With no down payment, for $44.50 a month, you could buy a brand new, 2 bedroom, 1 bath home in Van Nuys in 1950 starting at $7,950.00 ($83,033.63 today).
Kester Square, a little pocket of 37 new single-family residences, was quickly erected in a few months and planted on old farmland just steps from Kester and Vanowen.
The San Fernando Valley was booming five years after the end of WWII and every smoking factory, every plan to build thousands of little houses on every square inch of land, and the daily, hourly pouring down of asphalt over millions of bulldozed walnut and orange groves was a continual occasion for rejoicing.
In Kester Square, new sewers, paved streets, sidewalks, curbs, lawns and shrubs, along with clothes lines and a backyard incinerator made life very instantly suburban ideal. There was no environmental review, just men in suits with money buying up land and building everywhere.
Van Nuys Boulevard, “2 minutes away” from Kester Square, still had chain stores, restaurants, theaters and diagonal parking. It’s ruination, starting with street widening, began in 1955 and it has been on its death bed ever since.
Today when you drive down Bassett St., just west of Kester, a few blocks north of Vanowen, you still encounter a neat, tidy, small home pocket of pleasant houses. The general non-affluence of the area acts as a preservation tool because nobody can afford to or make money tearing down houses and replacing them with oversized uglies.
You would not dare venture out at night to stroll down Kester to Vanowen, but if you stayed home, or went out into your yard, front or back, you would still have a nice place to live, almost 70 years after Floyd C. Fisher, owner-builder, built a couple thousand homes for white veterans and their families.
For almost twenty years I’ve made a home in Van Nuys, CA.
And since 2006, I have published this blog: walking, photographing and writing about a peculiarly blessed, and unjustly afflicted section of Los Angeles.
Here are some 11 ideas that I am proposing to better Van Nuys, especially Van Nuys Boulevard:
Create Walkable, Garden Court Housing
We need, desperately, little, affordable, small housing units that share common garden areas. These were built all over Los Angeles up until the 1960s when dingbats took over with their car-centric designs.
Such garden courts would be most effective within walking distance of major bus and light rail streets.
Relocate the Van Nuys LAPD to Van Nuys Boulevard
The Van Nuys LAPD is buried deep behind the Erwin Street Mall, way back from Van Nuys Boulevard. What this accomplishes is removing the police from active interaction with pedestrians, shops and the action, good and bad, on Van Nuys Boulevard. Putting the police station back on the boulevard where it belongs would send a message to the community that law enforcement is on active duty: watching and patrolling, enforcing the law.
Reduce the Size of Wide Streets and Plant Trees
When drivers see five lanes of road in front of them, but every single lane is packed with cars, or conversely, when there are wide-open lanes with few vehicles, both scenarios create frustration. The speeding, the road rage, the frustration of having so much space for cars and hardly any for bicycles or light rail, has caused the decay and decline of Van Nuys Boulevard, as well as Victory.
The heating up of our climate, the constant hot weather, is creating a meltdown of mood, with more anger, more violence and more irrationality. Trees would help cool down the street and provide shade. Narrower streets, lined with cafes, pedestrians, activity, would build a sense of community decency.
Hawker Centers Like Singapore
Singapore has “Hawker Centers” which are groups of different food merchants housed under one roof. A Singaporean can get off a train and within a few feet find delicious, cheap food in clean areas which are protected from the elements but still open air.
By contrast, Los Angeles has nothing like this other than Grand Central Market which is not next to a train stop. Van Nuys Boulevard would greatly benefit from one, large, enclosed, regulated building full of food sellers. This would bring the pushcart under control and provide a clean, reliable, fun, sociable place to eat and meet.
Give Commercial Buildings Without Billboards Tax Breaks
Billboards are so ubiquitous that we have wearily come to adjust our eyes to them. Yet their ugliness, their cheap, desecrating, looming presence brings down property values even while providing landlords with some income.
On every corner where there is a mini-mall with a billboard, the property owner who removes the signs should get a tax benefit because they are helping the community improve aesthetically.
