People People Envy


In 1961, the Valley Times newspaper ran a contest to promote a new insert, Weekend.  The winners produced a clipping of Miss Weekend Weather and claimed a $10 prize if they were chosen. 

A photo essay, with pictures of the winners, entitled, “People People Envy” ran on September 3, 1961 in the Valley Times. All the women were courteously named, in the custom of that time, with their husband’s names, i.e., Mrs. Patrick McGarry.

It was an era when women were not considered complete unless they had a husband. 

September 3, 1961 

Mrs. William A. Rygg, 13430 Oxnard St., Van Nuys; Mrs. Walter Schulte, 8720 Hazeltine Ave., Panorama City; Mrs. Brace Gurnee, 11744 Otsego St., North Hollywood; Mrs. Jay David, 7519 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; Mrs. Frank Dalton, 926 Parish Pl., Burbank; Mrs. F. W. Walpole, 17500 Minnehaha St., Granada Hills; Mrs. S. E. Meck, 9132 Yolanda Ave., Northridge; Mrs. Patrick McGarry, 5104 Woodley Ave., Encino; Ruth Fulton, 6619 Wynne Ave., Reseda, and Mrs. William Schmitt, 14201 Remington St., Pacoima. 

You March That Way, You’ll Live This Way


1955.

Once upon a time, my father’s family lived on the South Side of Chicago.

Grandpa Harry and Grandma Fanny had their little house on 88th and Clyde, a squat brick home built in 1950 with a back porch and a spotless kitchen. 

Uncle Paul, Aunt Frances and Barry lived on Luella, not far from Grandpa Harry.

And Uncle Harold and Aunt Evie lived with their children, Adrienne, Michael and Bruce in expansive, grand old apartments overlooking Lake Michigan along the South Shore.

Harold and Paul had both been soldiers during WWII, married young, and came back home. Harold was an engineer, so he started a heating/air-conditioning company that installed systems in many buildings in Chicago. Paul (1921-), veteran of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Leyte, worked as a plumber and electrician. He is still alive at 99 and lives in Woodland Hills, CA.

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., there were nationwide riots. And the stores on the south side were burned down and looted. And my grandfather’s new 1968 Chevy Impala, parked on the street, had its antenna broken off by a vandal. That’s when everyone sold their houses and moved up north to Rogers Park and Lincolnwood, North Lake Shore Drive, Deerfield and Highland Park. 

Because they were safe there. 

There were federal investigations by the Kerner Commission, whose findings were released in 1968, to get to the root causes of rioting from 1967, the year before. And they found, (surprisingly!), that segregation, poverty, discrimination, poor jobs and broken families contributed to unhappy lives. 

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After every insurrection, after every march, after every episode of mass looting, there comes a vow to move forward and make certain that this time, this time for sure, these events will not happen again.

So the streets in major cities were renamed Martin Luther King Jr., and on television Norman Lear created “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.” And Hollywood and the media proclaimed that justice would reign over all the land.  See the diversity!

And then there is a reaction, a call for law and order, new laws for harsher sentencing, new reforms for welfare, and progressive ideas to rebuild the cities (Brooklyn, Venice, South End Boston) by making everything safe for tech and shopping and historic renovations, and guess who will be removed again? 

Giuliani is the king. Love what he’s done! This city is the best it’s ever been. We’ve been through 9/11 and now we are never going to be down and out again!

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Who gets shot and who goes to fight the wars and who dies in the streets and who dies on the battlefields and whose population is dying today of Covid-19 and why is it always the same answer?

Why is it still terrifying to drive through the west side of Chicago before you reach Oak Park and tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses? Who lives there and who kills there and who suffers there? It’s always the same answer.

Let the looting and fires and protests begin! America don’t you see what’s going on! 

You are violent by custom, and this is another type of violence. How dare they smash shop windows and steal what isn’t theirs!

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Note:

Estimated U.S. military spending is $934 billion. It covers the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021. Military spending is the second-largest item in the federal budget after Social SecuritySource.

That works out to about $2,838 per person in the US. Or about $236 a month for every man, woman and child in the country.

We aren’t even at war. But you could argue we are always at war.

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People of pinker pigmentations are again woken up and made to face the suffering of some of their fellow, darker citizens. And every year the same old story is retold, just with new clothes, new celebrities, new movies, and now, a new hashtag, #oscarsowhite or #blacklivesmatter. 

