Walkable Places You Drive By.


 

On the east side of Van Nuys Boulevard, south of Oxnard, there is a conglomeration of small shops.

Signs advertise a Kirby Vacuum shop, Attorney Sandra Nutt, a Farmers Insurance office, PC Tech Computer Repair, Young Actors Space, and a Los Angeles Wedding Chapel. Angeleno Mortuary and Benjamin Moore Catalina Paint fill up the northern most two blocks.

Here you buy cleaning machines, you get legal counsel, you are taught acting, you are legally married, you are fixing your computer, you are buying paint, you are purchasing life insurance, and you are dead and interred.

All this small business activity takes place in little shops constructed in the 1940s when commercial Van Nuys barely stretched south of Oxnard.


 

To the east of this is a pleasant, shady neighborhood of single- family houses mixed together with multi-family properties, mostly well-kept. Tiara, Califa, Tyrone and Sylmar are interesting to walk down because they contain an ecosystem of housing that works well together, near public transportation, modest and neat.

And if you are wondering what to call this area, please address it properly as “Sherman Oaks” even thought it abuts downtown Van Nuys.

You get your smog check in Van Nuys. You rent or own in Sherman Oaks.

At Calhoun and Tiara, a three-story apartment is under construction. Humorously, I observe that the style recalls those jutting out, trapezoids on steroids style popular 15 years ago in Santa Monica. The Valley is always behind….. architecturally.

There are vividly painted buildings on Calhoun, including a bright red box unit, and a 1920s house in school bus yellow at 14300 Califa. People will do daring things only when they see their neighbors do them.

The eccentric hues cheer up the area, bringing energy to a place where the beiges and grays cover everything else.

At Califa and Sylmar there is a property with dark green dwarf palms growing in profusion along the walkway and the front yard. They are a bold alternative to grass and liven up the house, along with a muted green fence built of wood and wire. This arrangement of plants discourages parking, and provides a sharp, prickly security perimeter, a subliminal deterrent, but naturalistic.

 

On the west side of Sylmar, are newer (2014), two-story dense houses packed together, a chorus line of garagettes. The builder pastiched shutters, vinyl windows, tile roofs, and various desert colors to evoke a Californian aura, Montecito Mansion by Home Depot. The houses sold for about $800,000 each.

With a down payment of $157,000, a mortgage for a family of four would be about $3,100 a month.

This area, newly christened as Sherman Oaks, still within paint fume reach of the auto body shops along Oxnard, is a desirable place in a city starved for “affordable” housing.

At 14403 Tiara, townhouses with three bedrooms and three baths will soon be available for $659,000 each. With rows of garage doors, it is unlikely that any of the folks living here will hang out on the front porch drinking lemonade.


The tour ends BEHIND the shops on Van Nuys Boulevard where an old house stands marooned in a sea of asphalt and parking.

Forensically, curiously, I wonder what this was so many years ago? Was this building a little cottage in a sea of orange groves, set back from the road before they filled in the frontage with the commercial buildings? Someone was surviving, living, eking it out 80 or 90 years ago. Then the land, I guess, was subdivided and “improved”.

 

A clever, innovative city would allow this back area to be turned into a garden apartment area. The shops could be built with apartments above, and the windows could face in back around a central courtyard planted with lemon, orange and walnut trees. They might build a few more small houses here, and devise a protected, nurturing development on this site.

The cynic in me doubts it will happen. But the optimist in me knows it is possible.

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