A Monument When Entering Van Nuys
Why is there no marker, like an arch, an obelisk, or a gate when one enters Van Nuys Bl. at Oxnard Street?
Imagine a Washington Monument type obelisk in the center of Van Nuys Boulevard to make evident, proudly, commemoratively and architecturally, the fact that Van Nuys is a historic and proud area of Los Angeles deserving its own marker of identity and purpose.
Seen for miles, an obelisk perhaps 150 feet tall, should stand in the center of the boulevard, a booster of morale and an instigator of commerce and civic pride.
Pick a Unifying Style and Stick With it.
Paris, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Savannah: certain cities have an archetype of architecture which provides the base for how a city is constructed and designed.
In recent years, we have seen the onslaught of non-conforming, strange, computer-generated frivolities in architecture such as those which have marred and destroyed the beauty of London, England.
Yes, it is great to have one Disney Hall, but a street of melting blobs, narcissistic designs, starving-for-attention buildings, does not engender a district wide identity.
A classical Van Nuys would actually be revolutionary because it goes against so much architectural dogma these days and restores the primacy of community standards and group identity.
Tear Up the Parking Lots and Plant Orange Groves
One of the tragedies of Van Nuys since 1945, indeed of all of Southern California, has been the loss of agriculture.
Once we all lived near local fruit groves, and their soothing, healthful, beneficial trees provided not only big business for the state, but gave a mythical, blessed countenance to Los Angeles which was exported around the world.
There are hundreds of acres of unused asphalt sitting behind empty stores along Van Nuys Boulevard which could be torn up and planted with citrus trees.
Perhaps an innovative architect could design housing that is combined with citrus groves?
This blog has actively supported the preservation of an area of 33 acres, containing light industries, near the corner of Kester and Oxnard.
“Option A” would have destroyed 58 buildings, 186 businesses and thousands of jobs in a walkable, affordable, diverse district and replaced it with an open air, light rail service yard.
It would have been disastrous for the revitalization of Van Nuys. If it had succeeded it might have been the final nail in Van Nuys’ coffin.
Instead, happily, the Metro Board, with the support of Councilwoman Nury Martinez and others, objected to the Option A proposal. “Option B” was chosen, near the already existing Metrolink train tracks, thus preserving the Kesterville area.
So now is the time to put Kesterville on the map and make it a harmonious, vibrant destination of little apartments, stores, restaurants, cafes, all along the public transit corridor next to the Orange Line.
Remove Onerous and Expensive Regulations on Housing
Builders are required, by law, to do so many expensive things that they are dissuaded from building.
One example is parking. The average building must spend 30-40% of its construction costs to provide space for vehicles.
Thus we have the paradox: not enough housing. And the housing we have becomes more expensive because there is not enough of it to bring prices down. And each rentable unit only becomes affordable if four working adults, with four vehicles, split the rent!
So now we have less housing, more cars, more cars parked on side-streets because we have, by law, made the construction of apartments so expensive.
Remove parking minimums and stop catering to the car as if it were the ONLY important thing in city planning.If a building were built with 200 apartments and only 100 parking spaces, would it really harm Van Nuys?
Is NYC harmed by scarcity of parking?
California is often the destination for anyone living unhappily in any part of the world. Thus our state, because of its warm weather, attracts people coming here to escape.
Van Nuys, long considered the unofficial dumping ground of Los Angeles, is now under onslaught from homeless men and women sleeping everywhere, on bus benches, under boxes and tents, behind buildings and in RVs parked along the street.
We need to regulate where people can sleep by providing safe, clean, sanitary areas, to park RVs and where people can wash themselves, and get help so they do not have to sleep outside.
To talk about this is not to attack people who are in need. Rather, it is to assign us the proper legal and moral task of ending homelessness by not permitting it to exist in the first place.
One day, soon, there will be a revitalization of Van Nuys Boulevard.
Gone forever will be the hopeless days when people laughed to mock it, or ran away in revulsion.
