MacLeod Ale and Points East.


Yesterday, late afternoon, there were clouds in the sky and the temperature was notably cooler.

On Calvert Street, outside MacLeod Ale, I was waiting outside for a friend when it began to rain. A few drops fell and then it moved on.

My friend arrived and parked in one of the few spots reserved in front of the brewery. 

We had a few beers, including Cut and Dry, an Irish stout; Deal with the Devil, my favorite IPA; and The King’s Taxes, a mild warmish ale from the first days of MacLeod.

We ordered a mushroom and sage pizza. 

There were people sitting next to us with two dogs, one sitting on a lap, the other, a Rottweiler, lying on the floor.

Then we paid for our food and drink and walked down Calvert Street, east, to shoot some photos.

In what some might consider the better parts of Van Nuys the people walk or jog past you and don’t say a word. They walk their dogs past my house, they pull a wagon with triplets, they push a stroller, and nobody even looks at you or smiles.

But on this part of Calvert Street, a poor place, just steps from a large homeless encampment, the working people were outside sitting, talking, laughing, skateboarding, coming home from work and selling food from the back of a truck.  

Option A: Just Plain Places


This blog has written 13 other times on “Option A”, a Metro LA proposal by the public transportation agency to wipe out 33 acres of industry in Van Nuys, near the junction of Oxnard and Kester, and replace it with a light rail service yard. It would destroy 1,000 jobs, displace 186 businesses and flatten 58 buildings.

Though the scheme has been public knowledge since September 2017, property owners, workers, renters and the neighbors near here still stand on thin ice, awaiting official June 2018 word whether this whole district is sentenced to death, or if another site (B, C, or D), near the Metrolink tracks up on Raymer Street will be chosen instead.

A photo walk around here yesterday, along Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert, to document some buildings that may be gone in a few years, was also an opportunity to show that this area has great potential beyond its current light industrial use.

In gravel yards, on cracked and broken asphalt, under decaying wood, on treeless, depopulated and narrow roads, there are ingredients for a nice urban area of some new housing, some new cafes, some places where trees, lighting, discreet signage and pavement of cobblestones could bring an infusion of 24/7, urban, walkable, bikeable activity to the neighborhood.

It is already an incubator of creativity with makers of exquisite decorative hardware, superb custom cabinetry, music recording studios, Vespa and Mustang restorers, stained glass makers, welders, boat builders, and kitchen designers. These businesses, incidentally, are staffed by mostly local owners and workers, many of whom are but minutes away, or take the bus or even walk to work.  Rents are currently affordable, often 50 cents, $1 or $2 a square foot.

MacLeod Ale, maker of fine British style beers, since 2014, is on the north side of Calvert and is not threatened with demolition but its existence and success is a testament to the potential for innovation in this area.

Ironically, the very wonderful addition of a landscaped bike path and the Metro Orange Line bus in 2005 is now threatening the area because of future conversion to a light rail system. Yet the “Option A” district is thriving, even if it is shabby in places, because it is a work zone of skilled, employed, productive people.

Politicians who often talk ad nauseum about “diversity”  should come here with mouths closed and observe men and women: Mexican, Armenian, Norwegian, German, Persian, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Irish, Scottish, Israeli-Americans, all the hyphenations of ethnicity and gender, who don’t care about where anyone came from, but only about where they are going in life.

This is Los Angeles. This is diversity. This is economic prosperity. This is within walking distance of “downtown Van Nuys.”

Yet short-sighted officials, bureaucratic ignoramuses with grandiose titles, flush with public money, would consider wiping out the very type of neighborhood whose qualities are needed, wanted and venerated.

Option A must not happen. This is what it looks like now.

Imagine what it could look like with the right, guiding hands of investment, preservation, planning and protection.

 

 

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Option A: That First Email.


 

Some six weeks ago, I went to MacLeod Ale and learned about an impending “slum clearance” in Van Nuys.

I was shown a sheet of paper in the owners’ office, laying out the destruction of the industrial neighborhood, just to the south of the brewery.

“Option A”, by Metro, planned to demolish 33 acres, stretching from the north side of Oxnard to the south side of Calvert, a hunk of real estate containing 186 businesses, 58 buildings, and 1,000 jobs.

A light rail maintenance yard would cover the area.

I had no idea what that meant, in terms of people and their livelihoods. I didn’t know anyone who worked there.

In my narrowly focused mind, MacLeod was, happily, not on the death list.

So I went back to my Better Days beer and forgot about Option A.

