Photograph caption dated March 10, 1964 reads “Wagon train – cycle style – The start – Ready to roar off on a three month Central American tour after the go signal from Andy Kolbe, Reseda Honda dealer, are three Valley cyclists, Martin MacDonald, 20, Sepulveda; Jim Craine, 22, Van Nuys, and Jim Nicholson, 20, Granada Hills. The adventuresome trio will wheel down through Baja California, Mexico City, La Paz, the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America. Kolbe is sponsoring the tour which will test the new Honda Scramblers on a rough trip.”
“Sheila James Kuehl (born February 9, 1941) is an American politician and former child actor, currently the member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 3rd District. In 1994, she became the first openly gay California legislator and in 1997, she was the first woman to be named Speaker pro Tempore in California. Kuehl most recently served as a Democratic member of the California State Senate, representing the 23rd district in Los Angeles County and parts of southern Ventura County. A former member of the California State Assembly, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and served until December 2008. She was elected to her supervisorial post in 2014. In her capacity as Supervisor, she also sits on the Metro Board, First 5 LA, and is the County appointee to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.” – Wikipedia
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Metro Los Angeles Board
Re. Metro “Option A” Plan for Light Rail Yard in Van Nuys
Dear Board Members:
As you are aware, Metro Los Angeles is planning to erect a light rail service yard in Van Nuys. “Option A” is one of four sites proposed by the agency.
“Option A” would seize land NE of Kester and Oxnard, along four blocks, covering 33 acres, and demolish 186 buildings straddling the Orange Line Busway. For the purpose of this letter the area will be called “Kesterville.”
We are vehemently opposed to this plan. Here is why:
- 186 small, family run businesses, employing an estimated 1,500 workers, occupying affordable, mostly rented space would be destroyed.
- It would leave a gaping hole of emptiness blocks from downtown Van Nuys, obliterating plans for a denser, walkable area.
- Option A will take out yet another engine of well-paying, highly skilled jobs and products, made in America, employing many immigrants and local residents.
- It needlessly destroys a successful, close-knit pocket of creativity and commerce, manufacturing, and makers of unique goods and services found nowhere else in Los Angeles.
- It will reduce fair priced, rentable industrial space in a city starved for it, in an area that is already served by public transport and contains more affordable housing.
- Option A will subtract from the city what it is seeking to promote region wide: affordability, mobility, economic innovation, small business, local industry, ethnic diversity, and community cohesiveness.
- The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council opposes Option A.
Within this dense, vital district are found a historic music recording studio, a maker of top quality metal hardware utilizing 3-D printers and advanced machinery, several fine custom cabinet builders and their craftsmen, an expert stained glass artisan whose work embellishes homes, churches and historic buildings, a restorer of Vespa motorbikes whose facility is the only one of its kind east of Pennsylvania, and a 20,000 SF shop where vintage Mustangs are serviced and restored. There are painters, carpenters, builders, and experts repairing racing boats, and several professional recording studios for musicians.
MacLeod Ale, a craft brewer of UK style ales, opened in 2014 and has become a highly successful and respected beer maker. They are located on Calvert St. adjacent to the Option A area.
Kesterville is a place of creativity, productivity, sustainability and viability. Organically, without government coercion or corporate ownership, it is an incubator of ideas and products. It has been alive for decades, growing more prosperous and doing well in the heart of the oldest part of the San Fernando Valley.
If Kesterville is destroyed, it will recall the most heartless obliterations in Los Angeles history: the razing of Chavez Ravine for Dodger Stadium, the flattening of historic Bunker Hill for corporate behemoths, and the bulldozing of West Adams for the Santa Monica Freeway.
Van Nuys has already suffered social, economic and environmental neglect. Why compound the injury by robbing it of yet another burgeoning and blossoming area that could become a new district of small businesses, restaurants, cafes, and even urban, in-fill small housing?
We urge you to respond to this civic emergency by opposing “Option A” and the demolition and eviction of sound businesses that support many thousands of families struggling to survive in a brutal time of economic insecurity.
