“This is the club where Bing Crosby belongs….”


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Some of the enormous, picturesque, and historic postcard collection amassed by Tommy Gelinas and his Valley Relics has passed through my hands.

The San Fernando Valley, only 100 years ago a largely agricultural area, dotted with newly established towns, became the fastest growing part of the United States in the 15 years after WWII.

Postcards from visitors who passed through here; visited olive groves, rode streetcars through vast planted lands, absorbed all the sunshine, boosterism and hucksterism of that time; radiate in words and pictures.

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Around 1910, Pacific Electric advertised a 101-mile-long, one-day trolley trip for one dollar. “The Scenic Trolley Trip” visited 10 beaches and 8 cities.

“Paralleling the mountains from Los Angeles to the ocean, then 36 miles along the Seashore. Parlor Car; Reserved Seats, Competent Guides. FREE ATTRACTION-Admission to largest Aquarium on Pacific Coast; Ride on the LA Thomspon Scenic Railway at Venice; Admission to Camera Obscura, Santa Monica.”

It sounds thrilling.

And imagine, men in suits and women in long dresses riding all day in wool coats, felt and feather hats, with many layers of undergarments, not even an ankle exposed.

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Thirty or so years later, the Tower Motor Hotel at 10980 Ventura Blvd in Studio City was smartly streamlined with gas pumps in front, steam heat and air-cooled rooms.

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Bing Crosby, who lived in Toluca Lake, was the most successful singer of the 1930s. A postcard sent from a fan who visited Lakeside Golf Club near Mr. Crosby’s home wrote: “I’ve seen him playing two mornings this week.”

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A 1930s view of Van Nuys, along Sylvan Street, towards the Valley Municipal Building, shows diagonally parked cars and a “Safeway” store.

On another postcard, showing the Encino Country Club, a Model T is parked under a shady oak in a verdant landscape of hills and orange trees.

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It may be too much to extrapolate truth and fact from these postcards. They were advertisements for businesses, meant to promote and sell.

But my heart tells me that Encino, Van Nuys and the rest of the Southland were magical back then.

 

 

 

“Almost Lost Her….”


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(Postcard courtesy of Valley Relics)

Assisting Tommy Gelinas of Valley Relics in his cataloging of unique and historic items related to the San Fernando Valley, I came across this June 1974 postcard sent from Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys to a family in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

“My Dearest Ones,

Sorry I haven’t wrote sooner but so worried and upset over Mother. Almost lost her. Her pulse was dropping down to 15 from time to time. Then a week ago last Sunday she had a heart attack in the hospital. A week ago today they did surgery and put a pace maker in. She looks great and feeling so much better. If all goes well she will go to my place a week from today.

Love you.

Edie and Jim”

The medical center, still standing but greatly enlarged at 15107 Vanowen St., is described as a “unique circular medical center, located in the San Fernando Valley.”

Mythical, Magical Valley Relics


On a mythical, magical day, a Saturday, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement for the Jews, I drove west to Chatsworth, across the Valley.

Dead ahead were the red and rocky Santa Susana Mountains. The temperature was probably about 106. The wind blew. The skies were clear. The air was sparkling. God was silent and beyond sight.

Crisp and fresh and hot were the walls along the new Busway, paralleling Owensmouth, a tidy industrial district north of Woodland Hills where tile shops and auto body stores are housed in flat, one-story windowless buildings. Lush plantings and solar lights line the deluxe bicycle path that is turning the wasteland of the West Valley into a denser, urban, bicycle and bus oriented urban green city.

This place once had two aspirations: asphalt and air conditioning. Pave over acres and erect an air-conditioned office, shopping mall and condo. This is all changing. The pedestrian now is protected, like an endangered species the government wants to propagate. If he is young, he will ride a bike and a bus. If he is old, he will live near shopping and walk to assisted living.

But I digress.

I was passing the future on my way to the past.

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Destination was Valley Relics, 21630 Marilla St. Chatsworth CA 91311, begun and run by Tommy Gelinas, a tall, bald, large-footed native of this area who grew up here in the 1970s, and who still bears traces of the druggy, rocky, high and anti-intellectual time that gave birth to our current era. Inked on both arms, footed in Size 13 Nikes, he seems inoculated against age, forever young, curious and energetic.

Burned into him, like the daily sun of the Southland, is a passion for collecting all the signs, photos, yearbooks, cars, matchbooks, postcards and historical junk of the San Fernando Valley. His mission is to make something out of a place that some people think is nothing.

Outside there was a small sign, Valley Relics, and I drove past it, unaware, and had to turn around. I parked and walked up to the entrance. Waiting outside, was a table, and Shane, a tanned, well-built man signing guests into the facility.

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Inside, I was hit by a burning blast of red and orange neon signs: gorgeous electrical advertising that once lit up the dark California nights of the San Fernando Valley: Mustang, The Tiffany, Palomino, Outrigger, Liquor.  Names that conjured up mythologies and movies.

The Horseman and The Gambler.

The Surfer and The Drinker.

The San Fernando Valley when it was young and magical, fresh and enchanting.

And people back then acting out lives, buying for their imagined selves.


What exactly was the San Fernando Valley?