 

That First Email

A few weeks later, I opened a jabbing email from a stranger named Ivan Gomez.

He said he owned a business called Pashupatina on Aetna near Kester. “You seem to walk around our industrial community constantly looking for the worst possible things,” he wrote, possibly referring to a recent satire I wrote denigrating a certain low self-esteem street.

He said he was not wealthy, but “maybe you are.” He had plans to construct artist lofts. And he had just bought and renovated a blighted building. He described his plight of betterment:

“Sure there are a lot of missed opportunities with certain slumlords that own properties in the area. Don’t judge a book [by its cover]. Perhaps you can tell the stories that our buildings cannot. You can look inside and see we are all Van Nuys. We want to see change and if you are patient the change will come soon. If you are wealthy and can afford the price of admission than you will jump aboard the light rail gravy train. I proposed an alternate site that would save our manufacturing communities but that dream hit a bump in the road today. I urge you to reach out and help us tell our story. Hell, you might be able to make a difference,” he wrote.

He said he was slated for demolition and was fighting to keep his property and his district intact, to save jobs, and businesses, and dreams.

“I invite you into my facility to meet with a few of the people on Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert Streets who are trying to make a difference with the little resources we have to keep our area clean and safe.”

He said he had avoided the darkest aspects of life from gang violence to police brutality.

“I am Barrio Van Nuys, Pacoima Flats, San Fernando, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Angelino Heights, Lake Balboa,” he said.

His combative but challenging email intrigued me. I made an appointment to meet him, tour his place and the surrounding area.

Ivan Gomez of Pashupatina

 

Crossing Oxnard, North of Kester

Driving on Kester, near Oxnard, some of what one passes include day laborers on the sidewalk; the open sand and gravel yard of Valley Builders Supply; an al fresco used tire shop, Hamati Enterprises; Pat’s Liquors (check cashing, cold beer) asphalt parking lot and tall, ungainly, steel-posted plastic sign. And a big, looming billboard above it all; there is the shabby, tan painted, stucco entombed Uncle Studios, and Euro Motors’ turquoise doors and Virgin Mary mural.

In this blighted area, settled by the old Southern Pacific tracks, now the Orange Line, pickup trucks carry lumber, pipes, and sheets of glass. Sombrero hatted adults ride children’s bikes, others push shopping carts with belongings, addicts sleep and stare into space, buy cans of beer, and others reside in groups beside the bike trail. There are parked taco trucks serving lunch and many signs for auto repair, collision, bodywork, and smog certification. You are either working hard or hard up.

Hidden from view are many artisans, craftsmen, and skilled persons, working in fields from cabinet making to stained glass, from vintage auto and bike restorations to custom metal work. There are welders, boat mechanics, sauna installers, and music recording studios. Most rent fairly priced industrial spaces.

A sinister idea, it seems, would be trying to revitalize Van Nuys with light rail by wiping out this cloistered, unique, walkable, diverse, and industrious area.

 

Van Nuys, CA

 


Pashupatina

 Switzerland on Aetna St.

Pashupatina, at 14829 Aetna St. is an unmarked, pitched roof, building painted in cool shades of green and gray. A steel door is in front. But the preferred entrance is around the side.

You walk up a narrow driveway, paved in white gravel and concrete, squeezing between two cars, and enter a facility whose orderly, airy, bright, industrious and technically equipped rooms evoke some expert machine shop in a Swiss mountain village.

They are a manufacturer of custom decorative hardware, whose brass and bronze knobs, hinges, handles and levers hang inside some of the most expensive homes in Los Angeles. Boxes of surplus custom work, from recent projects, sit in the storage room on shelves labeled with Bel Air streets: Stradella, Casiano, Chalon.

Established 1997, the shop name comes from a most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal, Pashupatinath, dedicated to the god Shiva. Believers go there to die and be reborn in a holy place.

To a young Mexican-American, raised in Van Nuys during its most violent and convulsive years, escaping its lethal menace by sheer persistence, this name, this creation, must have multi-layered meaning.

Laid out on the floor, in orderly procession, on glazed concrete, are an array of metal lathe machines, electronically programmed, finely calibrated devices that drill to exacting standards for clients who are able to pay $1,000 for a single, museum worthy door knob.

There is a $50,000 Alaris 3D printer capable of processing CAD images and carving them into polymer models. This is where you will often find Ivan, at his computer, turning out those highly detailed or modern sculptural pieces that will be used as templates for custom metal hardware.

