heights and the “ floors” of the roadway.
Outdoor rooms with excessively wide roadways or short building heights tend to eliminate any sense of enclosure for the pedestrian.” -Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision Design Guide, 2014
Our city, with its sprawling boulevards and speeding cars, is often cursed with roads way too wide for pedestrians. Think of six-lane Van Nuys Boulevard, bordered by one-story high buildings, and worse, parking lots.
In some areas of the city, like on Pico Boulevard and in Studio City along Ventura Blvd. planted islands with trees now break-up the wide asphalt. New “outdoor rooms” with a sense of enclosure and protectiveness emerge. These are deliberate and designed for upgrading ugliness.
But sometimes even an ongoing construction project can enlighten and transform a bleak stretch of formerly wide street monotony.
In North Hollywood, on Burbank Blvd. just east of Vineland, DWP has been tunneling and installing a new water delivery system.
And along part of the route where a deep, underground hole was dug, DWP erected 20-foot high, wood and metal-framed walls. It has temporarily transformed the commercial district of that area by slicing the four-lane road into a two-lane and creating, along the sidewalk, a European type shaded alley.
Work Area #12, as it is officially known, requires a pit to launch a tunnel-boring machine that will travel south, along Lankershim Blvd. for more than a mile. A new water pipeline will replace the aging 1940s infrastructure.
While the construction is going on, some streets have been closed off, which no doubt contributes to aggravation and inconvenience for some area residents and businesses. But the rerouting and reconfiguration has some pleasant side effects.
On Burbank Blvd. cars now stop twice, before proceeding slowly, down a narrow road whose borders are shaded by high walls and low buildings.
On the western edge of the excavation, two tanks tower above the road, as if heralding a ceremonial gateway into the neighborhood.
And on the south side of the street, the high walls come right up to the sidewalk, creating a shady and meandering path alongside area businesses.
The gift of this unwelcome intrusion allows us to experience a different LA with traffic calming elements. What emerges? Less cars, slower drivers, shaded walkways; walled off from the exhaust fumes and the aggression of speeding motorists. Industrial construction materials in steel, wood and concrete function as street sculpture.
For the time being, a stretch of Burbank Boulevard is a living experiment in rezoning by accident.
The enormous Valentine’s Day conflagration that consumed the former home of prostitutes and drugs called the Voyager Motel brought out hundreds of firefighters.
And hundreds of spectators, photographers, cars and neighbors who eagerly and gleefully watched smoke and flames from safe vantage points near the fire site at Sepulveda and Hamlin Streets.
Children were hoisted atop parental shoulders, laughing bicycles circled streets, black clad Vaca Negras in their Sunday best waddled to box seats near the flames.
It was the greatest entertainment in our area since an elephant stood on a driveway and hosed a car on an episode of Workaholics.
We had been driving from downtown, and on the 101 near Laurel Canyon could see a funnel cloud of dark smoke, somewhere in the NW distance, and then heard on the radio, an announcement, that there was an enormous blaze happening right near our home.
When we drove up Hamlin, the strong winds were blowing the acrid fumes south, away from our street, as if God herself had intervened to produce something dangerous and exciting within hundreds of feet from our house, without endangering any of us.
The life risks were undertaken by 170 firefighters who spent almost three hours dousing the fire, killing it by drowning it until its fearsomeness and ferociousness fled.
For years, the Voyager Motel was a constant blight on the area. Nothing could end that local monster whose clientele paid by the hour, and whose rooms and reputation stained and demoralized everything around it. The sex and drug trade flourished. Nightly sirens and helicopters and cops buzzed the fleabag whorehouse. And then, last year, the motel was shut down, or went out of business.
One problem ended in Van Nuys, as 666 other criminal activities flourished.
Yesterday, Satan returned to finish his business at the Voyager Motel, his personal university in Van Nuys, and did it in his usual surprise way.