Two people, a Guatemalan born man, and his wife, raised three girls and one boy in this 1933 Van Nuys house.
The children grew into adults. They went to college, then graduate or medical school, and became highly educated professionals.
The parents, and another relative, stayed behind in the old house, a Spanish style ranch with a red tile roof and backyard full of fruit trees, and numerous potted, flowering plants.
All the old people died a few years ago. Now the house is being prepped for an estate sale. The lady running the sale is my friend. She invited me into the home to survey it.
It seems that nobody ever threw anything away. And every square space of the property was full of mountains of metals, tools, cans, bottles, wood, and machinery.
Packed tight in the front of the house was a tiny kitchen, dining room, living room and a two bedrooms. But in the back was a secret, unofficially constructed warren of rooms and an old patio converted to an indoor sewing room, and another bathroom, added on.
Outside, a jerry-built outdoor sink was plumbed up to an exterior wall. External electrical outlets taped up to live connections was nearby. A family of raccoons made their home above old lawn mowers and a rusted gasoline blowtorch. Any space that could store things, did.
Yet, these people were not pack rats or hoarders. They were, most likely, born poor, and through thrift, industry, and hard work, and a strong dose of Catholic faith, they persevered and prospered.
The front of their home has always been neat. The lawn is cut, the driveway swept, the cyclone metal fence keeps guard along the street. Birds of Paradise have grown large and cover the front living room window.
And when this house is sold, and the contents banished or transferred to new owners, the life of people who once inhabited this home will be erased forever.
Up until a few days ago, a blue and yellow auto repair building with Honda, Datsun and Toyota signage stood at Kester and Delano, a retro oddity imprisoned behind high, steel- spiked fencing.
Now the fence is down, and a bulldozer is making fast work tearing up the asphalt and the evidence of the existence of the former business.
What will go here? It seems likely that it will be another modern apartment, like the one just to the north of this lot. That makes sense, as this area is predominately residential, and the auto repair was the only one of its type north of Delano.
What is sadder is the probable fate of the mid-century building. It might, in a more imaginative use, be saved, and surrounded by gardens, trees and chairs, transformed into a cafe. It could, in this area, provide badly needed nature and respite from the violent cacophony of grit, crime, and poisonous fumes that surround it.
And if an apartment is built, let us hope it imitates the modernity, restraint and white crispness of the new units next to it. We have had enough of the multi-colored, brown and rust, red and orange, loopy, asymmetrical, glib, cartoonish and “fun” styles that have disfigured much of modern Los Angeles housing.
Even Kester, once on the critical list, seems to be turning a corner.
One of the continuing themes of this blog is to look at what we are and imagine what we might be.
I think about that as I walk around Van Nuys, a misbegotten and deformed district.
But also an oddly lucky place where land is abundant and cheaper, yet frequently and usually, neglected and wasted.
At 14550 Sylvan St., between Van Nuys Blvd. and Vesper, there is now an empty courtyard surrounded by buildings on three sides. They once fixed cars here. This is a street full of fine old buildings, including the former Van Nuys Library (now a law office) and the former post office. There are also small stores: a tailor, a barber, a school, and a storefront church.
This is where a garden belongs. Buildings are small scale and human, within walking distance of every important building in downtown Van Nuys.
I took photos (with permission) from England. The ‘London Permaculture’ Flickr page shows urban gardens transforming bleak and hostile spaces into fertile and green growing areas.
Brown brick, beer guzzling, working-class England can be drab, but these gardens are a morale booster for their users.
Our alleys, behind Van Nuys Boulevard, can be fixed up with cafes, bars, trees, plants and lights. Eating, drinking and socializing can replace public urination, rats, tagging and trash.
At 14526 Victory Boulevard, the NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women) has a donation center which again, is a North facing forecourt that would also do nicely as an outdoor beer garden, pocket herb garden, etc.
At Friar and Van Nuys Boulevard there is a large parking lot, which is across the street from another large parking structure, in an area with too much parking. Why does Van Nuys, in this ramshackle location, with its empty storefronts and dead buildings, need 2,000 parking spaces?
There are wasted opportunities of land and development all over Van Nuys.
We live in an environment built for the lowest common denominator of mediocrity and exploitation.
Who can marshall the resources to bring money and planning into Van Nuys?
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.
The San Fernando Valley Business Journal reported that two new proposed housing projects, one on Sherman Way west of VNB, the other near Oxnard and VNB, are in the works. Principals in the projects showed their plans to members of the Van Nuys Community Council the other night.
Developers floated two residential proposals before the land-use committee of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council on Tuesday, including a subdivision that got the green light to move forward.
Storm Properties Inc., a Torrance residential developer, wants to build a $29 million small-lot subdivision that marks its first foray into the San Fernando Valley.
The proposal calls for 58 single-family homes at 14700 Sherman Way, just west of Van Nuys Boulevard. Small-lot homes are separate residences but can be so close that the units can have the appearance of condominiums.
Alan Kwan, the firm’s director of acquisitions, said they would be priced from the mid-$400,000s to the mid-$500,000s.
The subdivision got a positive response from the land-use committee, which recommended that it move forward to the full Neighborhood Council next month.
The vacant land was originally bought as an expansion site for Church on the Way, whose main sanctuary is at 14300 Sherman Way. Kwan said the church’s plans have changed and his firm is in escrow to buy the parcel for an undisclosed price.
Storm Properties has concentrated on residential infill projects in the South Bay, but the firm is increasingly interested in the San Fernando Valley.
“We love Van Nuys in particular. It seems to get a bad rap, but we look for areas where we can get a lot of value and where neighbors are supportive,” Kwan said.
The second project is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development slated for 4.5 acres at 6100 Van Nuys Boulevard. It would feature 384 apartments and about 17,000-square-feet of retail space at the busy corner of Oxnard Street. It is adjacent to the Orange Line busway.
Keyes Automotive Group operated a showroom on the property, which is owned by a family.
Brad Rosenheim, principal of Rosenheim and Associates Inc., a Woodland Hills land use consultancy, represents the landowners. He said the project is still in preliminary stages.
“We’ve got a lot of work left to do on this,” said Rosenheim, who plans to return to the committee with more detailed plans.