Pinned by magnets to the steel walls are enlarged architectural blueprints with the location of each piece of hardware designed, manufactured and installed by Pashupatina. The size, the detail, the scope seems on the scale of a museum or medical facility. But these pieces will go inside 40,000 square foot homes and 15,000 square foot guest houses.

 

Pashupatina: Ivan and Daniel Gomez in their shop which they completely renovated with their own hands and money in 2015.

At work at Pashupatina. Programming and designing intricate metals for decorative hardware.

 Remember what you thought the Option A area was and then step inside here to be disabused of your ignorance. Think of all the princes, all the captains of industry, all the movie moguls, rappers, tech billionaires and their third wives who could not open a drawer or close any one of their 30 bathroom doors without Pashupatina.


Natalie and Ivan, Cambodia, 2004.

 

Ivan Gomez, 45, his architect wife Natalie Magarian, 45, and his brothers Daniel, 42 and Manuel, Jr., 48 are all here, working.

Natalie and Ivan live in Lake Balboa, and Daniel and Manuel commute from Van Nuys and Canoga Park.

“Daniel and I are inseparable,” Ivan said. There is an affinity and closeness between them.

Daniel is thin, bearded, cheerfully fidgety with a rock-solid work ethic. He and Ivan rebuilt Daniel’s 1971 Corvette Stingray. It sits under canvas cover on a steel, 4-post lift just below Ivan’s 1971 Buick LeSabre, two cars, like two brothers in a bunk bed. A 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, also owned and restored by Ivan, sleeps somewhere else.

“Daniel doesn’t put up with shit,” Ivan told me. The no-bullshit brother also owns a 40-acre home up in the desert near Palmdale where he can blow off steam and have fun. In 1994-95, to get away from LA for a while, Daniel and Ivan rented a home in Llano, CA. If they are ever at each other’s throats I imagine it’s one gently holding a razor and the other getting a hot lather shave.

The brothers (and Natalie) were renting another space nearby when Ivan saw a $500,000 building with 4,000 SF for sale. It was in poor condition, but they put in an offer. It was accepted and they got to work.

The entire structure, from the floor to the rafters, from the plumbing to the industrial grade electrical system, from the roof to the walls, to the driveway outside, the design, execution and construction, every last bit of it, was undertaken and completed by Ivan, Daniel, Natalie and other capable family and friends.

As construction progressed, Natalie and Ivan were raising their daughter Corina (b.2007), and then Natalie became pregnant, eventually giving birth to their second daughter Lucine (b.2015).

5/27/14-before

 

 

 

Ivan and his daughter Corina.

    

2/21/15-Ivan Dreaming and Doing

 

All their business comes from referrals. They don’t really have an online presence because they are too busy working.

They plan to one day have a retail line of their own, just like PE Guerin, a Manhattan company maker of exclusive, by appointment only, custom hardware.


Ivan and Daniel Gomez late 1970s

Registering with the INS. 

Ivan was born, by chance, in Mexico, when his parents were back there visiting. His siblings, Manuel, Jr., Cynthia, Daniel and Angel are all American born.

As a child legal alien, and then as an adult, Ivan had to register with the INS every few years. He became a US citizen in 2002.

In 1980, the family moved from Pacoima, where gang warfare had made life intolerable. They settled on Friar St. near downtown Van Nuys, at a time when the last white, Irish, working-class families still lived there.

 

Drive By Shooting in Van Nuys; North Hollywood Boy, 14, Shot to Death in Front of School.

 

Ivan was intelligent, curious, and industrious. He would buy popsicles from La Paletería, and resell them to his schoolmates.

He found employment with his neighbors: Tim Monaghan and his janitorial company, and with Richard Taylor who made miniature wooden piers for collectors that he constructed in his garage. Later on, Richard Taylor would hire Ivan to work in his custom hardware shop in West Adams. Ivan would become a professional locksmith, but unofficially, he was earning his masters in metal work in the four years he spent there. “Richard was a Shaman,” Ivan said in praise.

Ivan also worked as a boy janitor in an Oxnard St building a few hundred feet from Pashupatina. Always finding a way…..

Manuel Gomez, Sr. Ivan’s reserved, hard-working father, drove a Cadillac and worked as a punch presser at Zero Corporation in Burbank where they made metal stamped suitcases for the military. After Zero closed, Manuel worked at Just Dashes, a custom shop in Van Nuys.

Teenage Ivan also had a job at Bargain Books in Van Nuys where he was paid $2 an hour along with some used books. An autodidact, he often read up on mechanics or design.

