Crossing Ventura.


Sometime in late 2018, early 2019, I’m not sure exactly when, they created a pedestrian crosswalk, with flashing lights, across Ventura Boulevard. at Ventura Canyon Avenue.  The crossing is about a block east of Woodman and a few doors down from Yok Ramen at 13608 Ventura where I go about once a week.

This is in the heart of Sherman Oaks, where stores that paint your nails, sell used records or live birds are sprinkled along the boulevard along with massage, dry cleaners, and laser skin treatments. And Floyd’s 99 Barbershop where every customer from 18-80 is a rock star.

I’m familiar with this area and its friendly banalities.

About 20 years ago, I knew a divorced woman in her 40s, with a little girl’s voice, who spent most weekday mornings at the location where the ramen place is now. 

Back then it was a bakery and a coffee shop with big muffins and big mugs, chocolate croissants and caloric treats. She sat at a table with her journal and wrote music and poems. Today she is retirement age, married and living in rural England.  And that’s how I got to think about the time passing and the way people pass time on Ventura Boulevard. 

As Orson Welles once said, “The terrible thing about L.A. is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.”  

And if you spent a couple of decades eating chocolate chip muffins on Ventura Boulevard what have you got to show for it?

To keep people alive, and moving, mostly in cars, the people and “leaders” of Los Angeles have devised, through the years, the same kinds of ideas to make safer the naked and shameful stunt of walking across Ventura Boulevard.  These include longer pedestrian signals, traffic islands, and painting the street with lines or figures to indicate that humans on foot also roam in the land of cars.

We tweet in seconds about trivialities like nuclear war, impeachment or the fires in Australia but we cannot assume that six decades will correct the urban failures of Los Angeles. Photographs from the past prove my point.

On November 30, 1959, Dr. Louis Friedman, Dentist, painted his own crosswalk, with a corn broom, on the pavement at Murietta and Ventura, to protect his patients. He had unsuccessfully asked the city to do so but his requests were ignored. So he took the initiative and laid down the lines.

That same year, Carl Stezenel, 10, of North Hollywood stood at the corner of Radford and Ventura and tried to cross in the time allotted, 9 seconds. If a 10-year-old boy found that challenging, imagine the typical woman of that era in high-heeled shoes, gloves, hat and a cigarette pushing a baby buggy?

Carl Stezenel’s plight may have influenced a December 1, 1960 dedication for a new landscaped traffic island at that same location. Men in suits (a sure sign of importance) attended the event, in a district whose distinguished architecture featured auto dealerships and gas stations. 

Five years earlier, in 1955, motorists on Ventura near Dixie Canyon Avenue were warned that they were approaching a nearby school by a painting on pavement of a running boy with a ball. 

People who worked and shopped in the area did care about how it looked. Years before it was considered normal and decent to allow tens of thousands of intoxicated and mentally ill people to live on the streets with garbage filled shopping baskets, the issues of why there was no tree cover on the boulevard haunted the civic minded. 

The palm tree, with a trunk so skinny it could never crowd out a Cadillac at the curb, was the obvious solution.  

Studio City is now lined with palm trees, a species that provides no shade to sidewalks that are baked in sunshine 350 days of the year. In 1954, the first palm trees were planted as part of a beautification scheme. Fully grown, their trunks look like posts without billboards, a perfect style for this city.

The sameness of businesses in the late 1950s along Ventura Boulevard presented problems. We, who are of CVS, Starbucks and Chipotle, may understand that historical plight.

Studio City and Sherman Oaks had a competitive streak. 

To bring customers between the two districts, a special free bus was introduced on February 18, 1959. If you had a watch that needed repair, wanted to purchase panty hose, a typewriter ribbon, or a cigarette case, now you had a no fare bus to take you up and down Ventura Boulevard, opening up a world of possibilities. 

That bus must have been cancelled after 10 episodes.

