Facade Engine Co 39.jpg
Sylvan St. Van Nuys

At a MODCOM meeting last night, I learned that an Art Deco architectural gem in Van Nuys may be destroyed.

Engine Company No. 39 was built in 1939 and has all the dignity, solidity and beauty of governmental buildings from that era. It sits just across the street from the Valley Municipal Building and is a handsome civic structure.

An article in the Contra Costa Times quotes Councilman Tony Cardenas:

“Councilman Tony Cardenas said he appreciated the beauty of the building, which was built in the Art Moderne style, but added the time had come to replace it.

“Today, probably as much as ever, people can appreciate how important it is for us to have the best — the best equipped, best-manned fire department in the country,” Cardenas said.

“This is an opportunity for us to invest in the community of Van Nuys and to replace the 70-year old station,” he added. “Not that everything that is at least 70 years old needs to be replaced, but I think it’s important that we do our responsible duty when it comes to facilities.”

This quote, by Councilman Cardenas, shows a very short sighted and appalling ignorance of both history and community. While nobody would argue for the need to have the best fire protection available, why does this necessitate destroying a historically significant building?

During Mr. Cardenas’ tenure, the old Whitsett Home, built by the man who founded Van Nuys in 1911, was bulldozed and now there is an empty lot on the site. Now Mr. Cardenas wants to literally remove one of the finest examples of 1930’s streamline design in Van Nuys.

The secession of a neighborhood of Van Nuys which now calls itself “Sherman Oaks” was a recent embarrassment to Mr. Cardenas. But how and why would people want to live in Van Nuys, which remains, at least on its main thoroughfares, filthy and unspeakably ugly and wears its badge of shame without shame? Is Mr. Cardenas on a mission to bring down Van Nuys or build it up? One has to wonder….

Van Nuys was once the jewel of the San Fernando Valley. It’s civic pride was embodied in buildings like the Fire Station No. 39. Along with the old library, the old post office and the municipal building, these were walkable and civilized arrangements for conducting one’s daily business.

Are there not acres of empty parking lots, underutilized industrial lots, and vast acres of crappy broken down ugliness lining such streets as Sepulveda, Van Owen and Kester? You mean, Mr. Cardenas, that the only possible location for a new fire station is on the site of one that dates back to the administration of FDR?

Van Nuys is crying out for someone with a vision, and a sensitivity to beauty, and instead we are under the administration of a boor who would allow the destruction of one of the finest examples of streamline moderne architecture in Los Angeles.

9 thoughts on “Destroying an Architectural Gem in Van Nuys.

  1. Time to replace Mr. Cardenas…. leave the structure alone…. I am 5000 kms away from it but was so struck by it’s looks on an episode of “My Name is Earl” I felt compelled to research it…. it should be as a thing of beauty a joy forever…


  2. It is a shame that the beautiful downtown core of Van Nuys may lose another historic building: Fire Station No. 39, which has been a fixture in our community since 1939.. Our civic center would not be the same without this monument. It needs to be saved!


    Penny Meyer
    Van Nuys Neighborhood Council Member


  3. I couldn’t agree more with your lament about the possible loss of that beautiful Fire Station, and the dignified camaraderie it creates with the municipal building across the street.

    . . . This would be a great place to mention my utter shock yesterday when I happened to walk down Bessemer St. west from Tyrone and discovered that Van Nuys’ original Train Depot had been demolished and removed!!

    The depot had been used for years as a garage and warehouse by Big Valley Dodge, and I guess when they went out of business the actual owner of the property figured a cement lot was better than our city’s history!

    I was flabbergasted – and still am – that this has received no coverage or acknowledgement anywhere. And just 17 months short of Van Nuys’ Centennial!


    1. I can think of no better use of redevelopment for downtown Van Nuys than for Big Valley Dodge to be demolished, bulldozed and wiped off the map.
      It sits on land that should rightly be used for smart, green, walkable shops and residential use. The ignorant fools who were allowed to destroy a piece of history with the utter silence of our community is disgraceful.


      1. Maybe the city should instead build a new fire station on the former site of Big Valley Dodge instead of tearing down yet another beautiful historical building. Sometimes I think city government won’t be happy until Van Nuys is a complete stucco desert of “Taco Bell” architecture.

        Buildings like the fire station will never be built again. More thought needs to be put into these decisions. What a pipe dream!


  4. Nice work once again by the esteemed Councilor from Van Nuys. Of all the places to tear down to make way for progress, this is what he chooses? How about adding a new fire station in another part of town, keeping this one in operation and providing extra service to the town?

    Andrew, maybe you should post a photo of the lovely strip mall at the corner of Kester and Victory once more — but you should be careful, as Mr. Cardenas may condemn you for showing the city in an unflattering light.

    I cannot decide if he is simply out of touch or spectacularly incompetent.


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