The children were baptized Catholics, but their freethinking parents never pushed their children into any dogma or practice. By chance, the family joined the Salvation Army which treated the kids to summer camp and provided a social and support network.

 

 


 Wilbur Avenue Elementary School, Tarzana.

Ivan was enrolled for two years at Wilbur Avenue Elementary School in Tarzana.

He met south of Ventura Boulevard kids, many of whom came from affluent, white families. They listened to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

It was the mid 1980s and by that time Van Nuys was hit with a large increase in immigration, followed by plant closings (GM-1991), gang wars, drive-by-shootings, drugs, and the fleeing of white families from the disorder they saw all around them.

“I knew we were poor,” Ivan told me. He remembered having a rock thrown at him when he was three years old. He was shot at six or seven times before he was 25. One time he played dead in Panorama City and fooled his gun-wielding assailants.

He was Mexican-American, a target of cops who presumed guilt by ethnicity. He talked back to law enforcement when he thought they were wrong. He was handcuffed and targeted. He saw people in his neighborhood die from gangs, suicide, and shootings. He walked away from drugs and said he was a straight-arrow punk. As random acts of violence exploded all around him, he inoculated himself by diving into work, education, and music.

One day, at Van Nuys High School, a petite girl with a punky-pink haircut walked by Ivan and his friend. “Do you know her?” Ivan asked. “Yes, I do,” his friend said. He decided to write the girl a letter.

She was Natalie Magarian, born and raised in Lebanon. She came from a well-educated, well-to-do, Armenian family who left a war-torn land to live with relatives in Van Nuys. She spoke Armenian, Arabic, French, and English. She was interested in architecture and music. But she was odd-looking too.

“People said I dressed like I just got off the boat,” Natalie recalls.

Though Ivan claims to have seen her first, Natalie said, “Ivan liked me less than I liked him.” They came from wildly different backgrounds. Their respective families were kept in the dark about their relationship. “I think my parents wanted me to meet a nice Armenian boy,” Natalie said.

After graduating high school in 1990, Natalie went to study architecture at Woodbury University.

Also in 1990, Ivan went to work in a custom metal hardware factory owned by his Van Nuys neighbor Richard Taylor. The Jefferson Park Collection in West Adams is where Ivan would learn the craft that he would eventually master, emulate and reinvent into his own business.

Natalie and Ivan got married at the Transamerica Building in downtown Los Angeles in 1998. Architectural and secular and completely Angeleno, just like the couple.

They later found time to travel and explore Mexico, Cambodia, Singapore, Czech Republic, Portugal, Thailand. They lived in Silver Lake and Echo Park.

Years later they would come back to here in Van Nuys. And Lake Balboa.

 


 1991/1992

Rodney King was a black motorist beaten by four LAPD cops after a high-speed chase on March 3, 1991. A video, shot by a witness, George Holliday, captured the whole bloody event.

In that era, before smart phones, video recording of crimes was rare. The effect of seeing this brutality in action infuriated many who saw it as racism in action. Others thought the police were justified, and that toughness was the only way to stop crime.

The acquittal of the four white officers by a Simi Valley jury on April 29, 1992 lead to the worst rioting in Los Angeles ever seen.

“The riots, beginning the day the verdicts were announced, peaked in intensity over the next two days. A dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployment of the California Army National Guard eventually controlled the situation.[32]

A total of 64 people died during the riots, including eight who were killed by police officers and two who were killed by guardsmen.[33] As many as 2,383 people were reported injured.[34] Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion.[35] Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Widespread looting also occurred. Stores owned by Koreansand other Asian ethnicities were widely targeted.[36]

Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, which was primarily composed of African-American and Hispanic residents. Less than half of all the riot arrests and a third of those killed during the violence were Hispanic.[37][38]

 Images from that time include Korean shop owners on Western and Vermont Avenues wielding guns atop their roofs, and helicopter vantage footage of a white driver, Reginald Denny, being dragged from his truck and hit on the head with a brick, his skull cracking 91 times, beaten by a mob of youths.

The early 90s were an explosively violent time in Los Angeles. This was the era of the drive-by-shooting. A terrified city saw random killings spread into formerly safe areas, such as Chatsworth, Sherman Oaks and Westwood.

Korean-Americans Defend Their Shops During LA Riots, 1992.

LA Riots/Peter Turnley, Corbis.

2 28 91 Trying Times

 

Once a refuge from urban crime, the SFV, had, by 1991, become plagued with it. Robberies increased to 6,638 up 40% from the year before. There were 142 homicides, a record.[1] Bad place names like Sepulveda, Canoga Park, North Hollywood and Van Nuys gave birth to North Hills, West Hills, Valley Village and Lake Balboa. Change the label and you will escape the consequences, or so the thinking went.

Flare-ups of sudden violence became normal.

On April 20, 1993, a disgruntled MCA employee, standing in a parking lot, used a Remington 700 hunting and target shooting rifle aimed at the Black Tower in Universal City. Seven employees were wounded by a 35-40 bullet barrage that shattered glass, caused mayhem and injuries, none life threatening, yet completely terrifying.

In June 1994, OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. His Ford Bronco chase on the 405 has entered the pantheon of legend. He was later found not guilty, despite so much incriminating evidence, on October 3, 1995. The verdict was thought by many to be payback to the LAPD for its mistreatment of minorities in Los Angeles.

Former tenants Joan DeWolf and Gary Benoit carry suitcases to salvage possessions from the Northridge Meadows Apartments. July 15, 1994. (Los Angeles Daily News file photo)

Uncaused by humans, but just as devastating to them, was the January 17, 1994 6.7 magnitude Northridge Quake which caused $49 billion in damage and killed dozens of Angelenos.

 “Among the wreckage were some 90,000 destroyed or damaged homes, offices and public buildings, according to the state Office of Emergency Services, with 48,500 homes cut off from water and roughly 20,000 without gas. Some 125,000 residents were rendered temporarily homeless.

When the dust settled, 57 people had died — including 33 from fallen buildings. Of those, 16 were killed when the 164-unit Northridge Meadows apartments collapsed atop its downstairs parking garage.

The fatalities included Los Angeles Police Officer Clarence Wayne Dean, whose police motorcycle plunged 40 feet off a collapsed section of the Antelope Valley Freeway. The Highway 14/Interstate 5 interchange was later renamed in his honor.

More than 9,000 people were injured, including hundreds treated outside a topsy-turvy Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Twenty-one preemies from its neonatal ICU were airlifted to other hospitals.”[2]


 Ivan In the Time of Turmoil

 The best thing that happened to us was the underground dance music scene from 1989-93. It allowed us to get away from the Valley into safer places. We met a lot of cool people and spent time up in the Hollywood Hills,” Ivan told me.

While the city and his neighborhood, were racked by violence, Ivan took refuge in the music world, and in his work.

He was up in Sylmar one Sunday, skateboarding in the wash, when he met a guy Rey Oropeza who had a hardcore, rap political band called Social Justice (later Downset) who in turn introduced Ivan to hundreds of different writers and artists from all different walks of life.

Ivan was working at Aahs and so was Darren Austin and Cameron. They had an idea to start a band so Stikman was born, an idea that Ivan came up with. He was the vocalist, Cameron, a white dude, drummer and Michael Glover, a black kid, played bass. And Darren, another black guy, was a guitarist.

Ray, Darren and Michael were all graffiti artists part of a crew known as Under the Influence (UTI).

In the parlance of that time these were a “mixed race” group of musicians. Music, and people, at that time had more fixed boundaries of race, and culture, and human beings in Los Angeles also often self-categorized themselves into racial classifications, immutable and ridiculously rigid. But Ivan and his friends were in the vanguard of the new mashup city we live in today.

A photo of five of them, circa 1990, shows young Ivan, smooth-faced, hair band around his forehead, dressed in a black, boat necked shirt, holding what looks like sheet music, a large necklace around his neck.

He is, in that photo, modern but timeless.

His flat nose, his jewelry, his stance, his gentle, warrior aura beating tribal, evokes pueblos indígenas de México. He stares insightfully at the camera, as if he directed fate and not the reverse.

Stikman, Ivan recalled, sounded like Nirvana, which someone once told him, “stole your sound.”

The band was young, exotic, and got a following. They were adventurous, driving after dark to dangerous places along the orange, mercury lit streets. They would break into empty warehouses, guerilla style, near downtown, setting up impromptu concerts and raves.

After high school (1990), Ivan Gomez also had jobs in retail. He worked at Tower Records and Aahs a novelty store, both on Ventura Bl. in Sherman Oaks, west of Van Nuys Bl.

Some of his musical influences were AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Sugarhill Gang, a late 1970s hip-hop group.

Stikman’s great moment of glory: they played Raleigh Studios in 1993 in front of 3,000. They had arrived in Hollywood and got inside the gates.

They were together and making music. And then they were not. The band broke up in 1993.

Later Michael committed suicide.


