A tailgate prayer and Thanksgiving feast was brought to the parking lot of Dunn-Edwards on Sepulveda this morning. Attending the event, sponsored by the Iglesia Mision Divina, were the very few day worker/painters who normally congregate at the paint store when it is open for business.
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.
The hot sun and its aggression were held back. And the light came up slowly. The workers sat in their cars along Victory waiting for the red light to turn green.
Humidity, and the hint of rain, the blessed promise of water, hung in the air.
Bulldozers carried pieces of broken-up pavement in the Wendy’s parking lot as mechanical jackhammers tore into old asphalt. Construction workers attacked the building, skillfully peeling and nailing glossy, modern effects.
West down Erwin, old cars and overgrown bushes flank houses where age and decay cannot hide. The past and its four-wheeled rusty remainders sit on driveways.
Back on the corner of Sepulveda and Victory, right where the police shot a man to death after he broke their window with a beer bottle, the empty parking lots and bank buildings are mute, without feeling, marooned in a landscape of cheap indifference.
There is no civic center, no park, no church, no place to sit. The frenzy of cars and donut shops, office supplies and Jiffy Lube, this is one of the many centers of Van Nuys. But the center cannot hold. The consensus of American life is scattered here, as it is all over the land. Somewhere in the shadows, thousands of homeless are waking up in alleys, in their cars, behind buildings. The normality of life seems normal but things are awry.
When the traffic eases, people will speed past here, and some will run across the intersection to board buses, and the day and its distractions will obliterate the early morning calm.
Near the corner of Saticoy and Sepulveda actors in Verdad y Vida (truth and life) washed cars, stood outside the Tangiers Motel, rode to the D&K Liquor store on bike, and dramatically flashed police car lights to pull over, frisk and handcuff a suspect and his large bag.
And a little man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth confronted me as I photographed.
“Why you take picture of motel and police? Why you do this? Why you take picture of me near motel? What you doing? You not supposed to take picture!”
I showed him the back of my camera, the digital review of images just shot.
There were signs and more signs and no close ups of people.
He was not in my camera.
“You not supposed to take picture!” he said.
Yesterday, between the rains, after the air had been washed, the skies were radiant. And enormous cumulus clouds towered above, bottoms gray, tops white. The sun came and went. Streets of dark shadows ended in blinding light.
I walked in the wind up Sepulveda, north of Vanowen, and went left along Hart Street.
This is a neat neighborhood of mostly well-kept houses on generous lots. It is not rich here, but the general feeling seems contented. There are no sidewalks but lots of walkers.
Near Sepulveda, at 15322 Hart, there is a burned-out house with a lovely second floor balcony and no trespassing signs on a gate; secluded and romantic, it awaits rebirth from ruin.
At 15439 Hart, someone is selling a 1970 (?) Yellow Ford pickup truck.
15521 Hart (built 1952) is a white house with blue awnings. Though it faces south, into the hot sun, there are no shades trees in front.
Firmament Avenue is the last street in this neighborhood east of the 405 freeway. Large houses and empty lots, well kept estates, battered weed infested places, townhouses and bungalows, all are found on the block between Hart and Sherman Way.
These are the kind of typically Californian streets that make people from other states uneasy. They mix danger with intoxicating beauty, ruin next to richness. Is this a good or a bad place? In this area an old lady might come outside and offer you apple pie… or aim a gun at your head.
7110 Firmament could be a location in a 1940s Van Nuys movie with its roadside mailbox, cyclone fence, picket gate and wood houses set way back behind mature trees and overgrown ivy.
Next door, at 7128 Firmament, a brown stucco house with a red tile roof and white balustrade bedecked wall is carefree and liberal with its architectural elements. They are seemingly picked out of air and dropped onto a large lot hidden behind black screened fences and decorative lanterns. A Nury Martinez election placard is planted near the driveway.
Up at 15549 Sherman Way, Helen Towers (built 1972) is a large, 93-unit apartment building with a pool and lots of parking set on an acre and a half property right next to the on-ramp for the Northbound 405. Strangely bucolic, it seems well kept, if a bit dated.
At the Starbucks (15355 Sherman Way) a man ignited himself in burning flames last week and later died. I stopped off there for iced green tea. There were no signs of death, only life, and frozen faces glued to phone and screen.
My walk back home took me past the Royal  Sepulveda Apartments, a “K” shaped, two-story complex frivolous in design, far from royal. Built in 1961, the 92-unit complex seems sex-soaked and secretive, untethered from anything around it, a floating, decadent motel of licentious and libidinous acts. Surrounded by parking, for quick escapes and quick arrivals, behind its closed drapes lie transient guests.
The Joseph Schlitz Brewery on Roscoe in Van Nuys was an especially popular destination in the 1950s through the 70s.
