Crossing Ventura.


Sometime in late 2018, early 2019, I’m not sure exactly when, they created a pedestrian crosswalk, with flashing lights, across Ventura Boulevard. at Ventura Canyon Avenue.  The crossing is about a block east of Woodman and a few doors down from Yok Ramen at 13608 Ventura where I go about once a week.

This is in the heart of Sherman Oaks, where stores that paint your nails, sell used records or live birds are sprinkled along the boulevard along with massage, dry cleaners, and laser skin treatments. And Floyd’s 99 Barbershop where every customer from 18-80 is a rock star.

I’m familiar with this area and its friendly banalities.

About 20 years ago, I knew a divorced woman in her 40s, with a little girl’s voice, who spent most weekday mornings at the location where the ramen place is now. 

Back then it was a bakery and a coffee shop with big muffins and big mugs, chocolate croissants and caloric treats. She sat at a table with her journal and wrote music and poems. Today she is retirement age, married and living in rural England.  And that’s how I got to think about the time passing and the way people pass time on Ventura Boulevard. 

As Orson Welles once said, “The terrible thing about L.A. is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.”  

And if you spent a couple of decades eating chocolate chip muffins on Ventura Boulevard what have you got to show for it?

To keep people alive, and moving, mostly in cars, the people and “leaders” of Los Angeles have devised, through the years, the same kinds of ideas to make safer the naked and shameful stunt of walking across Ventura Boulevard.  These include longer pedestrian signals, traffic islands, and painting the street with lines or figures to indicate that humans on foot also roam in the land of cars.

We tweet in seconds about trivialities like nuclear war, impeachment or the fires in Australia but we cannot assume that six decades will correct the urban failures of Los Angeles. Photographs from the past prove my point.

On November 30, 1959, Dr. Louis Friedman, Dentist, painted his own crosswalk, with a corn broom, on the pavement at Murietta and Ventura, to protect his patients. He had unsuccessfully asked the city to do so but his requests were ignored. So he took the initiative and laid down the lines.

That same year, Carl Stezenel, 10, of North Hollywood stood at the corner of Radford and Ventura and tried to cross in the time allotted, 9 seconds. If a 10-year-old boy found that challenging, imagine the typical woman of that era in high-heeled shoes, gloves, hat and a cigarette pushing a baby buggy?

Carl Stezenel’s plight may have influenced a December 1, 1960 dedication for a new landscaped traffic island at that same location. Men in suits (a sure sign of importance) attended the event, in a district whose distinguished architecture featured auto dealerships and gas stations. 

Five years earlier, in 1955, motorists on Ventura near Dixie Canyon Avenue were warned that they were approaching a nearby school by a painting on pavement of a running boy with a ball. 

People who worked and shopped in the area did care about how it looked. Years before it was considered normal and decent to allow tens of thousands of intoxicated and mentally ill people to live on the streets with garbage filled shopping baskets, the issues of why there was no tree cover on the boulevard haunted the civic minded. 

The palm tree, with a trunk so skinny it could never crowd out a Cadillac at the curb, was the obvious solution.  

Studio City is now lined with palm trees, a species that provides no shade to sidewalks that are baked in sunshine 350 days of the year. In 1954, the first palm trees were planted as part of a beautification scheme. Fully grown, their trunks look like posts without billboards, a perfect style for this city.

The sameness of businesses in the late 1950s along Ventura Boulevard presented problems. We, who are of CVS, Starbucks and Chipotle, may understand that historical plight.

Studio City and Sherman Oaks had a competitive streak. 

To bring customers between the two districts, a special free bus was introduced on February 18, 1959. If you had a watch that needed repair, wanted to purchase panty hose, a typewriter ribbon, or a cigarette case, now you had a no fare bus to take you up and down Ventura Boulevard, opening up a world of possibilities. 

That bus must have been cancelled after 10 episodes.

Further east, at Balboa and Ventura in Encino, the traffic situation was already dire in late 1953 when work-bound suburban residents were forced into only two lanes of eastbound road, while the westbound, going into less populated Tarzana and Woodland Hills was free of congestion. The solution: three lanes in the morning, and then move the cones and make it three lanes westbound at night. 

Eventually, the current road was widened into three lanes in each direction, with an advanced staring-into-the-sun design for morning and afternoon drivers. 

High rise office buildings sprung up in the 1960s and 70s, some as high as 15 stories, but nobody in the single-family neighborhoods nearby cared because the occupants were white and well-paid. Today, a four-story tall apartment with 130 apartments, and 3 affordable units is considered social engineering and overcrowding by many in Encino.

We are now into the third decade of the 21st Century and Ventura Boulevard still lacks safe pedestrian crossings because most drivers and pedestrians are looking into their mobile devices.

Photo Credits: LAPL/ Valley Times Collection

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