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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The Local Sweeties and Public Safety.


Courtesy of a community minded neighbor, we folks gathered tonight in a computer lab inside Casa Loma College on Kester to hear Senior Lead Officer Erica Kirk, Gang Officer DeLeon and a man from the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety speak about property crimes, prostitution and gangs.

The people were mostly older, largely white, and on friendly terms with one another. Before the speakers began, two chatted up about church, “I don’t hear the bells ringing any more!” and on grandchildren, “My granddaughter still works in Woodland Hills for a sod broker!”

Around the building, within spitting distance, ghetto apartments were sprayed with gang signs, prostitutes walked freely, speeding cars plowed through red lights, and old refrigerators and couches were dumped alongside the road.

But inside the room, reassuring voices of authority, festooned with badge and pistol, spoke of laws and arrests, patrols and progress against criminal activity.

Abandoned houses, trashy front yards, barking dogs at 3am, explosions, gunfire, helicopters, stolen cars, discarded marijuana containers, dumping, ubiquitous sex trade, stinky winds that blow sewage smells into the bedroom, none of these facts of life in Van Nuys would soon disappear, but some attendees were damn angry and determined to speak up and put a stop to the madness.

“Why don’t you arrest these prostitutes and ship them up to Nevada where it’s legal!” one man yelled. “They’ve been at it for forty years on Sepulveda.” And I pictured a sad whore, walking in the sun since 1975, wrinkled, abused and hated by local homeowners.

Another new arrival to Orion came with his pretty wife and spoke about his accounting of the used condoms found on streets around his beautiful estate.

“Since August 1st I’ve counted 33 condoms on Blucher, 44 on Langdon, 53 on Peach Avenue and 27 on Blucher!” he announced. My mind, always visual, imagined a sticky, gooey condom near a peach. For his wife, inviting the grandchildren into the front yard while a sex act was going on in front of the roses and white picket fence was quite appalling.


Some gentle people seemed innocent as to the fact that they lived amongst violence and anarchy. “The Mexican Mafia? What’s that?” a woman asked.

Another older woman spoke of her son coming home at 3am and passing three young men tagging a stop sign near Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “He stopped his car and rolled down his window and asked them why they were doing that,” she said. Officer DeLeon advised that it was, perhaps suggestible, not to confront three taggers at 3am in Van Nuys.

If Donna Reed and her family were transported to tonight’s meeting they would fit right in. That old time Angeleno, who came of age after WWII, whose life was formed in a sea of childish televised wonderment , made an appearance tonight, as delightful and improbable as Walt Disney meeting the Devil.

The local sweeties who came for this meeting were the nice ones who make up the silent and invisible and powerless backbone of Van Nuys. They cannot compare, in numbers or influence, these citizens, to the 180,000 who are in Van Nuys illegally, and whose presence regularly is spoken of in terms reverential and pandering, as when immigration reform comes up, as if we as a nation are commanded to do something to break the system further and destroy national sovereignty in the name of political correctness.

These people who gathered here tonight are regularly told there is not enough money for law and order, but when I spoke up and asked the crowd if they would pay fifty cents a gallon tax on gasoline to double the size of the (13,000) LAPD and bolster it, nobody raised their hand. “Why don’t you tax cigarettes?” a female cancer patient asked.

There will no doubt be more community meetings in the future, but the prospect for improvement in Van Nuys is dim. Without leadership, even the best intentioned community group, even the best cops on the beat, cannot hope to overcome the nonsensical and insane carnival of crime that dances all around us day and night. IMG_9557 IMG_9552



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.



Afternoon with the Commander.


He is 94-years-old and lives alone in a stucco home in the West SFV he bought for $53,000 in 1974. His wife died three years ago and he tells me he thinks of her as gone on a long vacation. He can get up from the couch without a cane or walker. He drives a car. He goes to his granddaughter’s ball games. He shops, he laughs, he has no outward disabilities. And he came home 70 years ago, from Mindanao and the Battle of Midway, settled on the South Side of Chicago with his wife Frances, and they both had four children, three of whom died before they were three years old.

He is my Uncle Paul Cohen, who is now in his 13th year (not consecutive) as Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the San Fernando Valley. They meet once a month on Sundays and are now down to 175 members, from their high of 350 more than ten years ago.

I sat with him in Woodland Hills last Saturday in those brown-carpeted, brown paneled rooms full of family photos and too many tchotkes. He had his plastic card table set up in the den, a place where he holds informal board meetings with the other veterans.

His son and daughter-in-law live close by. They eat dinner at Chili’s with Paul almost every night. Their children also live nearby, and there are two grandchildren less than 10 minutes away.

How has Paul lived so long? He ate meat often, loved grilled steaks. He wouldn’t know an organic vegetable from a conventional one, and his skin, remarkably free from wrinkles, is healthy but unguarded by sun-screen. When he was young, his Chicago was filled with unfiltered cigarettes, black chimneys, coal, stockyards, asbestos, lead paints, freight trains and steel mills. He lived through the most brutal battles of war, and came back to the grit and grime of the Windy City.

When he was young he almost played professional baseball and was in a semi-pro league that travelled around in buses. His dream was to get on the field and get paid for it. Instead he became a lifelong skilled handyman who could plumb and electrify, saw and build. He drove a truck but he really dreamed of driving in home runs. His passion for baseball was passed down to his entire family. And to this day his weekends are spent going to watch his granddaughters play ball.

