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.
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.
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?
The Los Angeles Public Library has a collection of city directories dating back to the late 19th Century and these are now mostly available online.
Of course, I turned to browse at the 1939/40 San Fernando Valley City Directory, all 674 pages of it, with its detailed listings of every single person, property and business in the entire valley at that moment in time.
Van Nuys is described as a “model suburban homes community of Los Angeles City; strategic and important business center. Municipal administration headquarters for Los Angeles in the annexex area of San Fernando Valley.” Population 35,000. (Population in 2015 is estimated at 140,000)
The Valley, on the eve of WWII, was about to undergo changes unforseen and unprecedented. It was a unique conglomeration of modern convenience and the dusty rustic.
It was a time when men and women wore hats and dressed up to go out. And people spoke in hushed terms about health concerns and family secrets. Nobody said fuck in public, and the fat tattooed lady was only found in the circus.
While people were private about private matters, they were at ease having their names, addresses and professions printed on a publically distributed platform.
It was a folksy time when business owners adopted nicknames for themselves. “Bran” and “Dee” Funkhouser, for example, owned the Bran-Dee Brass Rail and Cafe at 6308 Van Nuys Boulevard. Their menu emphasized alcohol: beer, cocktails, wine, lunches and sandwiches.
California was at its most golden moment, still basking in its abilities to welcome [white] newcomers, while radiating an image of wholesome enterprise, carefree recreation, opportunity for all. It stood confident and inspired envy for its education, innovation and technology. It was the home of the movie stars, cattlemen, aviators, oil men and just plain happy folks who swam in pools and ate oranges off the tree.
From the ocean to the mountains, tired people came here to strike fortune, escape gloom, pursue health and happiness, and emerge energized and reborn.
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Huezo is a student living in Van Nuys, currently studying graphic design at CSUN.
He sent me an admiring email a few months ago after he found “Here in Van Nuys” online.
We met up in person and decided to collaborate on a project together.
Kevin took my photographs of actor Kayde McMullen and transformed them into a new realm of art.
Here are Kevin’s creations: