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/

 

One Story Town


One Story Town is Sepulveda Bl., from Oxnard St. north to Victory Bl.

It is 2,569 feet long, almost a half a mile. It encompasses the Orange Line Metro Busway, LA Fitness, Costco, Wendy’s, Chef’s Table, The Barn, CVS, Dunn Edwards, Bellagio Car Wash, Wells Fargo Bank, Enterprise, Jiffy Lube and other small businesses selling used cars, folding doors, RV rentals, Chinese food, hair cutting, and ceramic tile.

The Southern Pacific freight trains once ran through the present day Orange Line, and they fashioned the district into a lumber- oriented, light industrial area. Such behemoths as Builder’s Emporium were located here, and the stretch of Oxnard that borders the old rail line has retained an industrial use.


The zoning designations for almost all the parcels along Sepulveda are commercial. They prohibit residential within walking distance of the Orange Line, and they prohibit it even though buses run up and down Sepulveda!

A beautifully maintained bus stop perfectly sited for long waits in 110 degree heat.

Available online for public research, is the Los Angeles’ ZIMAS, a website run by the Department of City Planning. Here one can select a parcel, for example, 6206 Sepulveda Blvd., where The Barn furniture store is located, and see that it occupies two parcels totaling 44,250 SF. It is not, according to ZIMAS, in a transit-oriented area, nor is it designated as a pedestrian oriented one, nor is it part of a community redevelopment one.

Someday the owners of The Barn, which has sold, since 1945, brown stained furniture in heavy wood to seemingly nobody, may choose to sell their business. And here there is enormous potential to develop a first-class residential and commercial building just steps from the Orange Line.

Residents of Halbrent St. just east of The Barn and other businesses, are on the ass-end of parking lots, illegally parked homeless RVs, and are subject to the use of their street as a speedway for cars entering and exiting Costco. Maybe, just for once, Halbrent St. might see a better development on its west side.

Every single one of the businesses, up and down Sepulveda, between Oxnard and Victory, is located, by observation, in a transit- oriented area. Yet ZIMAS states they are not.

Perhaps that will change as Los Angeles reviews its zoning, and permits taller, denser, more walkable development within a 5-minute walk from public transit.

At dusk, with the early October sun hitting the one-story buildings, there is a homely, lowbrow, neat banality to the structures along this stretch.

This is not the worst of Van Nuys. It is generally tidy. But nobody living nearby, some residing in million-dollar homes, would come here to mingle, to socialize, to sit and drink coffee, eat cake, shop or walk with their kids after dark.

Studio City has Tujunga Village.

Tujunga Village, Studio City, CA. Photo by John Sequiera.

And we, in Van Nuys, have, this:

The One Story Town: what is it and what could it be? Might this district, one day, contain vibrant restaurants, outdoor cafes, beer gardens, garden apartments, parks, trees, flowers, fountains? Why not?

In planning for 2027, 2037, 2047 and beyond why would we keep the preferences of car-oriented, suburban dreaming, 1975 Van Nuys, in place? Why are thousands of parking spaces at the Orange Line Busway used to store cars for Keyes Van Nuys? Is this the best we can do?

Could not a group of architects, developers, urban planners, government leaders and vocal citizens devise a Sepulveda Plan to transform this wasted opportunity into something better, or even ennobling?

Where is our vision? And why are we so starved for it when we live inside Los Angeles, the greatest factory of imagination, illusion and improvisation the world has ever seen?

 

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.

 

We Put Up With A Lot in Van Nuys


 

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6224 Cedros Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam

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Last year, there was a large estate for sale on a very nice block of Orion St. north of Victory. The house was on half an acre. It had a pool, a guest house, gates, a security system, c.c cameras, a new kitchen, four bedrooms, three bathrooms and about 4,500 s.f. of space. The asking price was about $1.2 million.

I went to an open house and met the realtor. He told me the owner had bought the place only 9 months earlier, but had decided to sell after he realized his street was in a prostitution area.

The home stayed on the market for some six months and then was taken off. I don’t believe it was ever sold.

There are conditions all around Van Nuys right now that we are asked to be compassionate about.

Our beautiful and verdant Orange Line bike path, built and landscaped in 2005, is now home to some 20-30 homeless people who set up tents and temporary housing in the bushes, under the trees, between Sepulveda and Kester.  Nury Martinez’s office summoned cleaners, trucks, men and machines last Friday morning at 10:30am to clean up the mess. And by 1pm the stragglers were back setting up their encampment.

The same situation exists in Woodley Park where the bird sanctuary, the hiking trails and the thick woods are now carved out with garbage, make shift trailers, old cars, tents and debris.

Why is this allowed! Why?

There once was a lovely, large, gorgeous park where you went to hike, bike, walk, run, fly model airplanes and play golf. Now you are trespassing on a halfway house for people between beds, whose bad luck and bad life you must make exception for. You once picked flowers here. Now you pick up needles.

Illegal dumping. Grass uncut for five years. Sober living opening next door. Prostitution in broad daylight. Cars running red lights. Burglaries, robberies, kids drinking beer in the car and throwing their cans on the street. Kids getting high and dropping their marijuana containers on the curb. Sticky condoms on the street.

You ask why a homeless man can move into an empty house on Kittridge and Columbus and live there for a year, using the entire property as his outdoor storage unit, with household debris covering the back and front yards and up and down the driveway. And it takes a year to get him out. 50 emails were needed. Countless letters, phone calls.

And across the street, an unsold property on Columbus is now used as a storage lot for old dilapidated cars. There are some 40-50 sitting in the backyard, their oil leaking into the ground, their gasoline tanks ready to be ignited so that an explosion might happen any day in the heat and the wind.

Another property owner buys a single family house zoned for one house and builds another, rents them both out, and even has two addresses on one single family lot. And he gets away with it.

All the aforementioned were told to Nury, told to the LAPD, discussed on Next Door, written about on this blog, Tweated, Facebooked and officially complained of by residents here.


We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

And sometimes we are told that calling out what we see- by what it is- makes us insensitive or callous.

On Next Door, I was told that I used a “vile word” when I described whores walking on Sepulveda. The most searched term on this blog is “whores on Sepulveda” and has been for eleven years. There is some connection between Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and prostitution. The entire city knows it. Why deny it? Why is “whore” suddenly a forbidden word? Didn’t Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds star in a movie musical called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?”

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And now we are told to have a heart for the new euphemism, “Human Trafficking.”

But who has the heart for the homeowner stuck with a white elephant house he cannot sell because he lives in the Paid Pleasure Person’s district?

Who cares about hundreds of thousands of dollars shaved off home values for people in Van Nuys, always pushed into compassion for every life except their own?

And who makes the law and who enforces it and why is it that the law nowadays is interpreted so gently, so liberally, so ridiculously against common sense and the common good that it has the strength of a wet Kleenex held up to deflect a nuclear missile?

We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

 

Tom Cluster’s Van Nuys (1955-1962).


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Cluster Home: 6944 Columbus south of Marlin Pl.

A few weeks ago I received a lovely email, and some photos from Tom Cluster, a reader of this blog.

Here is one excerpt:

Dear Andy,

I just discovered your blog about Van Nuys.  I’m entranced by it.  I’m almost 70.  Our family moved to 6944 Columbus Avenue in the summer of 1955.  It was a small tract of new homes.  We moved from Westchester (near LAX).  A lot of people moved from Westchester to the Valley because the airport was expanding and streets were being eaten up.  Our new neighborhood was between Kester, Vose, Sepulveda, and Vanowen.

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Andy Devine (1905-77)
Andy Devine (1905-77)

The local celebrity was Andy Devine, who still lived in his big house on 6947 Kester, down near Basset.  At Halloween he’d hand out small boxes of Sugar Pops.  There was an old swimming pool across the street that he had built years before – the Crystal Plunge – and we’d swim there in the summer. We had smog alerts in those days and if there was a big rain we wouldn’t go to school because Kester St. would flood.

There was a family on Vose who sold eggs from their chickens – the mother and father had survived the Holocaust and had the tattooed numbers on their forearms.

[Then as now] It would get hot and there was no air conditioning, not at Valerio School (which in 1955-1956 was at the corner of Kester and Valerio, consisting entirely of temporary buildings with a dirt playground) and not in our homes.  Still, I have fond memories of Van Nuys.

Valerio St. School June 1956
Valerio St. School June 1956

The area where the Presbyterian Hospital is now was a big empty field full of tumbleweeds – we’d make forts and paths there.  When the hospital was built it was small compared to what it is today.  It was just two circular wings designed by William Leonard Pereira. (1909-1985) of  Pereira and Luckman.

March 18, 1957 reads "Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital's board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital's fund drive."  (LAPL)
March 18, 1957 reads “Discussing modern innovations of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, nearing completion at 15107 Vanowen St., are Mrs. Barbara Holt, member of hospital’s board of directors, and from left, J. H. Wray, Jim Cross and Walter Rueff, members of San Fernando Automobile Dealers Association committee for hospital’s fund drive.” (LAPL)
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, 15107 Vanowen Street, Van Nuys, designed by Pereira & Luckman. Photograph dated January 15, 1964 Ph: Geo. Brich
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads "Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge." The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
Photograph caption dated February 20, 1961 reads “Larry Peskin, 17, left, 10038 Noble St., Sepulveda, completes hospital course. Fellow graduate examining syringe is Warren Wilkinson, 17, 9439 Louise Ave., Northridge.” The young men completed a 20-hour training course to become volunteers at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. Ph: Jon Woods
January 5, 1959 reads "Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center."
January 5, 1959 reads “Janet Kellenberger, 15, and Jackie Suess, 17, members of Candy Stripers, from left, aid Sea Scouts Bob Wheeler, 17; Steve Bidwell, 16, and Mike Strange, 15, in volunteer cleanup program of Valley Presbyterian Hospital. Sea Scouts, auxiliary of Explorer Scouts of America, and other organizations volunteer work hours for Van Nuys medical center.”

