Building Blocks.

Mid-Century Modern
Mid-Century Modern
Van Nuys Blvd
Van Nuys Blvd

If you walk around Van Nuys, you encounter unexpectedly graceful and forgotten pieces of architecture.

I noticed this white bricked office building, most likely constructed in the early 1960s. This is the type of structure that would excite an architect in Silver Lake, and one could imagine a young firm setting up shop here. Instead, the building sits underutilized, begging for tenants.

Along Van Nuys Boulevard, just south of Vanowen, is a two-story commercial building, the kind they built in the late 1940s, with steel casement windows and retail space on the ground floor. This might have originally been an optometrist’s office on top, a respectable location for a doctor or perhaps a CPA. If this building were on Rowena and Hyperion it would be a cheese shop, an art gallery or maybe a Cuban cafe. Instead, it sits empty on Van Nuys Boulevard.

It takes some vision and guts to imagine that the failures of Van Nuys can be reversed and that this down and out and street may once again have vibrant commerce, cleanliness and vitality. I do fervently believe that the future of Los Angeles will once again come down to these old, neglected places.

I can see a Van Nuys Boulevard where a light rail system runs down the middle and the street is lined with thriving cafes, apartments and small businesses. I imagine a place where the ugly cobra lights have been dismantled and replaced with decorative lampposts. A Van Nuys where there are cops walking the beat, and people waving hello to their neighbors.

Where are the visionaries? Where is the money that is sitting tightly in the banks, which should be invested in this very community?

And why is there such a paucity of the imagination in changing and rebuilding the real Los Angeles? Why are our politicians and leaders like old clunkers in Detroit, waiting for the federal government to bail us out, when we have the resources and money and to do the work ourselves?

The old buildings are visible reminders that, not so long ago, Van Nuys had optimists who believed in and built up the future of this area.
They came here to create, not to retreat.

5 thoughts on “Building Blocks.

  1. Part of the problem of the retail in Van Nuys on Van Nuys Blvd. specifically is the disconnect between the needs of specific retailers versus the improvements currently there. If the retail could just be concentrated between Vanowen and the Orange line crossing, it would, over time, get better. Take all undeveloped or underdeveloped property north of Vanowen and allow residential to be built, as in up to potentially 4-6 floors if necessary. Put a landscaped median in the street, a la what Studio City has done to Ventura Blvd.
    I wish this were able to be done south of Oxnard but realize it cannot be, due to the needs of the car dealers in off-loading vehicles.
    But huevos on the part of Cardenas and Wendy’s successor would go a long way in cleaning up things.


  2. I really think the variety of architectural is one of the most interesting yet overlooked facts about Van Nuys. It is part of the reason why I live here and not in someplace like Burbank. I too live north of Victory and I would love to do something positive for the community where I live like open an art gallery, since I am an artist. The problem is that the retail rent in most of the area is still unaffordable for me. I’m sure some people are guffawing at the idea, “A gallery in VAN NUYS,” but improvement has to start somewhere.

    Van Nuys does have an illegal immigrant problem but this same issue is faced to a degree by places like Silver Lake, Echo Park and even a while ago, Venice Beach was plagued by horrible crime. If we continue to disparage it instead of coming up with creative solutions change will never come. Instead of passing blame to council people we should work with them for the change that we want. The problem is that this takes time and effort, something that a lot of people are unwilling to give to Van Nuys, even if they live here or close to here. It is easier to drive to a better part of town than to work towards improving this part of town.


  3. I’ve come to the conclusion that thinking people like yourself will have to give up on anyone else doing what needs to be done and become the one who buys the melancholy old building and does something with it. I’ve thought the same about myself. Maybe we should do what the immigrants do and scrape together some money to but an old building and throw a coat of paint on it and lease it out or buy an old apartment building and plant a new garden and clean up the mess.


  4. I agree with your remarks for the most part especially in regards to the need for law and order in our life.

    Van Nuys may have the elements of decay that remind you of a small town in a formerly industrial area of Pennsylvania. But the economic problems of PA that contributed to its decline are not part of what is ailing Van Nuys.

