Photograph caption dated November 12, 1948 reads, “Exterior view of the new $125,000 gymnasium, given McKinley Home for Boys by the Kiwanis Clubs of Greater Los Angeles, as youngsters pour out after practice. Some of them go to study, others to definite work chores and some to the football field. Jake Kehrer, one of the playground supervisors, is their friend and counsellor [sic] and also a firm coach in the sporting events. If two boys get into an argument that needs settling, they put on gloves and work it out under Marquis of Queensberry rules.”
The Reverend and Mrs. Uriah Gregory established the Industrial Home Society in 1900. Their mission: to look after orphaned, abused and homeless children at their 33-acre estate in Artesia, CA.
Later renamed The McKinley Home For Boys (after President William McKinley who was assassinated in 1901), the institution acquired, around 1920, some 200 acres of land in “Van Nuys” which is now covered by the expanse of the Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks. (see photos above/below credit: LAPL)
From 1920 to 1960, the home operated out of its eclectic architectural barracks and main building, a mixture of Mission and Spanish architecture which housed 150-250 boys at any one time.
Vintage photographs show that the home was a focus point of many well-meaning, civic-minded men and women who funded athletic, work, and farming activities, as well as other character building exercises for children who were given a lousy start in life.
Photograph caption dated July 18, 1960 reads, “Approving transaction from precarious perch on monkey bar, Terry Fox, 13, resident of McKinley Home for Boys, watches as Encino Jaycee, Robert L. Levey, left, presents check to George T. Swartzott, McKinley superintendent. Jaycees raised funds through Concours D’ Elegance benefit. Donation will purchase play equipment for McKinley boys.”
Photograph caption dated October 27, 1955 reads, “McKinley boys draw steady bead during intramural marbles playoff. Intramurals are part of outdoor program which includes summer mountain camping in Wrightwood area of Big Pines. Boys spend three weeks each at camp. Los Angeles Kiwanis Club, which contributes 10 percent of McKinley’s total annual budget, pays full costs of camp. In addition to sports boys receive training in religion of their choice.”
Photograph caption dated October 27, 1955 reads, “James Ryan, left, and Bob Bickel tend poultry they are raising to earn spending money. As part of small animal project, McKinley boys are raising rabbits guinea pigs, calves for marketing. Boys acquire money to purchase animals by performing chores for homeowners and Valley businessmen. Another pocket money source is working at building and grounds maintenance at McKinley. Home officials feel boys learn to value money by running own enterprises.”
Mr. M.H. Whittier, the Kiwanis, and other bankers, oilmen, developers and anyone who wanted public do-gooding on their resume, heartily pitched in labor and dollars to keep the boys happy playing football, raising chickens, instructing swimming, boxing, gymnastics, football; all the activities that might steer them clear of trouble. And into a productive life of work, family, marriage, proper procreation and moral behavior.
Photograph caption dated May 30, 1961 reads, “McKinley Home for Boys honored community leaders and outstanding students at its Awards Banquet, presenting certificates for achievement. Among recipients were Harold McKee, front left, 6903 Rubio Ave., Van Nuys; Mrs. Ben F. Leach, 12156 Blix St., North Hollywood; Mrs. Gerald Hewitt, 13602 Valley Vista Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Nate Miller, 4817 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks, and Mrs. Robert Sweeney, 13015 Dickens St., North Hollywood. At rear are George T. Swartzott, superintendent of McKinley Home, 13840 Riverside Dr., Sherman Oaks, with some award-winning boys.”
Photograph caption dated September 10, 1959 reads, “Wedding Party At McKinley — Mr. and Mrs. Roy Widener, married last weekend at McKinley Home for Boys in Sherman Oaks, cut wedding cake with their sons. Boys are, from left, Roy Jr., 11, and Ralph Widener, 13, and Bob Corey, 12. Couple met at McKinley where boys have lived for three years.
Photograph caption dated April 29, 1957 reads “In shade of deodars and oaks at McKinley Home for Boys in Sherman Oaks families meet to discuss fall-out, roentgens, deterioration and other topics familiar to their calling as radiological monitors for civil defense. Meeting was attended mainly by squads from the Valley.”
Alas, the boys and their home were no match for the powerful Ventura Freeway which sliced through their grounds in 1958 and forced the home and its crew-cut youngsters to flee to San Dimas.
Photograph caption dated October 27, 1960 reads, “A scoopful of sidewalk superintendents watch as ground is broken at McKinley Home for Boys in Sherman Oaks to pave way for new 29-are shopping center at the site bounded by Woodman, Hazeltine and Riverside drive. The McKinley home moves to new quarters, now under construction in San Dimas. Digging the first hole for Bullock’s department store are Marty Becker, 8, and Tim Mitchell, 9, who are looking up to Mathew Frost, 10.”
Photograph caption dated June 21, 1961 reads, “There were more important things to do Tuesday than play ball at McKinley Home for Boys in Sherman Oaks. It was moving day. After 40 years, the Valley landmark moved from 13840 Riverside Dr. to the new, sprawling McKinley Home in San Dimas in San Gabriel Valley. But Tom Pearce, 12, and Melvin Conklin, 12, had to give the ball just one more pitch before they packed up and moved on. It’s easy to pack, center photo. You have boxes and things go in boxes. Orderly, of course. But it’s hard to leave the building, last photo, and climb onto the bus. A new home may be fun, but the old home has memories.”
Photograph caption dated August 8, 1960 reads, “Clay Johnson, 26, 16048 Celtic Ave., Granada Hills, alumnus of McKinley Home for Boys, 13840 Riverside Dr., Sherman Oaks, peers through chain-link fence with student Mike Chacon, 9, at Ventura Freeway, a major cause forcing move of home out of Valley early next year. Freeway rolls to within three feet of home. More than 200 alumni paid final respects to 40-year-old home Saturday.”
The Bullocks Company soon came in with its plan for a 29-acre mall and the last photos of the McKinley Home in Van Nuys (Sherman Oaks) show it next to the concrete structure that would soon house a shopping center.
The twin monsters of modern vapidity, the freeway and the shopping mall, would triumph here as they would everywhere else.
Lost in the destruction was a unique community artfully housed in exotic and historic buildings, a verdant expanse of a place where those without loving parents or family might come together under the careful, strict, instructive guidance of teachers, coaches, and philanthropists who were determined to set the boys straight.
60 years later, 100,000 men and women sleep on the sidewalks and live next to the garbage, and defecate in public, in “prosperous” Los Angeles, but once upon a time this city and its elite had a tough-hearted way of taking care of people who nobody else would.
Photograph caption dated July 4, 1961 reads, “The McKinley Home for Boys disappears from its site of 40 years, along Ventura Freeway in Sherman Oaks. More than 80 boys from the home are now in new quarters in San Dimas, paid for by sale of the valuable Valley property to Bullock’s for the newest Valley department store.”