We are in favor of light rail, and public transportation in general, but ask that it be constructed with greater sensitivity to the community so that it is compatible within the urban landscape and causes the least amount of damage to communities within our city.
The Business District of “Option A”
Van Nuys, CA
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States, but aspects of it can seem almost small town. A sprawl built of people who came from somewhere else, infamous for its superficiality and temporality, it sometimes, surprisingly, produces individuals, deeply rooted in its soil, who live and work here their whole lives, sometimes in an area a few blocks wide.
Such is the case with Peter Scholz.
He was born in Van Nuys, 53 years ago. He lived at 5812 Lemona Ave in Van Nuys, CA. in a German-American family along with Michaela, his younger sister.
His parents, Heinz and Herlinda, had met in Vaduz, Liechtenstein in 1954. They married, and in 1959, emigrated to Los Angeles, where they found work, as driver and maid, in the Sidman Family estate in Beverly Hills. They stayed there only briefly.
Motivated by ambition and hard work, Heinz left his chauffeur job to work as a baker. Meanwhile, they had two kids, Peter and later Michaela.
In 1968, Dad opened Scholz Cabinets on Aetna St. in Van Nuys, a location where he did business for the next 20 or so years.
Peter worked part-time with his father, graduated from Notre Dame High School and then enrolled in Pierce College “because that’s where the best looking girls were.” He attended two years and graduated in 1984.
He continued to work part-time with his dad, closely learning the craft of custom cabinet wood making. He was, in effect, going to school overseas, by learning the German way of doing things here in Van Nuys: precisely, exactly, and diligently with strict attention to quality and integrity.
Yet Peter had other ideas and passions in his head. He was excited by art, by creative people, by wealth and Hollywood, and by that whole rich world, over the hill, where sculptures, luxurious homes, paintings and grandiosity were on display.
Remarkably, he didn’t try and become an actor. He didn’t intern at William Morris. He didn’t affect affectation. He still built cabinets. He used his skills in making them to enter a rarified world.
It was the late 1980s, an era of big shoulders, fat cigars, overpowering perfumes (Giorgio, Poison, Opium), Joan Collins, The Brat Pack, Wall Street, Greed is Good, and the explosion of personalities in the art world.
He wanted, somehow, to take the modest and self-effacing excellence he embodied and make custom cabinets and custom showcase podiums for architects, designers and clients in Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Brentwood, Pasadena, Malibu and Westwood. He was introduced to notables who became clients, such as Eli Broad, real estate mogul, art collector and philanthropist; and Robert Graham (1938-2008), sculptor, born in Mexico, married to actress Angelica Huston.
Still only in his early 20s, he started Showcase Cabinets, a name reflecting that his creations, his products, were showcases (custom pedestals and bases) to display art, objects, sculptures.
In 1984, at age 20, he married ( eventually divorcing after 20 years), had two kids, Niko and Jessica, and he has two granddaughters as well.
Annie, his girlfriend of eight years, also works in the shop. They live with their son Erik, 14, in a 1950s modern house near Valley College which they gutted and remodeled. It has white walls, a backyard pool, orange front door, and solar shades. The house is filled with a cacophony of eccentric and colorful artwork, sculpture, bright colored chairs and, most imaginatively, a graffiti painted bathroom that seems inspired by the interior of a NYC subway car, circa 1985.
He seems to have started everything, work, marriage, fatherhood, at an early age. In 2009, he also bought the building where he now headquarters Showcase Cabinets, Inc. He and Annie travel, often to her home country, Bulgaria, where they use her family house as a base point to explore Europe, including Greece, Italy and Germany and everything two hours or less from that point.
He employees some 10 people in his bright, 4,200 SF, well-run shop. Last year, they invested in a $30,000 Striebig Compact Vertical Panel Saw, made in Switzerland, which is accurate to 1/100 of a millimeter or 0.0003937008 of an inch.