(Valley Presbyterian Hospital images courtesy of LAPL)

If you look at a map, you’ll see that Noble, Burnett, and Columbus extend from Basset to Marlin Place – the 6900 block.  The houses from 6900 up to 6932 were built in 1951, the houses beginning at 6932 were built in 1955.  Our houses (6932 and up) were in an old walnut grove, so there was plenty of shade.

I’ve attached a picture out front of our house.  The older end of the street didn’t have walnut trees and it always seemed hot.  What we didn’t understand was that the walnut trees would all soon die because sidewalks and asphalt and lawns aren’t good for them.  At that point our end of the street got hot and the trees that had been planted at the other end of the street grew up and gave it shade.  We moved out in 1962.  The people who bought our house are still there – probably the longest residing family in that block of Columbus.

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My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

If you look at Street View for 6944 Columbus you’ll see that it’s perfectly manicured.  The builder of our little tract was named Arthur Guyer – he built tracts throughout the Valley.  He built 15153 Marlin Place for himself in about 1957.

There was another local celebrity on that street, although he wasn’t famous then.  The Cerf family lived at 6932 Columbus, and Vinton Cerf, the oldest son, was attending Robert Fulton Jr. High.  Vinton is famous as the “father of the Internet”.  He and a buddy invented TCP/IP while at UCLA. The Cerfs left Van Nuys about the same time we did.

I won’t bore you with my memories of all the commercial establishments, but I will mention that Kenny’s Automotive at 14852 Vanowen, near Kester, was there in the 1950’s, just as it is today.  Another hold out from the old days is Lloyd’s Market, at 7219 Kester.  It was called Lloyd’s even back then, and we’d stop there every day when we walked home from Valerio.

More to come…..

 

 

 

Day of the Bulldozer


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6500 N. Sepulveda

On N. Sepulveda Blvd., between Victory and Vanowen, three apartment projects are now underway.

At 6500 N. Sepulveda, the former site of the notorious Voyager Motel is completely cleared. It was a crack-y whorehouse of ill repute. But also a patriotically, quadrennially decorated neighborhood-voting place. It burned in a gratifyingly appropriate fire earlier this year.

The 53,382 square foot parcel is now void of anything natural or man-made. It is simply flat, vast and magnificently empty. It emulates Van Nuys, as it might have been in the late 1940s, when tracts of orange and walnut groves were bulldozed to make way for ticky-tacky houses and shopping centers.

An apartment is planned for this site. I don’t remember its design, but if it follows any of the other projects in Van Nuys it will come by way of big and boxy, designed by big and boxy men, near architects who also moonlight as junior builders, and amateur bankers. It will be three or four stories tall and cover every square inch of land. Parking will be provided in excess of what is needed because the most important feature of any project in Los Angeles is how many parking spaces are provided. We need more parking. And just a reminder: Please make sure there is parking. Everywhere.

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6500 N. Sepulveda

At 6536 N. Sepulveda, on 28,146 square feet, another apartment is going up. This is on that charming stretch of the street where new hookers walk and old couches come to die. Nightly helicopter patrols and pounding rap music enliven the air. A house was recently bulldozed here and gargantuan sized orange bulldozers now occupy the parcel.

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6536 N. Sepulveda

 

At 6725 N. Sepulveda Blvd, on 30,647 square feet, between Archwood and Lemay, another flat and modern multi-family is planned. This was the site of the low self-esteem Ridge Motel, whose police reports and trashy clientele attested to a level of service usually seen only in jails.

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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16
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6725 N. Sepulveda 4/28/16

 

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6725 N. Sepulveda 10/24/16

The Ridge Motel, still a menace in its dying days, was kept behind security fencing, like King Kong in captivity. Its campy, catapulting roofline was somehow not in the sights of the LA Conservancy, whose members work tirelessly to preserve other historical buildings such as bowling alleys  in the San Gabriel Valley.

The rose-bushed, picket-fenced hood of working moms and worked-out fathers bordering these three Sepulveda Blvd. properties are relieved that some badness (and discarded condoms) has departed. Some see the Day of the Bulldozer as Saul saw Jesus. Sin cleansed by salvation.

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14827 Victory Blvd. 6/14/15 DEMOLISHED
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Vintage Auto Repair 6200 N. Kester Ave. 7/9/15 DEMOLISHED
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The oldest house in Van Nuys, once owned by the original developer, WIlliam Paul Whitsett, is cleared for condominiums. 6/7/07 DEMOLISHED

Bulldozers are like angels in Van Nuys. They are sent by the Good Lord to flatten and knock down anything standing in the way of new banality. Even when they are used to destroy history, they have a mission. They will bring, don’t you know, “jobs” and “opportunities” and “housing” to the San Fernando Valley.

We see the stuccofied greatness of our environment every day, along Vanowen, Sepulveda, and Van Nuys Boulevard. Someone, somewhere is surely looking out over all this destruction and construction, making sure that the architecture and the design enhances our landscape.

Or perhaps nobody is in charge. And we live in a kind of roulette table of a city, spinning a wheel and hoping that the building that lands next to us is a winner.