    Rather, this area that we live in had, until recently, a thriving economy that has, as we all know, lured millions of illegal immigrants to come to California. And the associated decline in our quality of life is attributable to the overcrowded schools, gangs, crime and health care crisis brought on by the addition of people who legally should not be here. Period.

    Countless blog postings and phone calls to Councilman Cardenas’ office cannot prevent or end such quality of life issues as garbage cans left in front of buildings, tagging, litter and shopping baskets tossed into front yards. For years, I have written about a slum mall on the NE corner of Victory and Kester owned by a Mr. Fogel who has never bothered to sweep his property or illuminate those cinderblock walls which are tagged every evening.

    And I wonder about the anemic Van Nuys Neighborhood Council whose members seem to have sat in those seats for quite a few years and whose actions render invisible on Van Nuys any noticeable improvement in the shocking filth and ugliness of Kester, north of Oxnard. Van Nuys Boulevard looks like it has not progressed since 1970, with its enormous blocks of banks, empty storefronts and lifeless streets.

    I live north of Victory, and like your neighborhood, south of Oxnard, mine is basically well-maintained and has an insular feeling of middle-class prosperity. But many of my neighbors are unemployed, and while the yards are still mown for $15 a week paid to the gardeners, inside the walls of these homes, people are struggling and hanging on, hoping Obama or Christ will answer their prayers.

    I understand the motivation to disinvest from Van Nuys, and believe me, I don’t have the power, money or solutions for the truly international set of problems that has settled into our corner of the San Fernando Valley.

    But I don’t support secession when the goal is not self-government, but rather self-delusion.


  5. Those buildings are a melancholy testatment to what was once an economically thriving community here. Van Nuys today reminds me a little of where my father grew up, in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, just 45 minutes from Pittsburgh.

    Aliquippa was once a bustling town along the Ohio River, populated mostly by black, white, Irish,Hungarian Czech steel mill workers, their families, and the Jewish merchants, doctors and dentists who served that community. As the steel industry was abandoned, the workers lost their livelihoods, stores folded, merchants sold, and poor blacks moved in. My great-aunt’s jewelry store, with its inlaid mosaic floor, became a sleazy bar, and food stamp depots, liquor stores and empty storefronts erased what was once a very alive, if working class, town. Sadly, there is no going back. The lack of jobs in PA and nearly bancrupt Allegheny County government cannot support any revitalization efforts.

    I question whether Van Nuys can be revitalized. The vision of a Van Nuys Boulevard vibrant with cafes and shops goes along with those upper middle-class communities like Old Town Pasadena, tonier Montana Avenue, Melrose Avenue, Main Street Santa Monica and the 3rd Street Promenade. None of those village-like urban hubs has the ethnic and economic demographic of Van Nuys. And I think, frankly, never will.

    The face of Van Nuys today is not going away. Let’s call it what it is. A town imploded by illegal immigration and decay that have not been deterred by law enforcement, local landlords and business property owners. The town of San Fernando, by contrast, is overwhelmingly Latino, but has strict laws about loitering, yard sales, selling anything on the street, and housing that has excessive occupants or homeowners that illegally rent out garages for occupancy. San Fernando is clean, orderly, family oriented, and quiet.

    Rather than strive for Van Nuys to achieve a European ambience of streets lined with charming cafes, and tidy, pretty shops, or a Norman Rockwellian vision of a town with a friendly beat cop who smiles and says “hi” to passersby, Van Nuys should start with baby steps. Look at the model of San Fernando, how its laws are applied. Van Nuys needs to pressure Tony Cardenas, the Mayor, other local officials, and business interests into action.

    Van Nuys may never return to its 1950s and 1960s glory days. You’d have to airlift out 80% of the population to do that. But what it can hope for is a return to clean streets, reduction of noise pollution, urban blight, tidier businesses, elimination of graffiti and getting the loiterers and foraging homeless off the streets. That would be a good start.


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