His business, which is very healthy, is all word-of-mouth. In an era of social media, of pretending to be successful by posting doctored images and endorsing products, Peter earns his money in the real world of tangible, material substances made out of trees. There is no need for Photoshop when you rub your hands over a smoothly buffed, 30 foot long, walnut bookcase.
His location, 20 minutes from Beverly Hills, and within easy distance of the 405 and the 101, is ideal for clients, designers and architects who often want to drop by the shop to choose finishes, to see the craftsmen at work, to witness what they are paying top dollar for. And Peter welcomes them. He has everything to show and nothing to hide.
His raw materials come predominately from Valencia Lumber in Lake Balboa and Phillips Plywood in Pacoima. He also sends work to GL Veneer, Inc. in Huntington Park. Showcase gets the orders and this is passed up and down the economic food chain.
He deals with stress through kickboxing, the gym, and yoga.
He has some very nice bottles of Japanese whiskies lining an office shelf, in a room built of concrete block, anodized steel walls, and a one-way detective style mirror to keep an eye on the shop floor.
The wall facing his long desk is decorated with large format photographs of drug busts, tattooed gangsters, guns and illicit substances which his son-in-law, a cop, shot from an Iphone.
There is an air of bad boy badness in Peter Scholz but it seems to be more artistic expression than real life activity. But one would not care to incite him. He acts formidable…. and it doesn’t look like an act. If he were an actor, he could play a felon or a cop convincingly. He exudes menace and kindness equally.
Because he is happy in his life and work he projects his good fortune onto Los Angeles. “There is no better place to live,” he said, without irony.
Option A: Metro Plans to Demolish 33 Acres of Industry for One Big Rail Yard.
Hanging over all this is the “Option A” scheme by Metro Los Angeles which might condemn Peter’s shop and 185 other small businesses, covering 33 acres, in an area north of Oxnard to Calvert, from Kester east to Cedros. This is ostensibly for a future light rail maintenance yard.
Opposition to the scheme immediately sprung up and Peter produced big yellow banners against Option A now hung all over the area.
Boldly, by instinct, in his customary manner, Peter marshaled his creative connections to hire artist Guy Ellis (#dcypher_dtrcbs) who painted a long mural on the exterior wall of Showcase. It is in the style of 1930s social realist protest. It is powerful and jarring, screaming, in deathly ashen gray, and living bright yellow, a cry against the potential destruction of the area.
If Option A is withdrawn, and the area is permitted to continue existing, Peter has plans to keep the mural up on his building, and even more plans to revitalize the district with the help of his neighbors, friends, investors, architects and innovative developers.
Showcase Cabinets, Inc. and the life and work of Peter Scholz, is yet another reason to drop the idea that wiping out a section of Van Nuys, and scattering her most creative and productive class, is progress at its finest.
# # # #
After WWII, Italy was poor, the roads were torn up by war, and the new democratically elected government was prohibited to build military hardware. Industrial revitalization was a must. So innovative militarists turned to consumer products to employ workers and restart the economy.
The Vespa (“Wasp” in Italian) grew out of this era.
It was designed and built by aerospace engineers to satisfy postwar transportation needs economically. They created a scooter, with all the mechanical parts enclosed, and a tall frontal splashguard, features which appealed to Italian men in suits and women in dresses. There was no grease to splatter on well-tailored woolens, and the versatile, small, well-engineered bike travelled well on narrow, pockmarked streets.
Piaggio & Co. introduced it and still owns and manufactures Vespa.
After its debut in 1946, it sold slowly, if solidly.
Then “Roman Holiday” (1952) starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, filmed on location in Rome, skyrocketed the Vespa’s popularity. Suddenly 100,000 a year were selling. The popularity of films such as “La Dolce Vita” (1960) and the neo-realist Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s made all things Italian seem fast, young and glamorous. The mid 1960s Mod Subculture in Britain, dudes in Ben Sherman shirts and skinny ties and tapered trousers, furthered pushed the Vespa into pop culture.