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Looking around Valley Relics it was everything from Nudie’s Cadillac Eldorado Convertible decorated with handguns and thousands of silver coins, to an elaborately painted mural covering a VW Bug, KNAC “Pure Rock 105.5”, Dairy Queen and Bob’s Big Boy, Van Nuys Hardware Company, Alcoholics Anonymous; menus from Bailey’s Fresh Frozen Ice Cream, Smokey Joe’s, the Smoke House, Ho-Toy’s Restaurant; and Robert Fulton’s Junior High School Class of 1955.

60 years ago, hardly anyone in the SFV was a Chinese, a Cowboy or a Steamboat Captain, but we lived, ate and educated ourselves in those identities.

There were pictures and blueprints from developer Bob Symonds’ 1951 Valley Plaza and a bright yellow sign from Olsen’s Realty (“Hunting a Deal? Don’t Miss Us!”) at 10640 Sepulveda Blvd, Empire-1-8647.

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And lit up again was the yellow, red and green sign from Henry’s Tacos, a beloved and cheap food mediocrity of Mexican beans and burritos which stood on the corner of Moorpark and Tujunga for over 50 years, and was replaced last year by something uglier and less loved.

In war and peace, the San Fernando Valley made money-making war machinery. Tommy spoke about Lockheed, the Burbank based colossus whose WWII weaponry helped defeat Hitler and “The Japs.”

“Lockheed ranked tenth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.[14] All told, Lockheed and its subsidiary Vega produced 19,278 aircraft during World War II, representing six percent of war production, including 2,600 Venturas, 2,750 B-17 Flying Fortresses (built under license from Boeing), 2,900 Hudsons, and 9,000 Lightnings.[15]”-Wikipedia

War, porn, TV shows, shopping centers, vast home construction on an industrial scale, the history of the San Fernando Valley in the last 70 years is stupendous and enormous.

In the glass cases of Valley Relics, yearbooks, black and white photos, color post cards, and feather-penned letters from Isaac Van Nuys hold ancient history and present it to modern eyes.

Dreamed up and watered by men who marshaled the water resources of California to irrigate this dry land, the San Fernando Valley wears a mask plastic, juvenile, frivolous and fun.

Valley Relics and Tommy Gelinas have lassoed and caught in their hands a crazy and conflicted and fascinating collection of fantastical memorabilia.

Like the universe, it is boundless and still growing, encompassing everything and anything that landed on the ground stretching from Burbank to West Hills, in the years covering the American Century.

It is worth a visit, to see what it was like, and to imagine what it might have been like to live here.

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“It Was So Much Better Back Then…”



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There is a virtual place online where middle-aged mourners can gather to express their memories of a locale where towheaded youngsters, Brycreamed dads, and aproned moms drove in $4,000 Caddies along spotless streets and empty freeways and sent their kids to brand-new schools and inexpensive colleges, swam in sunny swimming pools, consumed burgers in drive-thrus, and went to happy factories in Van Nuys where cars popped off the assembly line like cookies in a bakery.

Valley Relics was started by Burbank native Tommy Gelinas and, in his words, “is a personal collection of rare photos, yearbooks, documents, postcards, toys, photo negatives, vintage signs, books, antiques, and artifacts from the 1800′s to present, from the San Fernando Valley.”

His Facebook page mirrors the website with daily updates and photos and comments on long gone places that once dotted the San Fernando Valley.

One of their most recent additions is from Gregg and Davida Symonds of Agoura. Gregg’s father, Bob Symonds, owned Sunset Farms in Sylmar and was the developer of Valley Plaza in North Hollywood.

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Valley Relics seems to be enormously successful with 27,185 likes on FB.

It preserves the past and shows us what the San Fernando Valley looked like at one point in time.

Reseda and Sherman Way/Late 1950s.


Reseda and Sherman Way/Late 1950s/ Photo Credit: Valley Relics on FB

Van Nuys Bl. Circa 1940


Van Nuys Blvd. Circa 1940 (courtesy Valley Relics)

Valley Relics posted this circa 1940 color photograph of Van Nuys Blvd. facing south (towards Sherman Oaks) near Victory Blvd.

Two things in the photo stand out that are different from today: the streetcar running up the center of the street and the diagonally parked cars.

For many years, people have spoken about the loss of the streetcar as a viable way of transportation around the Southland.  Many think that the sprawl of this city makes streetcars irrelevant and automobiles the only solution.

But streetcars traversed the sprawl of Los Angeles from the beginning, going across hundreds of miles, even when much of the land was undeveloped. They brought the Pasadenan to Venice and transported the Hollywoodian to Chatsworth.  They were above ground and had open windows.   No city of millions of people can be without a viable public transport. And cars–polluting, crowding, noisy, inefficient, expensive, deathly–are the most self-centered and self-destructive machines ever put inside a city. Los Angeles has been demonstrably more dysfunctional since the Red Car tracks were torn up.

Diagonal parking is a way of making shopping more convenient and serves to slow down traffic and discourage speeding. While current day Councilman Cardenas proposes raising metered parking rates in the midst of the Great Recession, the old photo above shows a thriving and much more appealing Van Nuys, with free diagonal parking,  than exists today.