Beware of Big Promises: 1963


Community leaders, developers, planners, business people, and boosters are forever promising a brighter day tomorrow.

So it was in Van Nuys nearly 60 years ago.

The new police station, a striking piece of $5 million dollar architecture, whose inspiration appears to be many vertically positioned Philco televisions, was nearing completion on March 29, 1963. The grand civic center, a pedestrian promenade, a library, and several court buildings would complete the ensemble.

On February 16, 1963, 400 well-groomed white people gathered at the Masonic Temple Lodge on Sherman Way to view the exciting land use plans unveiled by the Los Angeles Planning Department governing the future development of Van Nuys.

A mystery remains: Why was a law enforcement structure removed from the street and shoved way back behind a deserted pedestrian mall?

The idea that a police station, whose presence is ostensibly there to prevent crime, should be buried far from the streets where officers patrol, is one of the confounding results of architectural planning which often presents glorious schematics but fails to consider practical results. Van Nuys Boulevard today is a ghost town, except for those who are there to make crime. A cop or two might reassure diners, drinkers, and those who are out for a nighttime stroll.

And the plans for Van Nuys? What have they produced in the last six decades? Probably the largest conglomeration of urban ugliness, environmental catastrophe and social upheavals within the entire United States.

Our surroundings are here to serve only the needs of cars, our air is dirty, our parks few and overrun with garbage and homeless, and we live under the daily and nightly sounds of gunfire, fireworks, sirens and patrolling helicopters. Our rivers are concrete, our boulevards are decorated with billboards and wooden traffic poles, our corner stores are marijuana outlets or parking lots, and the sidewalks are festooned with shopping carts, discarded sofas and tents.

Though most everything along the wide streets looks like impoverished crapola, the rents are exorbitant, and a “starter” home is $800,000. Any efforts to build higher than four stories brings out the angry loudmouths on NextDoor, and developers are maligned and despised by the general public while bearing ridiculous regulations that require onerous fees and expensive construction that inflates costs and discourages new housing. The little old lady, who inherited the three bedroom ranch house from her parents, and pays $300 a year in property taxes, is usually the bitterest one of all.

“I pay taxes! Why does everything look like shit!” she screams.

What kind of city do we live in? What is wrong with us?

Our system of life on Earth is failing globally, and especially here in Van Nuys.

The lesson: beware of great promises made by the powerful for they only care about themselves.

Credit: LAPL/Valley Times Photo Collection

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