And a silent majority, one whose all-white room I sometime inhabit, deplores criminality, violence, and looting; and I’m locked in there in that all-white room; I can’t get out, because I like the all-white décor that tells me that some people are violent and barbaric and have the wrong values. I feel better about myself, in that all-white room, knowing I’m law abiding and that should be end of the discussion. I’m suffocating in there, I can’t breathe, but I am relaxed in my self-assurance and high self-esteem.

Because if you get in trouble you are a troublemaker. 

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Where I came from is some of who I am.

I grew up in 1970s Lincolnwood, IL and there were no black people other than domestics who worked in people’s homes. 

In 2017, Lincolnwood was racially composed of 57% whites, 30% Asian, and 6.2% Latino or other.  I didn’t see a mention of African-Americans.

There was once a way to run away from troubled places, and seek refuge in a safer neighborhood, but I think we have run out of hiding spots.

They have come to Beverly Hills and Buckhead and Santa Monica, and they is us. 

In 1992, I worked in the Polo Ralph Lauren mansion on 72nd and Madison in New York. There was no social media, no Twitter or What’s App, only rumor.

So as Los Angeles burned, New York City trembled, and rumors of mobs attacking Herald Square and other locations were falsely spread. There was not mass violence or destruction in New York City, that year, and it remained largely in Los Angeles, mostly, infamously, in South LA and Koreatown.

The Polo Store had wooden doors with glass windows, and the security guards pulled the cloth window shades down. They turned the lights off, and we all went home around 3pm on Friday, May 1, 1992. I walked through Central Park in my linen suit and back to my little apartment on West 96th St. to sit in the air-conditioning and wait out the troubles. 

Until this past week I thought we lived in a new time of toleration and nobody was that angry and the times I saw horrendous videos of police brutality seemed the exception and not the rule. And I lived, because I am allowed to do so, in a bubble of wishful thinking and fantasy, in a country that mistreats others but not me.

I thought Barack Obama was the pinnacle of we shall overcome. 

And I was wrong. Dead wrong. 

I was naïve. 

Me? 

Naïve? 

No. 

Just white.

I’m protected from the injustices perpetuated by a system designed to give me a boost up, a feeling of betterment, because others are down there, and can’t be as good as me, no matter how spectacular they are, by virtue of their inherited DNA.

That’s really the truth. Because you might have an MBA, or be the CEO of a company, and if you go running as black you might be shot dead. So why bother to be the best if your country already decides you are the worst? That is the quandary of racism, it rips down the individual to a category, incarcerating her within a foul story of failure. 

It takes a remarkable concentration of effort for the protagonist to overcome her role as the demon in a bad fairy tale.

Like an Obama or Oprah or any father or mother of color in North America.

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We are at a point that is not only about the murder of the man by copper knee in Minneapolis. 

There is the small matter of our chief executive, a corrupt ignoramus, who came to power, by questioning the birth certificate of our black president.

We are sick, we are unemployed, we are uninsured, we are scared. 

We were kept home, kept in fear, brought out in mask, and indoctrinated to wash hands. We stayed home and got our groceries delivered, and got a check from the government, and some people got sick, some died, and the nation looked in vain for a leader who could not lead, a savior who could not save, and today we are waking up in the wreckage of our homeland.

A virus still stalks the Earth and lives in our saliva.

When Los Angeles was at its richest and most prosperous, three months ago, there were 100,000 homeless. And that was permitted, by the leaders, the citizens, and the public. 

When Los Angeles was at its most diverse, the whitest among us drove our children to school districts that were majority white, and our morning and afternoon traffic was largely made up of children riding to and from whiter schools with their parents. 

And that was toxic and unjust, racist and unfair, blatantly racist. When you think about it.  Public schools where no children walk to school. Public schools, not of neighborhoods, but of magnets propelled to collect like particles to adhere with.

And what have we done to change education, health inequalities, housing shortages, racism itself? Because it all circles back to race when you ask people where they want to live or go to school.

We have an invisible problem right before our very eyes. 

Our feet stand on blood-soaked soil. But we don’t see under our white sneakers.

We are striving to succeed, we want our children to succeed, but what is personal success if our nation is a failure?

So many marched, that way this week, holding up signs: impassioned, motivated, angered.

It was a religious fervor of moralism sweeping the country. 

But nothing has changed, really. Stores are burned and looted, cops get down on their knees, mayors and governors call for a new dawn of tolerance and kindness.

The new plate glass windows go up, the tags scrubbed off the buildings, and surely Oprah will find a new heartwarming book to promote by a young black author.