All the central gathering places that should be occupied by civilized things, all the lots that hold parking, all the empty buildings along Van Nuys Boulevard, will be replaced with vibrant, happy, upbeat, successful businesses and residents.
It will take nothing more than $5 billion dollars to invest in new transit, new apartments, new multi-family housing, new police officers, a new police station, an army of street cleaners, and law enforcement people who will ticket illegally parked cars, handicap placard abusers, unregulated street sellers, unlicensed signs, and unpermitted businesses.
The narrowing of Victory Boulevard, the planting of 200 oak trees from Kester to Van Nuys Boulevard, will bring about a revitalization of the formerly crappy strip of low rent mini-malls, slum apartments and empty stores. The LAPD Victory Precinct at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, and its drop-in center there will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
150 new LAPD officers, out of a police force of some 10,000 will be specifially assigned to the area.
Some 50 new apartment buildings, from Sherman Way to Oxnard, with 10,000 new apartments, will be built and 20% of them will rent for under market value.
Security cameras will enforce the law to prevent speeding, red light running, assault, vandalism, burglaries of properties and hold-ups on the street.
There will be decorative streetlights, three new parks, new benches, and thousands of shade trees planted along the boulevard to protect against temperatures that get hotter every year.
Bike lanes, light rail, automobiles and pedestrians will share a new Van Nuys Boulevard divided between all types of transport, from foot to motor to public.
And the architecture will be inventive, modern, and integrate environmentally such necessities as solar energy and district wide free wi-fi.
In a nod to the old Van Nuys, the first orange grove planted in the Valley in 90 years will be manned by formerly homeless men and women who will guard the orchards as they would their own children. There will be 10 houses planted around the grove to ensure the safety and security of the new urban agriculturalists.
The low industrial buildings in the neighborhood around Kester and Oxnard, all 33 acres, were preserved in 2018, and later became an incubator for creatives who settled in the area and built narrow houses near the Orange Line, and worked and lived next to artisans, musicians, brewers, car restorers and craftspeople of every skill.
All of this is possible.
The people who will decide whether this is fantasy or reality are reading this post.
I previously wrote about this topic in 2014, but bring it up again as Los Angeles, and the State of California, are now in a furious debate about housing, cars, homelessness and how best to build.
All B&W photographs below are by Ed Ruscha.
Ed Ruscha’s “Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” was published 51 years ago.
The artist, born in Nebraska in 1937, came to this city in 1956 to study at the Chouinard Art Institute. He also had an apprenticeship in typesetting.
Graduating in 1960, only 23 years old, he started working at an advertising agency doing graphic design. Influenced by the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Ruscha was featured in a 1962 survey called “New Painting of Common Objects.”
That year he published “Twentysix gasoline stations” and later “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” (1966)
He was the first, or perhaps the most notable artist, to create a deadpan, earnest, unesthetic photography of built Los Angeles. He looked, without pretense, at the sprawling, cheap, roadside city of billboards, car washes, instant apartments and filling stations and wrapped up his black and white photographs into little, smart, best-sellers.
Ruscha was talented and knew how to sell things, always a winning combination in the city of angles. (intentional)
The 1960s was a dirty flood of bitter reckoning that hit America and threw cold water on its made-up, powdered face.
Assassinations, sexual relations, racial issues, drugs, protests, music, environmental desecration, Vietnam: the entire decade blew up a contented self-image.
A nation, which thought itself a beacon of light onto the world, was forced to reconsider its own grotesque violence and misunderstand it.
Confronting Los Angeles, Ruscha presented a homely city with a picture book full of raw honesty.
Inside “Thirty Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles” are some aerial shots of ordinary Van Nuys, North Hollywood and LA in 1967, with those enormous oceans of parking lots floating boat-like buildings.
Up in an airplane, looking down, Ruscha captured lines and boxes transposed upon the land, asphalt which looked, on its surface, much like the curtain-walled office buildings of that era.
Good Year Tires at 6610 Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood occupies only a dot atop a long “I” shaped land-mass of parking.
Dodger Stadium is buried deep within the hot skins of asphalt, a vaginal shaped structure where men played ball.