Further east, at Balboa and Ventura in Encino, the traffic situation was already dire in late 1953 when work-bound suburban residents were forced into only two lanes of eastbound road, while the westbound, going into less populated Tarzana and Woodland Hills was free of congestion. The solution: three lanes in the morning, and then move the cones and make it three lanes westbound at night. 

Eventually, the current road was widened into three lanes in each direction, with an advanced staring-into-the-sun design for morning and afternoon drivers. 

High rise office buildings sprung up in the 1960s and 70s, some as high as 15 stories, but nobody in the single-family neighborhoods nearby cared because the occupants were white and well-paid. Today, a four-story tall apartment with 130 apartments, and 3 affordable units is considered social engineering and overcrowding by many in Encino.

We are now into the third decade of the 21st Century and Ventura Boulevard still lacks safe pedestrian crossings because most drivers and pedestrians are looking into their mobile devices.

Photo Credits: LAPL/ Valley Times Collection

The Fire Last Time


______________________________________________________________________________

On March 30, 2007 there was a fire burning in Griffith Park.

And I was walking in Studio City when a red-haired woman drove up and parked on Ventura Bl. in an odd little purple car, a Nash Rambler. Her license plate read “Kissmet.” I’m sure she is someone, or was someone, quite beloved, judging by her car and plate.

Yesterday, 13.7 years later, there was another fire burning above Warner Brothers Studio near Barham. And the same atomic plume of smoke went up in the sky and theatrically filled up the space between the rows of palm trees along Ventura Boulevard.

There was no Nash Rambler in yesterday’s photograph, and by comparison, in content and style, the new image is quite unexciting and unremarkable.

When fire threatens Los Angeles, the first thing we think of is our loved ones, and then our homes, and lastly our cars.  

Or perhaps it’s the reverse.

The Perfect House


In early 1993, I was visiting Larry and Kay, who lived in a beautiful home in Woodland Hills, south of Ventura, of course. They were around the corner from the last large orange grove in the San Fernando Valley.

They were Hollywood people, who had moved out to the SFV, in the late 1960s, from Michigan. 

The husband was a TV producer who had success on ABC in the 1970s. The wife played tennis with “Happy Days” star Marion Ross. They had three children. I was friends with their middle daughter Beth, who I had gone to college with.

Their house was up on a hill, atop a long driveway, in a bed of ivy and surrounded by mature trees. There was a large, life-sized cow in front, so you were assured this was a place of wit and irony.

The expansive, beamed, rustically casual interior with a wall of patio facing French doors was paved with polished bricks. A two-story tall front hall, with plants growing up to the ceiling along an open riser staircase, extended back into an amorphous pool that was surrounded by terraced, green hillside and more vintage signs from old roadside advertising.

That year I was considering moving from New York City to Los Angeles. And then, the next year, I did. 

The husband was a gregarious, self-confident, big Midwesterner who liked practical jokes, loved making television, and loved Los Angeles. He would have made a good poster child for the LA Chamber of Commerce: family man, in a spectacular house, having fun earning a living in entertainment.

During one conversation Larry said he liked LA because when you drove to the airport “you never had to go through a bad neighborhood.”

Kay said she loved LA because she loved her house, “It’s paradise here in my home and garden,” she said.

I thought then, 26 years ago, how odd and how normal these remarks were, how characteristic of Los Angeles, and a certain kind of person these impressions of life here were. For who would argue, especially in 1993, that a nice home was not the entire object of life and the culmination of Los Angeles dream? 

Who cared if there was nowhere to walk, if “Main Street” was a 15-mile-long wreckage of parking lots, junk food, car washes, shopping centers and ugliness; and your downtown was a vacated, forgotten and despised urban renewal zone, strangled by bad air and wide freeways, where lost people wandered aimlessly?

And you never knew your neighbors’ names, and you only saw them from behind your tinted, electric windows.

If you bought a nice ranch house south of Ventura Blvd. you were really set. The city and its attributes or lack thereof were of no importance. The sun always shined on your pool and your garden.


I have lived in this city more years than other city, and still I wonder what I am doing here.

Like Larry and Kay I have a nice house, perhaps not on the scale of their house, but it’s a good, clean, comfortable house, and I like it.

But beyond this house, a few houses down, here in Van Nuys, one encounters a city where 58,000 people live on the streets, and traffic, billboards, mini-malls, illegal dumping, air pollution, and crime are profuse. 

A great house would be a great if it were in a great city that took great care of its environment. 

But our city lets people camp out along the freeway, and defecate in the take-out line next to Wendy’s. It cannot stop it when drivers cut off in traffic kill each other and it cannot predict if a madman with a gun will shoot to death some random man at the Orange Line bus in Lake Balboa.

The Perfect House could never exist in a city where 90% of the people who can, drive their children to schools in other school districts, because the local schools are inferior, because the nearby, walkable schools are populated by less advantaged kids. What fine city sends its’ kids far away to go to schools in other places?

In our city, desperate for housing, people with homes protest housing for homeless seniors. It reminds me of a man with epilepsy, and an autistic boy, who protested a memory care facility for Alzheimer’s patients near his home in NJ. 

The Perfect House would not exist in a city with scattered, garbage-filled carts on sidewalks. And a bus bench shelter was not for bus riders, but a bed for a man without a bedroom.

Los Angeles promotes self-destruction of self and city as public policy. It allows vagrancy, dumping and human defecation into local rivers that empty into the ocean.  And its leaders ask you to understand and accept the degradation of a city as the natural order of business.

Straws are banned, smoking is banned, but tens of thousands of trash campers can set up their tents anywhere in Los Angeles.

How are we not calling this an emergency?


In the photo above is a version of The Perfect House at 14030 Valley Vista, Sherman Oaks, CA by Gal Harpaz, photographer.

The architect was born in Ferrara, Italy, a Jew who escaped when Mussolini came to power. Edgardo Contini, (1914-90) who was a founder of Gruen Associates and a planner in many projects in this city including the Pacific Design Center, the Fox Hills Mall as well as President of the Urban Innovations Group, the practicing arm of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. He worked with Architect Charles Moore and participated in the Grand Avenue proposal for California Plaza on Bunker Hill.[2]

And during his lifetime in Los Angeles, Mr. Contini seemed to think that this city was in need of urban preservation, reuse of older buildings rather than outward sprawl. He wanted to end our wasteful, continual destruction of historical structures and our voracious consumption of wild lands and agricultural fields beyond the city.

He saw Los Angeles as more than the ideal house. He imagined a city where the health and well being of all was the optimal.  

What would he think of Studio City today where $3 million dollar houses are constructed steps away from people sleeping on mattresses along the LA River? Or of Van Nuys Boulevard with its’ boarded up businesses, homeless encampments, and dismal condition?

In 1972, he wrote, “We should place the emphasis on recycling, no further withdrawl from our resources of open land would be required/ and we will not leave urban litter behind.”

Are we better off today than we were in 1972? Or are we still, like Mayor Garcetti, just talking a virtue game and living in a cesspool? 

Where are all the big plans for humane and just architecture to heal all the atrocities of modern Los Angeles? Can we just survive and continue to build a city of flat-topped McMansions, backyard garage add-ons and $3500 a month apartments?

Is any large city in America as dirty as Los Angeles? Is any booming and billionaire saturated city in Europe? One looks to India to imagine our dystopian future.

The Perfect House is beyond most of our reach, but the better city should not be.


[2]Obituaries: Edgardo Contini, Architect, Urban Planner; by Leon Whiteson; LA Times, May 1, 1990.

1949: A $72 Million Dollar Flood Control Plan to Waterproof SFV


Van Nuys Blvd. 1938 flood


Flooded area at Ventura Boulevard and Colfax Avenue in Studio City. 1938 (LAPL)

After March 1938 Flood: Lankershim Bl. looking north near Universal City. Photo: by Herman Schultheis


After the disastrous 1938 floods, the City of Los Angeles worked with the State of California and the Federal Government, specifically The Army Corps of Engineers, to encase the rivers of Los Angeles in a waterproof lined concrete sewer to expel waters during the rainy season.

These December 1949 photographs, archived at the LAPL in the “Valley Times Collection”, show the splendid progress of turning natural riverbeds into something distinctively man-made without natural life.  The cost, at the time, was $72 million, which is perhaps $800 million today, but sounds like a bargain, since the Getty Center mountaintop gouge and railroad itself cost $1.3 billion dollars upon completion in 1997 and the widening of the 405 five years ago was a $1.6 billion dollar project that has since added one lane in each direction and shaved 10 seconds off each commuter’s journey.

And let us ponder that our latest crisis, homelessness, will be remedied by taxpayer dollars close to $5 billion.  Not the Federal Government, not the State of CA, but taxpayers, you and me will shell out to well-meaning bureaucrats and post-collegiate interns, $4.6 billion to build housing — 10,000 units in 10 years — and “provide supportive services” for homeless people.  When every person in need on every continent around the world, every down and out person from every state, city and town in the US, Canada and Mexico, arrives in Los Angeles, we will see how well this plan goes down.  It once was against the law to dump garbage in parks, to set up tent cities on sidewalks, to sleep on benches, under bridges, but now this is a behavior eliciting “compassion” because that’s how you are directed and asked to speak of it. You must not condemn what your own eyes tell you is wrong.  Let it grow, let it expand, then create new programs to fight it, until it becomes unstoppable.

A city that once built hundreds of miles concrete rivers to stop flooding, cannot erect temporary shelters and police the filth and disorder and rampant grossness of the ever growing homeless situation. 1949 was a different time, for Angelenos were not intimidated and cowered into attacking threats that endangered the growth, health and well-being of this city.

Lankershim and Cahuenga

Riverside and Whitsett

Laurel Canyon Bl. near Ventura.

The concreting of the LA River in the San Fernando Valley allowed the development of housing right up to the edge of the old slopes. No longer would houses and apartments face potential destruction from heavy rains and overflowing waters.  Soon the freeways would come through, another onslaught of concrete that helped transform the San Fernando Valley from a place of horses and orange groves to one of parking lots and 10-lane local boulevards.

Today, in many parts of the LA River, most notably in Frogtown and along some sections of Studio City, there are naturalizing effects going on, and residents are biking, hiking, and even boating where it is permitted in the once fetid waters of the river.

 

As the Turnmire Turns…..


Alvin Turnmire, 1947

Beverly Turnmire, 1947

He is 21, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a cotton bomber jacket and button front denim jeans. She is 19, holds a Boxer pup and wears a leopard print coat and appears somewhat sad and disturbed.

They are Alvin and Beverly Turnmire, recently married.

Their address is a home in Studio City at 4232 Goodland Ave. near the golf course. They probably live with his parents, but they want to get out and get an apartment.

And Burbank police said they committed a string of burglaries in order to furnish their new place.

November 5, 1947 is the date of their arrest. They were caught 71 years ago, and are probably dead. But their reincarnated young beings still walk Ventura Boulevard.

Studio City people: in love with dogs and exotic clothes, chasing goods and desires beyond their reach, a place of happiness and meltdowns, a magnet for dreamers, a trap set in the San Fernando Valley for aspirational types who fled from somewhere else, a district where many survive by impersonation, wearing costumes and carrying animals and evading responsibilities.

 

1954: Cop with Five Truckloads of Stolen Building Material

And then Alvin Turnmire, 27, is arrested seven years later. For white people back then there were always second chances.

Photograph caption dated March 8, 1954 reads “Officer Thomas Quarles examines king-sized wire snips as he stands amid five truck loads of building material loot alleged stolen by Alvin R. Turnmire, 27, and found by officers at the suspect’s Sun Valley home. Goods was (sic) valued at $20,000.” The article partially reads:  “A Sun Valley father, who seven years ago looted Burbank stores to set up housekeeping, is back in jail today for a fantastic nine-month series of burglaries.”