Instagram will black out, and hash tag, and celebrities will proclaim they stand with the oppressed and the hated, and vow that a new day is here.

And new laws will get passed. And everyone will listen to great podcasts about race and police. And eventually the marchers will not march. They will go home, or get jobs, or go back to school, and the national hibernation will end, and the fast, furious ambitious race to get more for me will resume. 

The next time someone dies unjustly, Our God, Lord Smartphone, will record it. 

But Lord Smartphone cannot right a wrong. Only we can.

We marched that way, but we’ll live this way.

A Cleared Lot


They have almost completely cleared the 27, 762 SF lot that is 6505 Columbus.

The property once held a single family house, constructed in 1937.

One of the owners was a production manager and second unit director, Cliff Broughton, Sr.

On November 14, 1949, Mr. Broughton’s son, Cliff Jr. was piloting the 136- foot-long schooner Enchantress, along with 14 passengers, from Newport Beach, CA to Panama, and later Tahiti, when it ran aground in a sandbar off the coast of Baja California. The boat was eventually freed and everyone survived.

The senior Mr. Broughton put 6505 Columbus up for sale in 1950. Perhaps the yacht drama had distressed him.

In an LA Times classified ad from January 15, 1950, 6505 Columbus was called “Rancho Perfecto.” The one acre estate with 6 rooms, included a guest house, rumpus room, laundry house, tool house, double garage with storage closets, patio, and a lighted badminton court. There were also “plenty of shade and fruit trees.”

They were asking $22,500.

For many years 6505 was part of six other large, underdeveloped and underprivileged properties on the west side of Columbus from Hamlin to Kittridge. In a previous post this area was described accurately as I saw it.

Now they are almost done clearing the house and flattening the land where some four homes will sit between two roads, Hamlin and a TBD.

A large apartment building will be the backdrop for the next 100 years of drama at 6505 Columbus.

Valley Feed and Fuel


14551 Bessemer St. (Photo by Andrew B. Hurvitz)
Map 14551 Bessemer

On the NE corner of Bessemer and Vesper, here in Van Nuys, there is a steel walled storage warehouse with three pitched roofs.

Unmarked with any signs, it seems to have been there many years, and is characteristic of structures that once stood alongside rail lines to receive and to send out produce, grains, and manufactured products to faraway markets.

I dug up information from the city and found that “14551 Bessemer St.” was built in 1922, at a cost of $4,000, for the Fernando Feed and Fuel Co. It stood alongside the freight lines and was serviced by a dedicated Southern Pacific rail spur that went right into the property.

6/22/1922: 14551 Bessemer St. Van Nuys, CA Dept of Buildings Application

By 1925, chicken ranches were a big business in the San Fernando Valley, with an estimated 1,000,000 laying hens in the valley producing some 12 million eggs at a gross return of $5 million dollars. (In 2019 dollars, about $72 million.)

A 1925 LA Times article said that the Fernando Feed and Fuel Company started in 1916 as a feed store, but grew, in nine years, to 1,500 customers, large and small. Several other facilities for warehouse storage were located in Owensmouth and Van Nuys with a crew of 45 men and 15 trucks delivering feed and other orders to customers.

Chicken ranches, on one, two or five acres were a type of housing development that sprung up all around Southern California. They allowed families to feed themselves and also make a living selling chickens and eggs. At that time, other orchards grew oranges, walnuts, lemons, avocados, asparagus, and strawberries. 

A 1916 LA Times article praised “rose lined Sherman Way” (later renamed VNB) and the white feathered leghorns that dotted recently established (1911) Van Nuys.

“White Feathered Leghorn” Chicken. (source unknown)

Scientific work to bolster the agriculture industry and  promote poultry farming was often shown. 

In 1920, a four-day poultry institute was given at Van Nuys High School, by Prof. Dougherty, head of the poultry division, college of agriculture at U of CA, under the auspices of the LA County Farm Bureau and the Van Nuys Poultry Association.  A vaccination to fight chicken-pox was demonstrated there. 

Entrepreneurs and peripatetic innovators flocked to Van Nuys to raise chickens in advanced ways.

At a five-acre ranch on Woodman Avenue, in 1925, a recently transplanted Englishman, JCF Knapp, who had run plantations in Sumatra and India, had finally realized his lifelong dream to become a poultry farmer in Van Nuys. His operation had the capacity for 4000 chicks, and Mr. Knapp confidently asserted that he had not only a successful business model but a new kind of assembly line efficiency [for producing Grade A chickens on the scale of Model A’s.]