In the US, even Sears imported Vespas and renamed them Cruiseaires. By 1981, the bike had lost popularity due to environmental laws. Yet again, in the early 2000s, Vespa restarted its American sales effort, opening its first boutique on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, CA hoping to capitalize on our four CA freedoms: sunshine, mobility, novelty, and fun.
According to Wikipedia, there have been 34 different versions of the Vespa. Today, five series are in production: the classic manual transmission PX and the modern CVT transmission S, LX, GT, and GTS.
About 4 miles north of the Vespa retail store, at an unmarked building at 14819 Aetna St. in Van Nuys, Kristian Storli, 39 is quietly, diligently and artfully restoring Vespas, at his company, Bar Italia Classics, established 2006. According to Mr. Storli, it is the only shop of its type from here to Pennsylvania.
You pass through a gate into a courtyard packed with tools and bikes, all under some sort of repair, but then you enter a stylish, air-cooled, gray-painted, 3600 SF shop, unlike any you’ve ever been to, with vintage illustrations, glass shelves filled with awards and medals, antique framed advertising for Vespas, and a very large movie poster of Angie Dickinson atop a Vespa in “Jessica” (1962) directed by Jean Negulesco.
“Sicilian women plan to rid their village of a sexy American midwife (Angie Dickinson) by making her job obsolete.”
Obsolete is what haunts Mr. Storli, a stocky, blue-eyed, mechanical minded man of Norwegian descent who went to school to study musical composition, and ended up investing his life savings into his Vespa passion. He has had three shops in the last ten years: first on Calvert, then Bessemer, and now Aetna.
C, B, A….. Ominously for him there is no letter preceding A.
Each time, rents and leases ended. And this time, he fears, he may become redundant by Option A, if his shop, and 185 others are demolished by Metro Los Angeles for a 33-acre rail service yard.
Nevertheless, there is a rhythmic beat and output of bikes at the shop. Many restorations take 12-18 months and require each machine:
- To be disassembled and inspected,
- Stripped of old paint on engine and body parts,
- Hardware sent out for plating,
- Reassembling the machine to peak condition in both function and appearance.
- Full payments are dependent upon delivery of the finished product to its owner.
It is a painstaking job, only undertaken by devotees and acolytes in the cult of Vespa, but the result, as one can see in a finished product, is the absolutely breathtaking beauty of the timeless and completely Italian product. The smooth and shiny gracefulness of a finished bike exudes sensuality and speed.
One day a few weeks back, working inside his dream factory, Mr. Storli was jolted with a bomb of an announcement: He might have to move to make way for a 33-acre demolition project bulldozing 186 businesses for a future light rail maintenance yard operated by Metro Los Angeles.
He had only moved into his third, and presumably final shop, this year, 2017. He lost over a year of income when he had to move the second time. Now he was threatened with new economic ruin, not by a downturn in business, but by an aggressive action of a government agency using Eminent Domain powers to evict lawful enterprises.
He told me that he is deflated, worried, and panicked. He has started, grudgingly, to look for other affordable space in Los Angeles. But the rental vacancy rate for industrial property is only one percent. And the competition is marijuana growers paying three times the asking rate to landlords.
To lose so many businesses is sad.
But it is doubly tragic to see a completely original and unique craftsman, Mr. Storli, thrown out of his space. It is one more step in the homogenization of Los Angeles, where shortsighted bureaucrats fail to protect unique and skillfully constructed products and services when they are operated by small businesses. But every corner store is CVS or Starbucks.
We need excellent public transport.
But grotesquely destructive and obliterating plans to build a light rail yard through viable and productive industrial tracts only harms Los Angeles -by destroying the real and the good -by promising the imaginary and the perfect.
The proposed Metro Los Angeles scheme (“Option A”) desires, through eminent domain, to flatten 186 small businesses employing some 1,500 workers just steps from downtown Van Nuys.
The 33-acre area extends from Oxnard St on the south to Calvert St on the north, Kester St. on the west and Cedros on the east. In this area, rows of shops straddling the Orange Line will be extinguished by 2020.