 

1957: Cops with stolen loot.

Alvin Turmire, now 31, is arrested again, ten years later, in 1957, now living in Pacoima. He is still committing burglaries. For white people back then there were always third chances. Maybe it helps that he was a Marine, fought in WWII, earned a Purple Heart, “got a Jap bullet in the leg at Iwo Jima, as his wife explains.”

Photograph caption dated August 1, 1957 reads, “T. E. Holt, left, checks stolen property at Valley station with Det. John Sublette after police picked up two truckloads of stolen goods at home of Alvin Turnmire, 31, 8969 Snowden Ave., Pacoima. More than $10,000 worth of various equipment was picked up. Turnmire was booked on suspicion of burglary and is scheduled to be arraigned today.”

Photo credit: LAPL/Valley Times/

Unsecured Networks.


Yesterday afternoon, for an hour or so, I was perched, up high on a wooden chair, in the back of my favorite coffee shop in Studio City. I was writing a short story and concentrating on a character who suffers a nervous breakdown.

Across from me, diagonally, and seated at a lower table, a middle-aged woman sat with her open checkbook, her mobile phone, and artfully addressed mailers with her mid-century name and current address calligraphically sharpied.

Her name and address were so large and so graphic that I could read it seven feet away: Terri Lynn Graumann, 12765 Moorpark #Apt. 2904. Studio City, CA 91604 [Name and address have been changed]

I went back to my writing but then the woman turned around, frazzled and disoriented, and asked, “Did you see anyone go into my purse?” She was referring to her black, poster-board sized, leather handbag that looked expensive and elegant.

“No I didn’t,” I answered. I half expected her to accuse me but she didn’t.

She turned to another couple, in conversation, to ask them the same question.

It soon became obvious that the woman was missing another electronic device that her mobile phone indicated was right there in front of her, or nearby.

She rifled nervously through her 36″ x 24″ x 1″ purse, and upended her papers and looked under the table and inside her black duffle coat pocket. She brought us all into her missing electronic device mystery, and we had to stop writing, or talking, or thinking, and listen to her plea to find her missing Ipad.

Then she ran out of the coffee shop, ostensibly into her vehicle, to locate the missing object. On her table, left behind, were blank checks, her name, her home address and her mobile phone.

She returned, relieved and carrying her missing device. She had found it in her car.

She sat down, opened it and started to work on her finances, which I could not see in detail, other than the large logo for Chase Bank.

I’m often jittery about getting robbed, and sometimes, like that woman, I’ll wonder if that wallet or phone or laptop I brought in to the coffee shop has gone missing. So I am not without empathy for her temporary debacle.

But again, it is ironic, in this day when shows like “Mr. Robot” dramatize how easily one’s information can be hacked electronically, especially, in public places; to see someone do almost everything wrong, and indeed, dangerously, to put her personal information and financial privacy out in the open.

Again, real people sacrifice reality to save a digital device.

In a larger sense, we lose “friends” who come to town and post photos on Instagram and Facebook and never bother to see us in person. If we “unfriend” them that is as grave an insult as not getting together in person. Or maybe it isn’t.

We work on our online persona, to gain followers, to get compliments from strangers, to make friends with people who have more fans, and then we fail to visit our family for Christmas.

Or we are thrown into a panic because one portable computer is missing and we think that it is the end of the world.

And an idiot on Twitter, the most powerful man in the world, cannot resist joking about global warming, the FBI, nuclear war and health care. His projections matter most to him and the rest of the world must be brought into his virtual drama.  That real icebergs are melting, that real people are sick and have no insurance, that real children die from guns, that real wars are started by selling weapons to evil countries, those facts are real. But a tweet, a conjuration of idiocy read by millions, it matters only because it is spoken online.

That’s the true story of modern life: to rescue the imaginary while imperiling the real.

And not knowing the difference.