And 7101 Sepulveda, a now abandoned office tower near Sherman Way, has trailers and motels on its perimeter, as well as plenty of free parking. Today, this area often hosts large encampments of homeless people, so the peripatetic ways of Van Nuys have historical precedent it seems.
14425 Sherman Way was called the “Eileen Feather Salon” and has but one long building fronting Sherman Way with parking in back.
Today, that corner is a cacophony of grossness and visual pollution including donuts and Denny’s. Signs are everywhere. And the weary eye becomes nostalgic for the simple joy of a lone building and its parking lot set down on arid land in the once less populated San Fernando Valley.
We are now engaged in a great civic debate about housing, and public transportation, and some voices hope (mine included) that denser buildings along bus and train lines will help alleviate high rents and homelessness.
Yet we never quite escape the trap set by the automobile: where to drive it, where to park it, how to best accommodate its needs.
Every single debate about new buildings always begins and ends with parking. Tens of thousands sleep on the street, families cannot afford rents or mortgages, developers are hamstrung providing parking for everyone and their guests, and Los Angeles dies a little each day from auto related illnesses.
Every time we think we are biking or busing more, something sinister comes onto the scene, and we now have 100,000 Ubers and Lyfts clogging the roads, and making our lives more hellish even as we praise their conveniences.
We plan a light rail down Van Nuys Boulevard and the auto dealers like Keyes stop it at Oxnard. They still run things. They destroy the city, and they are congratulated and worshipped for it. Thousands of their new cars are stored at outdoor transit adjacent parking lots built by Metro with taxpayer funds. Ironic.
Every time we imagine we are free of the car, we are forced back into it to chauffeur little white kids to school in better neighborhoods, to commute to $10 an hour jobs, to spend three hours every day in our vehicle so we might live in a house that consumes 50% of our income. Madness.
Ed Ruscha’s simple aerial photographs of parking lots are still a fact-based statement of what this city is. And how we are all swallowed into it.
Metro is planning a light rail train down the center of Van Nuys Bl. extending from Pacoima to Van Nuys, stopping at Oxnard St. Less probable is a dedicated bus line.
Their final decision, as to what type of transport to build (bus or train) and where to service these will come in June 2018.
Four areas in Van Nuys are under consideration for eminent domain demolition and the building of a light rail maintenance yard.
These are called the “Option” areas and they are A, B, C, and D.
B, C, and D all straddle the existing Metrolink heavy passenger rail tracks along Raymer St. near the former GM plant on the Van Nuys/Panorama City border.
Only “Option A” is located in another area: this is a 33-acre spread of light industry comprising 186 businesses, 58 structures and as many as 1,000 workers who are located NE of Oxnard and Kester along Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert Streets.
This blog has reported extensively, since September 2017, on the “Option A” community: a unique, productive, and innovative group of entrepreneurs who make fine decorative hardware, custom shelving; record music, weld metals, clean carpets, fashion artistic stained glass, and restore vintage Mustangs, Vespas and large yachts.
They employ local workers, many of whom walk to work. There are immigrants here, but there are also people who started companies 30, 40 and even 50 years ago who would be forced to move from their little supportive community and fight to rent new space competing against cash rich marijuana growers who are swallowing up space for their noxious, lethargy inducing, industrial scale weed.
I was curious what residents in the area think of “Option A” so I went online and visited Next Door.
My Next Door app page has 2,000 community members from Burbank Bl. north to Roscoe, from the 405 to Hazeline.
I posted a question asking if people opposed or supported “Option A.” Overwhelmingly, by a vote of 87% to 13 (94 total votes), they said they were against it.
Here are some of the comments:
“It seems like a giant repair yard would be an eye sore and would attract litter, homeless encampments and shady activities since it will have very little activity especially at night. I don’t see how that is worth uprooting all these businesses who contribute to our community and have been here for all of these years.”
“I prefer local businesses any day. Plus, with numerous new apartment buildings popping up all around the area, we have potential for more retail/cafes to move in to the buildings up for lease. However, if all of that space gets used up by ugly rail yards, then the Van Nuys economy will never thrive to its full potential. I’m sick of this city being treated as a dumping ground.”