Light rail is coming, the trains need a place to freshen up, and here is their proposed outdoor spa.
The engine of public relations is roaring. Mayor Garcetti needs to remake LA for the 2028 Olympics. He has gotten the city into full throttle prepping for it.
It is comforting to think that property owners will be reimbursed for their buildings, that businesses “can relocate”, that the city will take care of those who pay taxes, make local products, and employ hundreds.
But most of these lawful, industrious, innovative companies only rent space. Yes, they are only renters, and they face the dim, depressing, scary prospect of becoming economic refugees, chased out by their own local government. Some of these men and women have fled Iran, Armenia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, places where war, violence, corruption, drugs and religious persecution destroyed lives and families.
Others were born in Van Nuys, those blue-eyed, blonde kids who went to Notre Dame High School and grew up proud Angelenos, driving around the San Fernando Valley, eating burgers, going to the beach, dreaming of making a good living doing something independently with their hands.
They all expressed shame, disappointment, anger, and betrayal against Councilwoman Nury Martinez and the Metro Los Angeles board for an action of insurmountable cruelty: pulling the rug out from profitable enterprises and turning bright prospects into dark.
Scott Walton, 55, whose family purchased the business Uncle Studios in 1979, said, “I think I’d sell my house and leave L.A. if this happens. I would give up on this city in a blind second.” His mother is ill and his sister has cancer. His studio now faces a possible death sentence.
What follows below are profiles of three men, who come from very different industries, but are all under the same threat.
Bullied at the Boatyard: Steve Muradyan
At BPM Custom Marine on Calvert St., Steve Muradyan, 46, services and stores high performance boats at a rented facility. Here are dozens of racing craft costing from $500,000-$1 million, owned by wealthy people in Marina Del Rey and Malibu. The boats winter in Van Nuys, where they are expertly detailed, inside and out.
Mr. Muradyan, a short, broad-shouldered, sunburned man with burning rage, threw up his hands at the illogic of his situation. He takes care of his wife, two children, and aging parents. He pays 98 cents a square foot in 5,000 SF and he cannot fathom where he might go next. A wide driveway accommodates the 50 and 70-foot long boats. And he can work late into the night drilling and towing, without disturbing others.
He once ran an auto repair shop on Oxnard. Later he had a towing service. Then he started his boat business in 2003. He had raced boats as a young man, and this was part of his experience and his passion. Why not?
He deals with all the daily stress of insurance, taxes, payroll, equipment breakdowns, deadlines, customer demands, finding parts, servicing the big craft. He worries about his business, his family, his income. And now this impending doom, dropped from the skies by Metro. He prays it will not happen to him. He cannot fathom losing it all, again.
Art and Soul in Stained Glass: Simon Simonian
Over at Progressive Art Stained Glass Studio, 70-year-old architect and craftsman Simon Simonian rents a small unit on Aetna where he designs and molds exquisite stained glass for expensive homes, churches, synagogues and historic buildings.
He knows all the local businesses, and often he sends customers to the cabinetmakers and metal honers steps away. There is true collaboration between the artisans here.
A kind, creative man with a penetrating gaze, Mr. Simonian, with his wife and young son, came from Tehran in 1978 to study in Southern California and escape the impending revolution in Iran. He speaks Farsi, English and Armenian.
He is an Armenian Christian and his family was prosperous and made wine. His father had escaped the turmoil in Armenia when the Communists took over after WWII, which was also preceded by the massacre by Turkey of 1.5 million. His people have suffered killing, expulsion, persecution, and the loss of dignity in every decade of the 20th Century.
The Simonian Winery was doing well in Iran in 1979. And then the Islamists came to power and burned it down. By that time Simon and his wife and son were in Southern California. He begged his father to come but the old man stayed in Tehran and died five years later.
Tenacity, survival, and intelligence are in his genes.
“I love what I do. I have loyal customers. The location is excellent. I know all my neighbors here. I want to stay rooted. I don’t want to have to start all over again. Where can I find space like this? Where will I go?” he asks with the weary experience of a man who has had to find another way to proceed.