Also in 1925, WW Todd Realty Co. reported that a new set of chicken farms, totaling five acres, were to be built on Ranchito Av. near Tulare St. in Van Nuys. Some 100,000 laying Leghorn hens were expected to arrive in the valley within six months. 

[Ranchito Av., for the geographically ignorant, runs parallel to Woodman and Hazeltine, halfway between both. I found no modern maps with a Tulare St. however]

A 1920s aerial photograph of downtown Van Nuys shows the Fernando Feed and Fuel storage warehouse and the combination of commercial buildings along “Sherman Way” (renamed in 1926 Van Nuys Bl.) and orchards that were planted right inside the middle of town. VNHS is in the upper center/right of the photo. (below)

Van Nuys Feed and Fuel 1925, view NW

The chicken farms of the 1920s, which boosters never stopped boosting, gradually died out when the Great Depression hit after 1930 and sank agricultural prices.  By the late 1930s, suburban development came to the San Fernando Valley, and during the war (1941-45), industrial and defense plants, soldiers, military hospitals and the urgencies of war supplanted the rural way of life raising chickens. 

After 1945, the San Fernando Valley was the fastest growing place in the world, and every acre of land was transformed by housing developments, shopping centers, and car centered designs. 

The chicken farm, with its odors and mosquitos was now a menace, and housewives in Reseda were scared to let their children play outside.

Lost in the stories about the chicken farms is an old America that valued challenges and thought itself capable of surmounting them.  Poor, barely educated and hard-working people came here and somehow transformed Los Angeles into an advanced city that also grew its own food and sold off the surplus to an amazed and grateful nation.

Van Nuys, once a proud and admired center of advanced agricultural innovations, committed civic suicide. It destroyed its downtown by ripping up diagonal parking, widening the road to freeway widths, removing the streetcar, tearing down old buildings and replacing them with empty plazas and zombie moonscapes of trash and concrete. It embarked upon decades of laying down asphalt and laying out the red carpet for criminals, malcontents and derelicts.

Porn, marijuana, prostitution, bail bonds and slumlords were the largest industries by year 2000. Hopelessness replaced optimism and dystopia seized this district like an incurable disease. 

And politicians were thought worthy, not for their works, but only if their last names ended in the letters S or Z.

At least we have the Internet to thank for a glimmer of what it once was.

Clearing Up a Photo Mystery


I found a DWP  Collection photo from the 1920s that shows the Van Nuys office of “Wagner-Thoreson Co.” (a realty company) and a nattily attired man standing in front. 

In the background is an estate on a large piece of land. A signpost reads: “Sherman Way” and “Lane St.” The photo had some information underneath which said “Lane St. was later renamed Califa St.” 

Where exactly was this? 

On Google Maps there is not a “5856 Sherman Way.” I thought the signpost might be blocking a number “1” so I inputted “15856 Sherman Way” but that address, in present day Valley Glen, was not at an intersection.  Califa and Sherman Way do not intersect either.

The 1926 San Fernando City Directory listed “Wagner-Thoreson Co.” at 5856 Van Nuys Bl. (at Califa). Not “5856 Sherman Way.”

Then I remembered something. 

Sherman Way was once the route of the Pacific Electric streetcar. The PE snaked its way up through the Cahuenga Pass into North Hollywood, then west down Chandler Blvd. It turned north up Van Nuys Blvd. and then travelled to go west on Sherman Way.

But Chandler Blvd. and Van Nuys Blvd. did not exist in name until 1926. From 1911 until 1926 Chandler, Van Nuys and Sherman Way were all named: South Sherman Way, North Sherman Way and Sherman Way!

On May 25, 1926, the Los Angeles City Council, with some infighting between San Fernando Valley residents, came to a compromise and agreed to partition the Sherman Way family into three distinct names: Chandler, VNB and Sherman Way.  



So the man in the mystery photo is standing on present day Van Nuys Blvd. at Califa, a block south of Oxnard.

Van Nuys Bl. 1930

Pacific Electric service lasted until December 29, 1952. 

Cahuenga Pass 12/29/52
N. Hollywood, CA. 12/29/52
Chandler Bl. 12/29/52

These sad and wondrous Kodachrome photos from the collection of Caesar “CJ” Milch (not the original photographer) show the #5146 car that once ran up through the Cahuenga Pass and into the eastern San Fernando Valley on its last day.