Ivan and his friends were getting off work at Aahs around 10pm one evening in 1993. They ran into some homies from BVN in the alley behind the store. The gangsters were delighted to see Ivan and happily showed him a trunk full of weapons. Ivan thought it was time to say good night. As the gang car with guns drove off, another car, full of a white gang, started shooting at Ivan and his friends and yelled “Gumbies 13!” Ivan and friends ran for cover and could see BVN speed after Gumbies 13. The white gang, from Ivan’s recollection, crashed and BVN “took care of them.”

Then LAPD arrived in the alley to interrogate Ivan and his friends. They were lined up and interrogated. They were pretty ruthless and one pointed a gun at Ivan’s head, he recalls.

To those too young to remember, violence was unrecorded by smart phones before 2007. Cops and criminals, and criminal cops could do pretty much anything they wanted to without being filmed.

Like religion today, you either believed the tales told from the pulpit of police record or you didn’t.


Atelier Pashupatina

 

Pashupatina employs eight highly skilled men and women who work together to execute designs in a shop where there are deadlines, machines, stress, and sometimes arguments and conflict. But the environment is soothing, cerebral, edifying, more like an atelier, an artist’s studio, than a factory.

The layout is architectural, drawn up by Natalie. She had worked in Frank Gehry’s firm. She still has other international and domestic gigs. Her influence in creating an architectural stage set is not accidental, and comparisons to lofty, elitist creative spaces in Culver City and Venice are warranted.

Pashupatina does not have furnaces. The caustic, burning, smokey parts of the metal making process are sent out. The dirtier and harsher and more primal parts of casting, blasting, and plating are outsourced. But machining, and drilling are done here, and buckets of bronze and brass scrap metal, grindings, collect in big quantities and are sold to recycling.


Should I Be Doing More?

“Technology is not an image of the world but a way of operating on reality. The nihilism of technology lies not only in the fact that it is the most perfect expression of the will to power … but also in the fact that it lacks meaning.”

Octavio Paz (1914-98), Mexican poet. “The Channel and the Signs,” Alternating Current (1967)

President Obama once described America as the one indispensable nation in the world. Ivan, in his family and work, seems to share that characteristic, as a man, that Obama subscribed to the USA.

“Everyone puts the burden on me,” he said.

Ivan spoke as a married man, with two small children and a thriving, technically advanced company, with many responsibilities, worries and duties.

And yet he ponders if he should be doing more.

He was thinking, perhaps, of our ruthless, opportune, robotic time.

He was acknowledging that the wealthiest people, his clients, hoard money and power, leaving a gap, enormous and hollow, in this nation, this state and this city.

Here was this “job creator”, this self-made person, embodying all the hoary clichés of America: the idea that if you have the will, the guts, the ambition you can do anything.

But he is also the Mexican, the immigrant, the other, who was once despised, feared, and whose people still battle, daily, to convince this nation that they are just as American as other Americans.

Ivan, like all of us who live here now, sees the suffering.

 

Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam Source: losangeles.blockshopper.com/property/2241014012/6224_cedros/ Biography: lakestechnologies.com/m_agam.html

Raymer St. Van Nuys, CA.

Homeless on Aetna St. Feb. 2016

 

For the community of Van Nuys

For the people who are still struggling

For the ones who are roaming the streets

For the people who are poor, neglected, or lost

For the addicted, the suicidal, the abused, the unemployed

For the undocumented, the deported, the incarcerated, and the damned

You are overlooked but you will not be forgotten

There will come a day again of brightness, hope and redemption

 

Here is a man who has used technology to advance his life and create paid work for which he is proud. But he is still asking: what does it all mean?

It is a valid question that a particular type of moral thinker will ask.

Is there anything greater to give back?


Kesterville: Seen and Heard

Last week I learned a new word:

Enjambment

The running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break.

It came, courtesy of Dictionary.com, in their daily email and the arrival was fortuitous because I grabbed that word and pinned it on Ivan Gomez.

He is ebullient, gushing, buoyant, effusive, often pouring out with a million ideas and directions at once. His first email to me was a screed of run-on-sentences, accusations, pleas, suggestions, offerings, come-ons and inventions of both reality and fantasy.

He will dream it and do it and make it and sell it and seek it and reinvent it.

Meeting Ivan and the people who work in Van Nuys, the metal workers, the wood workers, the stained glass maker, the Vespa restorer, the musicians, the boat yard mechanics, all the hard workers who wear grease stained aprons, breathing dust, inhaling paint fumes, crawling under machines to screw in parts, all of them made me both proud and ashamed.

