Constructing the Valley Municipal Building, 1932

Most photographs of the Valley Municipal Building show the 1933 building after its completion, but here are some, by Dick Whittington Studio as the hole was being dug in 1932.





Statistics and specifications for the completed structure exist and have been cited many times, so I won’t do it here.

Instead, one might look at these photographs and imagine the small town of Van Nuys, self-sufficient and walkable, safe and sunny, sitting in the middle of the largely agricultural San Fernando Valley in the depths of the Great Depression.

Surrounding the t-shaped dig, is a Richfield gas station and The Erwin Hotel, criss-crossed in a vaguely Tudor style.

In contrast to today’s heavily regulated construction, the men are all in civilian clothing-no hardhats, no vast walls around the site, no safety signs. The humble trucks are pulled right up to dirt and a two strips of lumber comprise a fence surrounding the digging.

Laborers, architects, drivers, engineers, photographer; everyone was lucky to work.

With such opening modesty the end product was magnificent, distinguished and proud.
And became that symbol of Van Nuys everlasting.



7 thoughts on “Constructing the Valley Municipal Building, 1932

  1. Funny thing, Andy, as I read your wonderfully sentimental bit of nostalgia I found my mind wondering back before they took another block for that stupid Post Office…and what they stripped away to do so…I still remember old “Engineer Bill” and his restaurant…and that movie theater…and then I was thinking about the old Fox Theater on the west side of Van Nuys Blvd., just north of Victory…and realizing the last of the marble facade had finally been stripped away on some discount garbage store-most fitting for the people who support that entire neighborhood now…people who couldn’t give a damn about anything…breeding kids like they once breed chickens in Van Nuys…and even in the 1960’s when they still had car cruising with rarely any trouble of sorts-but the influx of losers brought more and more disingenuous little renegades hell-bent on stealing, fighting and causing all forms of mayhem…and then…”Wednesday nights” were gone…I guess they are in some other realm…along with Engineer Bill, the Red Cars, the old movie theaters…instead of family restaurants, and See’s Candy, and some nice shoe stores and baby shops, there are wall to wall to wall bail bondsmen and quick money shops blighting every block. Words cannot express the sense that I truly feel against what has happened. And my heart can only cry out for those few, diligent elderly folks who have remained behind to fight the good fight (in their day, that meant trying to make a difference-nowadays, the image is of granny good witch holding an Uzi – Sub-Machine Gun while guarding her philodendrons)…
    Happy New Year to the remaining few who care!!!


    1. Robert,

      Glad you brought up the old businesses as well as the car cruising.
      Van Nuys has been through many stages in the last 100 years, with no guiding hands to plan or make good use of this area.
      I wonder what the new Councilwoman Nury Martinez is planning?
      I wonder if the new Mayor, Eric Garcetti, even thinks of Van Nuys?



      1. Andy,

        I wrote to Mayor Garcetti-regarding his own heritage(/DNA) in city government and also inferring past performance from certain folks who were both egregious, and yet also rather greedy as they made quite a bit of money off the backs of the innocent public while having development go “there way”…my grandfather had a hand in early development and my father had a small hand in it in his later years.

        But the one thing dad had told me was that there was a whole lotta “dirt” goin’ on and concealed from the public’s eyes. It still goes on, but I doubt nearly as much. of course, if you are born to it, I’m afraid it would be far easier-once you know all the big shots in power-an unfortunate state of things…but likely about the same anywhere you go. Though I know your ‘cover’ is Van Nuys, actually Panorama City is a far better example of what happens when a terrific idea runs into the blunt force trauma of greedy developers, government leaders-both political and appointed-and impatient business people forced to do battle over a ridiculous tax structure centered on driving them out while the folks who benefit from those taxes are the very ones who rob said businesses at every possible juncture-floods, riots, fires, blackouts (any excuse works for these losers!).

        Just a quick note-as your ventures are most interesting to follow-allow yourself an hour walk down a special little street that borders Van Nuys Jr. High School. The street is named Killian. It begins at Van Nuys Blvd., nearly across from the [current] Ralph’s Market (that’s another story). Anyway, back in 1928, my grandfather, James Cook Lee (sporting a 6th grade education attained in Neola, Missouri) had come to California around 1922 or so. He had gone from the grocery/butchering business into real estate, stocks and bonds and the like. By 1928, he owned the southwestern corner of Manchester and Western (where he had his real estate office). He was heavily invested in the stock market and was building/developing Killian St. He had a partner-I believe it was Norma Talmadge-the actress. He finished the Spanish styled units-all basically one bedroom, one bathroom, around August, 1929.

        When late October hit, he had $100,000 invested in the market worth $1 million on margin. In a matter of hours, he had lost all of it…sometime later, he had to walk away from the Killian block, and another year or so after that, he had lost the building on Manchester…He kept falling from there, but this is the part that relates to the area as per your writing. I know no one else would have nor will ever know about this and thought it might give you a brief stop 😉 It seems like a quiet neighborhood, and a number of those homes have either been removed/replaced or undergone extensive updating. Remember, when these were built, they had a well in their back yards and an incinerator not so far from it…as well as an outhouse. My how times have changed…now the trash is dumped on the streets and the water is pumped in from the north?


  2. You might want to check out the library at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I know they used to have a book that showed pictures of Van Nuys in 1911, with a Victorian Hotel on Van Nuys Blvd.


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