“The downside of Option A is not only a large rail yard in main area of Van Nuys (which MTA promises would be modern and attractive) but as well, that it would take out approximately 200 small and thriving Van Nuys businesses that each employ, one, two, three, five or more employees, whereas the other two main options hold a minuscule number of businesses. Eminent domain [against] all these businesses in the heart of VN would hurt us in several ways, besides uprooting the businesses and the citizens who work there, there are limited number of commercial properties currently available close by, so many of the businesses could not relocate close by, would not be able to keep locale clientele. For many who live nearby, if new properties could be found, commutes would be added. And for all those businesses relocating outside our community, or for those that would simply be forced to fold, Van Nuys would lose a healthy business tax base. Again, the other two options provided by the city for the yard (if needed based on what the final decisions are) do not suffer from anywhere near the same extent of overall downside.”
“I own a house on Hatteras near the Option A area. And I also rent a building on Aetna which would be demolished. If this happens I will sell my house, which I just purchased two years ago and I will move out of Los Angeles. There is not a reason in the world to pick our district for demolition when so many jobs and lives are at stake. If Nury Martinez allows this she should be recalled.”
Clearly, people who live near the Option A zone are insightful and understand how important it is to preserve small business in Van Nuys. They know that an enormous, gaping hole would not revitalize Van Nuys, but further degrade it.
The community residents, as well as the businesses near Kester and Oxnard, are united in opposing the destruction of viable businesses and local jobs.
For those whose intimate, internal bodily movements and outer mobility are regulated by motor vehicle, this was a weekend of challenge and frustration.
Without official warning, or public service announcement, Victory Boulevard, all eight lanes of it, were repaved between Kester and Sepulveda. It was possibly the first time it had been improved since all the pepper trees were ripped out in 1955 for its first widening.
In the historical traditions of Van Nuys, the new Victory Boulevard project will come without any amenities: no bike lanes, no center median of trees, no decorative lighting, no plantings and no safe crosswalks.
In our neighborhood, just north of Victory, between Kester and Sepulveda, the repaving anger was palpable, the pain deep, the suffering great.
For there is a large colony of culinarily disabled people on our street.
Large house payments prevent ownership of non-essentials, like coffee makers, so many of our neighbors, on weekends, get out of bed, slip into their SUVs in their pajamas, and drive three minutes to McDonalds, on Kester and Victory, to get scalding, industrial, assembly line coffee in Styrofoam and bring it back home. For them, the inability to drive to the drive-in was cruel.
At LA Fitness, on Sepulveda near Erwin, a new mall is under construction on the north side, and there are also orange pylons blocking the parking lot entrance, which affects members at the gym by consuming valuable parking spaces.
Yesterday, I saw an angry, old, black-haired woman driving around the parking lot of the gym in her prune purple,’71 Chevy Nova, unable to find a spot. Her mouth was spitting out a torrent of obscenities, her hands were like death grips around the neck of the steering wheel, she braked and accelerated in fits and jerks. She simply could not find a place for her car.
Minutes earlier, a convoy of young moms met up for dance class and took up six handicapped parking spaces at the gym but the AngryOld Woman in the Nova knew nothing.
A normal weekend on Victory Boulevard is full of nocturnal sirens, from ambulances, police and fire. Usually at least one person is shot by gun or run over by car, or a speeding, intoxicated driver flips over and is either gravely injured or killed. Bank robbers, who usually arrive by car, found no work these past two days at Chase or Wells Fargo on Sepulveda at Victory.
All the workaday business of the boulevard terminated.
This past weekend was eerily quiet. The lack of danger, the absence of tragedy, upset many who live along the eight-lane speedway. There was only a thick scrim of dust, on Saturday, to remind people that Victory exists to pollute and desecrate.
When Victory Boulevard does not move with motorists, the people are alarmed, and demand a return to normality, which the repaved roadway promises to bring back tomorrow.