I was ashamed, indulging in self-pity and living inside my imagination, while others were working and sweating in shops making real things, utilizing skills and tools and machines I had never operated, or learned or knew anything about.

What did I have but words and photos and opinions and artistic license?

When I joined up to fight for the folks on Option A’s Death Row I had no idea how much life existed in Van Nuys inside the metal walled shops, behind the garage doors, down the streets where the sound of the bus roared nearby, under the unmarked, steel roofed packing houses.

I thought I was educated but I was so dumb.

I was lassoed out of my solipsism.

I like to think I did something good in Van Nuys to preserve something meaningful. It all started with that first email from Ivan.


In January 2018, Metro will make an official announcement about where the new light rail service yard will go. Councilwoman Nury Martinez now opposes Option A and others were told, unofficially, that other powerful people now agree that Option A is a bad idea whose time has come and gone.

Options B, C and D are all located near the Metrolink train tracks not far from Van Nuys Boulevard. They would not be nearly as destructive as Option A.

 

 

#   #   #

 

[1] 1991: A Look Back: Review: The Rodney G. King beating, development … HENRY CHU TIMES STAFF WRITER
Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 30, 1991;

 

[2] http://www.dailynews.com/2014/01/11/northridge-earthquake-1994-quake-still-fresh-in-los-angeles-minds-after-20-years/

 

Option A: An Open Letter to Ms. Sheila Kuehl


“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.[2] 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.

Dodger Stadium, 1961. On land formerly housing poor Mexican families at Chavez Ravine.

1959:Evictions from Chavez Ravine.

1959: Families are Forcibly Evicted from Chavez Ravine to Make Way for Dodger Stadium.

1935: Boys in Chavez Ravine

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.

Sincerely,

The Business District of “Option A”

Van Nuys, CA

91411

 

 

 

Kester, the Underachiever.


He has low self-esteem. He thinks he is too skinny, too short, too overlooked.

He blames his parents, near Raymer, for spawning him into the world from an obscure and ugly industrial spot near the concrete walled Los Angeles River.

On hot days, which are frequent, he told me hardly anyone drives up to his northernmost reaches. He looks at the homeless carts, the empty parking lots behind Target, and he thinks he is like an orphan among roads in Van Nuys and vicinity.

He told me he is jealous of Sepulveda named for an explorer, and of that “pompous” boulevard hosting such notables as Bevmo, OSH and LA Fitness. “What do I have except a couple junky liquor stores where they sell malt liquor? Sepulveda is arrogant. He has money and history and power. He was born near The Mission, holier than thou, and rams his way all through the San Fernando Valley and even has a pass named after him. He has Getty and Skirball and two Zankou Chickens. He gets to go all the way to LAX and beyond. He is well-travelled too!”

“I’m only 4.7 miles long. And people use me. They know I have no ramps to or from the 101 so they travel on me as a shortcut of necessity. They don’t really want to visit me. They would rather be on Van Nuys Bl.,” he said tearfully.

I told him I had respect for him, as he, evoked in me, a sweet nostalgia.

I said I liked Valley Builder’s Supply at Oxnard, especially the piles of sand and rock. And the place next door where they put bald tires on cars as a stray, three-legged, bandana-necked dog dances in the dust and dirt around the jacked-up vehicles. I tried to cheer him up and mentioned the braceros who gather for work everyday, smiling, rubbing their stomachs, itching for opportunity. “This is the real city. This is you, Kester!” I said.

I thought he would be thrilled at the two, new, white, glistening apartments on Kester between Delano and Erwin. “Big deal,” he said. “One of the buildings has just painted a big orange tongue on the front like a Pez dispenser. It’s like they want to make me look ridiculous instead of elegant. I’m always put into the low-class category!”

He said that even churches ignored him. La Iglesia En El Camino at Sherman Way just gives me a parking lot. And then there is that lousy self-service car wash across from the church. On Sepulveda, they have new, automatic car washes with flashing colored lights and lots of suds. On Kester, people still spray their cars by hand!”

He talked about his bitterness towards Van Nuys High School which turns its playing field bleachers away from him.

He ridiculed the remodeled Kester Palace apartments south of Victory as “refried beans” and “tacky.”

Most angrily he attacked the mini-mall on the NE corner of Victory where the trash and the shopping carts full of garbage are always left on the Kester side of the building.

I tried to change the subject.

“What about MacLeod Ale? I know it’s not on Kester but so many of its patrons drive down you to get there!” I said.