The Man from Uncle: Scott Walton
55-year-old Scott Walton looks every bit the rocker who runs the recording studio. He is longhaired and lanky. With a touch of agitation and glee, he slips in and out of the dark, windowless rehearsal spaces of Uncle Studios, where he has worked since 1979.
His father, with foresight, loaned $50,000 to his two sons, Mark, 20, and Scott, 17 to buy a recording studio. Here the boys hosted thousands of aspiring musicians including Devo, The Eurythmics, Weird Al Yankovic, Weather Report, Yes, Black Light Syndrome, No Effects, The Dickies, Stray Cats, and Nancy Sinatra.
When Scott first started he didn’t play any music. He learned keyboard, classical piano and he also sings. He went on the road, for a time, in the 1980s, playing keyboard for Weird Al Yankovic. He also plays in Billy Sherwood’s (“Yes”) current band.
Despite the proximity to fame, talent, money and legend, Uncle Studios is still a rental space where young and old, rich and poor, pay by the hour to record and play music. Something in the old wood and stucco buildings possesses a warm, acoustic richness. Music sounds soulful, real and alive here, unencumbered by the digital plasticity of modern recordings.
But Scott Walton is also a renter. He does not own the building bearing his business name. If his structure is obliterated, he will lose the very foundation of his life, his income, and his daily purpose. He will become an American Refugee in the city of his birth.
This is only a sampling of the suffering that will commence if Metro-Martinez allows it. The Marijuana onslaught is also looming.
On the horizon, Los Angeles is becoming dangerously inhospitable to any small business that is not cannabis. Growers are paying three times the asking rental price to set up indoor pot farms for their noxious and numbing substance. There may come a time when the only industry left in this city is marijuana.
The new refugees are small craftsmen running legitimate enterprises. Some may not believe it. But I heard it and saw it on Aetna, Bessemer, and Calvert Streets.
The pain is real, the fear is omnipresent and the situation is dire.
Just east of Kester, on the north side of Bessemer, Mustangs, Etc. has been servicing, restoring and selling that model of Ford since 1976.
They occupy three buildings. Two are rented, and one is owned.
There are 20,000 square feet, in total, of vintage parts stacked high and piled thick, inside cavernous, narrow, metal-shelved rooms with wood-framed ceilings, some punched out with skylights. Dusty light pours down through decades of spider webs to illuminate every small, medium and heavy part that might go into any Ford Mustang built since 1964 1/2.
Garrett Marks, 37; musician son of the founder, Arnold, 76; lead me on a tour of their facility. Thoughtful, quiet, bearded, limping somewhat from a two-year old accident, he wears his red hair long and speaks softly and knowledgeably about his family business.
“I feel like a historian, an archaeologist, and an investigator,” he said, as we walked past rows of steel tire rims, drive shafts, 14″ Spun Aluminum Air Cleaners, spark plug cables, brake pads, fuel pumps, stainless hood hinges, ’67 Mustang air conditioning vents,auto lamps, hydraulic hose lines, Bendix Radios, and stacks of vintage dashboards with fuel, oil and speedometer instrument panels.
We passed those extra-large, circular Mustang gas covers from the early 1970s.
Mary Tyler Moore, are you still on that highway to Minneapolis?
Inside the parts office there was a straight-haired young woman who sat in front of a computer screen. Her digital device seemed out-of-place in a fluorescent lit, wall-paneled room overflowing with volumes of instruction manuals: 1969,70, 71, 72, 73 Wiring and Vacuum Diagrams, 1959 Edsel Maintenance, and a glass case with headlights, key chains and other ephemera seemingly mixed up and tossed about by mischievous ghosts.
A few buildings down the block I toured the service garage.
It is expansive, bright and light filled. Jocular young men in dark blue uniforms with retro names (Scooter, Steve, Mike, and Gil) worked on vintage Mustangs and mocked one another in friendly terms.