The adjoining Busch Gardens, with its array of exotic birds and lush waterfalls, was another fantasy environment of natural artifice, like Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm, a fake beloved world for visitors to Southern California to write home about.
I have scanned many cards (owned by Valley Relics) of the famed gardens, and one in particular caught my eye.
Postmarked March 4, 1960, it was addressed to Miss Donna Friedl, 1921 Maynard Avenue, Cleveland 9, Ohio.
I did not pay for this card they give it to you for visiting the brewery, from Grandpa Friedl.
Something in his wry comment leads me to imagine Grandpa Friedl as a white-haired, humorous, kind man who might have snuck past his wife to offer his granddaughter Donna some candy before dinner.
That was a long time ago.
Nobody has a young daughter named Donna any more.
“The Fabulous San Fernando Valley” is another postcard unintentionally funny.
For here is a view of what looks like Sepulveda Boulevard, somewhere east of the 405, (today’s Galleria) with the dam and mountains in the distance, and thousands of cars packed into the foreground.
Fabulous? The grandiose superlatives of Southern California (best weather, best women, best bodies, best schools, best place to live) were spoken of so often, that the actual truth seemed blasphemous. It was, and is, sometimes very ugly here, boring beyond belief, polluted and blindingly plastic. An early 1960s walk up a Sepulveda, north of Ventura, would lead you past auto junkyards and tacky motels, but you were in a “fabulous” place, didn’t you know it?
Sixty or seventy years ago, many restaurants fashioned themselves as Western places, with steaks on the menu and wagon wheels on the wall.
Saddle and Sirloin was a small chain with “steaks aged to tenderness” and at their Palm Springs location, in 1949, Daddy and Mother were sitting down to eat a steak and found time to write to their daughter Florence in Newcastle, Indiana and tell her just that.
“We’re about to eat a steak, it’s balmy outside,” Mom wrote. Her appetite and her temperature lead one to salacious thoughts. Perhaps she looked like Jane Russell, with dark red lipstick. With love and dinner and hot weather….. could the bedroom be far behind?
Otto’s Pink Pig Restaurant at 4958 Van Nuys Boulevard was another well-known place whose warmhearted postcard promised “Otto’s Famous Baked Ham Sandwich, Best in the US” and “Mike O’Shea’s Special Salad Supreme.”
Their motto: Big Enough to Serve You- Small Enough to Know You.
Eating out, dining in a restaurant, was not done several times a week, as is the case today. People ate at home. They ate what Mom cooked.
So it was a special treat to go to Otto’s and dine on such fare as Filet of Sole Marguery or Roast Long Island Duckling (shipped fresh by refrigerated freight train?).
Hearty, friendly, generous with drink and food, sensibly priced: was it all of those things?
Long gone and obliterated, the neighborhood, an off-ramp of banality, is now home to strips of office buildings, medical offices, and Sherman Oaks Hospital. There is nothing exotic, fun or magical here as there was when Otto’s Pink Pig lived here.
Kester Street, for those who don’t know her, is a narrow road halfway between Van Nuys and Sepulveda Boulevards, paralleling both.
Before WWII, it was on the fringe, out on the wide land, beyond settled Van Nuys.
Rancho Pequeño at 7050 Kester (near Vose) was significant enough to have its own postcard.
These are postcards scanned from the collection amassed by Tommy Gelinas at Valley Relics.
They provide pictorial fantasy, mined from fact, of the places and events and people who once lived in the San Fernando Valley.
A 1931 postcard shows two men in Malaya (Malaysia) procuring exotic birds for shipment back to Bird Wonderland, Inc. in Van Nuys.
It was located at 15640 Ventura Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA, a location that today is known as Encino.
80 years ago, the name Van Nuys was used all the way from Beverly Glen south of Ventura up to Roscoe west past the present day 405. There was no shame in the name.
Our Ventura Boulevard has an interesting article on Bird Wonderland, which also had exotic animals, including, Jackie the Lion who allegedly inspired the roaring one seen in every MGM movie.
No motel on Sepulveda today enjoys an entirely good name. Much of them, especially those north of Victory, are havens for prostitution.
But back when the area was a main highway into the San Fernando Valley, before the freeway, it hosted many family owned motels.
Take it E-Z Motel at 5764 Sepulveda was owned by Mr. and Mrs. GB Parrott.
The motel is still there, at Hatteras, across from Target, and is planned for tear down next year with a new replacement.
The postcard shows two people sitting in chairs on the side of the building, facing the western sun.
Dorothy visited Hollywood and sent a postcard of Gene Autry’s home in Toluca Lake on August 5, 1947.
Writing to The Chalfants of Waynesboro, PA, she reports, “Saw two radio shows today, Queen for a Day and Heart’s Desire. Both good fun.”
Things may change in Southern California. But people still text and email the folks back home to tell them how they came in contact with celebrities and how wonderful the weather is.