“Don’t mention MacLeod. They have it easy on Calvert Street. That street is twice as ugly as I am but they still get crowds of fans. Life is really unfair!” he said.

Then I had to, unfortunately, break the news to him that Metro is planning to demolish 58 buildings from Kester to Cedros along Aetna and Bessemer to accommodate a future light rail storage and maintenance yard.

“What? That’s crazy. Why would they destroy all those small businesses where people make a living? This is madness! Why does Van Nuys keep shooting itself in the foot? Do you mean to tell me that part of Kester will be taken away and devoted to floodlit rail yards right in the middle of old Van Nuys?”

“Yes. The great new transportation future of Van Nuys, with light rail, requires the dismemberment of one of its solid, dense, walkable districts. That is always how it works in Los Angeles. You must wipe out the old to create the new!”

He started to cry.

“It’s not part of my family but do you mean they will also knock down the old metal-sheeted, pitched roofed, fruit packing houses on Cedros and Calvert? Those go back to before WWII. Those are really lovely reminders of old Van Nuys,” he said.

“Yes. I’m afraid they will demolish those too,” I said.

After spending time travelling, walking, and observing Kester, I understood that he was, truly, different from the louder, noisier, bigger, wider roads. He struggled to voice his own identity. He watched as less deserving streets around him got more and more action, and he slipped, quite often, into self-pity.

In other cities, perhaps in Italy or Mexico, a Kester might find love with his shadows and frumpiness. His shy virtues of walkability and modesty, independence and eccentricity, could give him a solid living and self-respect outside the US. Poets would write of Kester, painters would paint him. The monogram “BVN”, sprayed so artfully, so often, on the walls of Kester, would be stitched into the world’s finest garments.

But cruelly, in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, the majority stamps him only as Kester, the Underachiever.

 

Intoxicated Minds


So I have been on a month long hiatus from most alcohol including beer and wine. I wanted to see how staying away from drinking made me feel and so far it’s been good. My pants fit easier and I don’t wake up in the morning with a headache of regret.

But I still went to the 3rd Anniversary Party at MacLeod Ale. Which, as I said for a few years now, is the best thing to happen in Van Nuys since maybe 1960.

Friends and near friends were there. I went back and hung out with some people and we drank and laughed and everything was fun.

There was one eccentric, older woman with red hair. I decided in my intoxication that she should join our group and I pulled her over.

She immediately asked everyone where “they were from.” She didn’t mean Reseda or Santa Monica, she was inquiring about the ethnicities of all the people.

And the usual bragging rights afforded to the mediocre came out. “I’m from old Norwegian stock and on my mom’s side her father was a ship captain from Ireland and we also have some pirates who we trace back to Crete, and then on my grandmother’s side she had a distant relative who was a first cousin with the Rockefellers.”

When her finger pointed to me, I knew what was in store so I dodged the bullet. When you are around drunk people you don’t say your last name is Jewish. You say Russian. So I did. That seemed to satisfy her, and she related my background to something noble that helped elect her leader who was making America great again.

Around the hops the discussions continued. This time the drunken brother of a regular customer was making fun of another person who he said was “a fake boyfriend of my sister and definitely gay.” The chuckles and the chortles of the regular dudes continued and they made fun of the man they pegged as gay.

It reminded me, in a strange way, of those days, long ago, in Lincolnwood, IL when I was friends with the Clarke Family and good old Pete, Dave’s older brother would greet me at the front door with “Hello Fruit!” or “The Fruit is here!” There was always a laugh on that one, the calling out of that which is not normal or regular.

I think I was 10 at the time so I didn’t understand what he was saying. But my father, schooled in Chicago manliness, honed on the ball field, said, “My son is not a fruit!” and so I learned I better not ever be one.

It is now 2017 but you wonder if those sober vows of tolerance are really just ready to burst especially when the intoxicated gather. There is public tolerance for almost everything that once set teeth on edge: gay people, pot smokers and growers and sellers, mixed race couples, trans people, obese people with tattoos, homeless people. We think it’s OK for people to walk around mentally ill and sleep in the street, and we are quite “cool” also with two dads for Sarah, and if Sarah wants to become Sam, that is “cool” too.

Everything that once made us uptight is “cool” just as everything else is “amazing.”

And maybe when we are sober, and rational, we decry the hate speech, but get a few beers in us, and we revert to our old ethnicities, our old tribal thinking, or old dumbness, really.

And somewhere there are little kids playing well together and everyone gets along great until one little kid learns he is a Unitarian, or a Ukranian or a Uruguayan and then the trouble starts.