It was like a scene out of old Kansas somewhere in a small town. I thought the boys might get a lickin’ if Auntie Em or Uncle Arnold came onto the floor. It could play out like “The Wizard of Oz.”
Here, here, what’s all this jabber-wapping when there’s work to be done? I know three shiftless farm hands that’ll be out of a job before they know it!
Well, Garrett was walking along the —
I saw you tinkering with that contraption, Scooter. Now, you and Steve get back to that wagon!
All right, Mrs. Gale. But some day they’re going to erect a statue to me in this town, and —
Well, don’t start posing for it now. Here, here — can’t work on an empty stomach. Have some crullers.
A few jaunty, groovy autos were positioned high, held up on hydraulic vehicle hoists. Each mouth-watering, metallic Mustang body was a different color: deep red, orange, blue, and misty green. Each evoked a sensory flood of memories, for me, that fast time, 50 years ago, when people drove fast and unbelted, and every car you passed in Malibu had women in short skirts with long hair and big sunglasses smoking. Everyone you saw was 18, smooth-faced and sat in the sun and went to the beach every chance they got.
Those Mustang Dreams were getting renewed in present day Van Nuys. Their exteriors polished, their engines tuned up, their interiors sewn and repaired and given a yearly dose of immortality denied to their owners. A freshly restored Mustang gallops like an unbridled pony. It embodies youth, fury, energy, and a temporary escape from any debt, duty or obligation.
Just outside the garage, out on the black top, Ray was demonstrating a 1967 Lincoln Convertible Sedan whose top unfurled electronically and was stored in a giant steel trunk that opened to receive it and seemed ominously capable of holding five dead gangsters comfortably.
I met Arnold, the founder, and we sat in his office as he spoke.
He was born in Detroit in 1941. His father was a skilled auto mechanic. They came to South LA after the war, and Arnold came of age during Kennedy’s New Frontier when the Presidency was still profound and its occupant quotably inspiring.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The young idealist Arnold wanted to teach. He got his certification, and he went down to South Central where he encountered disheartening road blocks: a disdain for education, broken families, poverty, and children who passed around bullets in class for amusement. In those schools, at that time, before busing, there was no order, no discipline, no respect, so he soon went to find another way to work.
He got smart and retrained as an auto mechanic. By luck, he found another spot near Kester, and began his operation in 1976. His rent was $900 a month so he had to hustle. He found that his specialty in Ford Mustangs was dear to many, including celebrities such as Jay Leno, and Miley Cyrus among others.
Like all business owners in Los Angeles, he found that he had to fight, not only for customers, but against appalling social conditions in the neighborhood. There was illegal dumping, homeless encampments, drug dealers, drug addicts, thefts, and murders.
The expansion and landscaping of the Orange Line (2005), with its lush trees, bike trail and dedicated bus route also ironically hampered the operations of Mustangs, Etc. For now Bessemer Street was narrower, there was no room for tow trucks to drive. The leaves from the many shade trees blew into the property, creating a fire hazard, necessitating removal.
Arnold does not believe “Option A”, the plan to destroy his business and hundreds of others for a Metro Light Rail Service Yard, will happen. “If we are evicted where will we go? There are no other affordable, convenient places for a small business. Many of our customers come from Hollywood or over the hill, so they aren’t going to drive to Pacoima.”
General Manager Mike thinks the plan to demolish 33 acres of industrial Van Nuys will create some huge environmental problems as decades of discarded oil, poisons, liquid metals and other bio-hazards, once willfully dumped, buried into the soil, are released back into the air. Adjacent homes will see clouds of dust blow over them as bulldozers, jack hammers and shovels unbury deadly toxins entombed in dirt since the 1940s.
If Mustangs, Etc. and other businesses survive this threat, a piece of historic but still functioning, producing, contributing, industrial Van Nuys will have had a small triumph. These family owned companies, mostly employing locals , walking to work, or living nearby, these places of quiet accomplishment and enduring fortitude shall not perish from this Earth.