Though he dropped out of high school to support his family, and never made it to college, he possesses that sagacious and practical wisdom mixing realism with optimism, and accepting human nature as it is.

“Mind your own business Andrew B.” he said. “That’s how you stay happy. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t butt into their affairs. Let them be.”

He had no gossip about the family, but still had an intense curiosity and memory about every person who we knew in common: cousins, friends, young and old.

We spoke about why he never worked with my other Uncle, his brother-in-law, who owned a successful heating and air-conditioning contracting company in Chicago.

“I’ll tell you what. I went to work for him one day. I had to disassemble and demolish a coal-fired boiler in the basement of an apartment building in Chicago. All the soot and the dust could only be removed through a small basement window. I shoveled all the coal and the dust up through the hole. Then I went up to my truck and loaded all of it into the vehicle. I was covered head to toe in black soot. I went to a lumberyard. I bought 2 x 4s and brought them back to the basement. I built up the wood and called a cement company to come out. They poured the cement into the form and we built a platform for a new boiler. I did the work of not only the demolition but the reconstruction. Then I got home at midnight.

The next week, your Uncle’s partner Vito (?) said they had fired two guys in the company because I was doing their work. They were ready to give me a twenty-five cent an hour raise because I was doing the work of three men. Vito said he wanted to give me a two-dollar an hour increase but “your brother-in-law” said only twenty-five cents.

That’s why I never worked for your Uncle,” he said.

There was no bitterness in Paul. Recounting his tale of how he had, essentially, been screwed out of a good, solid living by his wife’s brother did not irk him.

These are his versions of events. The people he names are long dead and the stories cannot be investigated or proven. But his recounting of something unfair was expressed magnanimously and justly, without rancor or anger.

He was satisfied with his life. He told me he was going to turn on the air-conditioning and said to help myself to some cold water in the refrigerator out in the garage.

I remarked that you never know your own strength until you are tested by some life event.

“What choice do you have Andrew B.?” he asked.

Blight Walk.

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6552 Columbus Avenue; owner: Marinel C Agbunag
6522 Columbus Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91411 Alex Barker, owner.

The houses are unoccupied, neglected. The parched grass grows high, bottles and cans are everywhere, and their owners are seemingly oblivious to their blighted properties.

This is not a slum. This is Columbus Avenue between Hamlin and Kittridge, where some absentee owners have allowed large parcels of land to fall into abuse, or permitted and set up illegal businesses towing and storing cars.

For many years, complaints from residences about the eyesores have flooded into Former Councilman Tony Cardenas’s offices and are now on the desk of Nury Martinez, whose Field Deputy, Guillermo Marquez, joined LAPD Lead Officer Erica Kirk for a walking tour of the shabby, un-chic area.

Both Officer Kirk and Field Deputy Guillermo Marquez are consummate professionals: responsive, articulate, hard-working and complete attributes to our area. They spent hours yesterday listening to the gripes and the stories of crime and neglect.

6522 Columbus Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91411 Alex Barker, owner.

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Yet responsibility for the empty houses goes back to the owners who created, selfishly and without logic, properties that do not produce income and bring down the value of other homes around them.

In Los Angeles, it seems impossible to find affordable houses for purchase for people who make less than $100,000 a year. And others sleep in their cars, or in RVs, or on park benches. Rents are over $1500 a month, for two bedrooms, even in Van Nuys.

And the law says you cannot clear homeless people and their belongings off public sidewalks.

And the law also says you cannot compel errant property owners to fix up their private homes and rent them out or sell them.

So all around our neighborhood, where the average house sells for over a half million, some have decided that just letting their houses sit empty and open for crime and vandalism is the best policy.

And that is why we went on a walk yesterday, a walk that went around in a circle along Columbus, Haynes and Hamlin and ended up in the bright, hot sun with promises and handshakes.

“Better Call Marty” Re/Max Grand Central Marty Azoulay 818-424-5045
15102 Haynes/ 15105 Hamlin; owner Kathy J. Bauer.

Sunday Morning Victory


On a Sunday morning along Victory, east of Kester, the wide street is mostly empty.

It is also empty on Van Nuys Boulevard.

And the only person on Friar Street pushes a shopping cart with her belongings.


Under the dull fog, Van Nuys might be sleeping late.

Sleeping off Cervezas.

Many work on Sundays, but some do not.


Here are sidewalks without trees or humans.


Cars speed past the ghosts of late The Modern Era.


Where medical doctors practiced the most advanced medicine in 1960.


Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were the Presidents.


And confident young builders hired talent young architects and erected thin paneled office buildings along thriving and newly widened Victory Boulevard.


Men worked at jobs back then. They wore suits.


Women smoked and wore high heels and lipstick and gloves and called themselves ladies.


And kids got in trouble, riding skateboards on the sidewalk or chewing gum in class.


It was a troubled time when blacks were called negroes.


And men were sent off to fight war in Vietnam.


But Van Nuys was still fine, still humming along: safe, secure and industrious.


We live in a rich nation. But all around us, people sleep on benches, and push their belongings in shopping carts.

People sleep on the sidewalk in front of the Chase Bank which has assets of $2.6 trillion and is the largest bank in the United States.

They are sleeping under the arches of the Marvin Braude Center, seat of the government of the City of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley.


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Marvin Braude Center

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And what you see today can break your heart.



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Along Friar Street

Friar at Sylmar

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Anna & Vartan: Victory Bl.

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Friar St.

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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.