Royal Oaks, 1950


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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.

 

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1939/ USC Digital Library

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Cigarette anyone?

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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.

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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!

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 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.

Maynard Parker


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.

 

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Building the Self-Esteem of Properties.


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A recent run of work inside a Ventura Boulevard real estate office brought me into the world of those listings, words and photos, meant to build the self-esteem of homes.

I speak of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and its breathless descriptions of current residences offered for sale.

Awkward, ill-proportioned, ungainly, ostentatious, oversized, outdated, gaudy, trendy, remodeled, modernized, updated, whatever their individual personality characteristics and physical appearance, once they had undergone descriptive transformations via agency wizardry, they each emerged as self-confident houses ready to graduate into acceptance of offer and transfer of title.

As anyone who spends time in Studio City or Sherman Oaks knows, there once existed a lovely pair of communities where tree-lined streets and charming cottages co-existed with larger and wealthier hillside homes. But lately, the obliteration and demolishing of sweet little places and the replacement of small and human with enormous and robotic, has become a frenetic, greedy and exhausting activity.

6 bedroom, 7 bath, 5,000 sf houses on 7,000 sf lots, and every single one of these places as indistinguishable as pennies in a piggy bank.

Their owners are an exotic lot of ethnicities whose names are unpronounceable but mostly sound like San Fernando Valley streets spelled backwards.

4533 Casa Grotesqua was purchased in July 2014 for $795,000 by Kraproom Namdoow and Sordec Notluf. And after a $60,000 kitchen upgrade was sold for $2.1 million to Edisrevir Yrotciv, an attorney.

 14432 Moonshine Drive, Studio City is an outstanding 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with walking closets, a two-die for pool, expansive windows overlooking bustling, sophisticated Ventura Boulevard. It was completely remodeled in 2014 by designer Enitlezah Agneuhac and features stone ground fountains, heated toilets and high security children’s playrooms monitored by close circuit cameras. It is now offered for sale at $2.1 million.

The real listings on the MLS are too grammatically mangled to reprint here. If they were homework assignments handed in to English teachers in any 7th grade class, they would all be graded F.

But why bother proof reading listings for houses selling for one, two or three million dollars?

When your mortgage is $9,000 a month, there is very little time left over for reading or writing.

More Postcard Observations


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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.

 

It read:

 

Hello Donna,

 

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.

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“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?

 


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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?

 


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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.

 

 

 

Ralph’s Sherman Oaks.


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At twilight, last night, the new Ralph’s in Sherman Oaks, stood glistening under cloudy skies.

 

Dressed up and standing alone on the corner of Hazeltine and Ventura: metal panels and squash-colored inserts, coffee-tinted siding alongside creamy towers.

 

And a profusion of plants everywhere, succulents in the thousands, and grasses, and trees and roses and brown bark, bark laid down in trenches all around the building, even along the loading dock.

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Hygienic, modern, urbane, green.

 

Friendly to pedestrians and the disabled.

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A bright RED plastic sign with the oval circle encircling RALPH’s FRESH FARE.

 

A new supermarket had come to Sherman Oaks, vaulting over old timers and neighborhood groups and homeowners fearing “urban” might bring the shvartze, the illegal and the hipster to this corner of the valley.

 

But at 7 pm last night there was no sign of humanity on the sidewalks around Ralph’s.

 

It had passed the Los Angeles test for a great building. It looked good and kept the streets clean and empty.

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Speaking of God at Fashion Square.


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Zaaz

Up on the second floor, a muscular, middle-aged salesman with high Charles Bronson cheekbones and slicked back hair stood in his Zaaz exercise shop waiting for customers who would get on a machine, plunk down two grand and vibrate their bodies into athletic form.

His name was Eddie. He was born, Italian-American in East Cleveland, OH. I met him many months ago and we stopped again to speak today at Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.

I may have been walking around the mall in a catatonic state of Zyrtec. Tired, not going anywhere in particular, I had just browsed Apple laptops, tried on Hugo Boss jackets and was gliding on the second level of the mall like a cloudy whisper of oceanic fog.

Empty, adrift, morose, I was swimming in circles, unmoored from the sea of purpose and ready to be hooked by Zaaz.

Eddie noticed my dourness and asked how things were going. And then he spoke of his own spiritual self-affirmations, his belief in the Lord Savior Jesus Christ, of good things ahead. And he asked me what I believed in.

I told him I was born and raised a Jew, Bar Mitzvahed but not a believer. So he stepped up on the machine, an exercise pulpit palpitating with electric vibrations, and from above he spoke down to me, a congregant, about my heritage, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, Joseph and Mary and God. He talked of shalom, and peace, and evil in the world, his formidable biceps holding tight to the handles and shaking with impulse and motion.

Still moving on the whole body vibration machine, he revealed his own doubts, his down days when he had no money, his deflated acting career. He spoke of his intimacy with Jesus, the touch of God, the God who had once been a man and died on the cross to save the world and return it reborn.

He got off the machine. And stood down on the marble floor, feet planted firmly, looking at me, man-to-man, eye-to-eye as a mall choo-choo train chugged and whistled past.

He then wrapped up his short sermon with a quote from Proverbs 2:7:

“He will keep the salvation of the righteous, and protect them that walk in simplicity.”

We shook hands in earnest. And I walked from J Christ to J Crew in search of my next ministrations.