One Day, Soon.


 

One day, soon, there will be a revitalization of Van Nuys Boulevard.

Gone forever will be the hopeless days when people laughed to mock it, or ran away in revulsion.

All the central gathering places that should be occupied by civilized things, all the lots that hold parking, all the empty buildings along Van Nuys Boulevard, will be replaced with vibrant, happy, upbeat, successful businesses and residents.

It will take nothing more than $5 billion dollars to invest in new transit, new apartments, new multi-family housing, new police officers, a new police station, an army of street cleaners, and law enforcement people who will ticket illegally parked cars, handicap placard abusers, unregulated street sellers, unlicensed signs, and unpermitted businesses.

The narrowing of Victory Boulevard, the planting of 200 oak trees from Kester to Van Nuys Boulevard, will bring about a revitalization of the formerly crappy strip of low rent mini-malls, slum apartments and empty stores. The LAPD Victory Precinct at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, and its drop-in center there will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

150 new LAPD officers, out of a police force of some 10,000 will be specifially assigned to the area.

Some 50 new apartment buildings, from Sherman Way to Oxnard, with 10,000 new apartments, will be built and 20% of them will rent for under market value.

Security cameras will enforce the law to prevent speeding, red light running, assault, vandalism, burglaries of properties and hold-ups on the street.

There will be decorative streetlights, three new parks, new benches, and thousands of shade trees planted along the boulevard to protect against temperatures that get hotter every year.

Bike lanes, light rail, automobiles and pedestrians will share a new Van Nuys Boulevard divided between all types of transport, from foot to motor to public.

And the architecture will be inventive, modern, and integrate environmentally such necessities as solar energy and district wide free wi-fi.

In a nod to the old Van Nuys, the first orange grove planted in the Valley in 90 years will be manned by formerly homeless men and women who will guard the orchards as they would their own children. There will be 10 houses planted around the grove to ensure the safety and security of the new urban agriculturalists.

The low industrial buildings in the neighborhood around Kester and Oxnard, all 33 acres, were preserved in 2018, and later became an incubator for creatives who settled in the area and built narrow houses near the Orange Line, and worked and lived next to artisans, musicians, brewers, car restorers and craftspeople of every skill.

All of this is possible.

The people who will decide whether this is fantasy or reality are reading this post.


All photos courtesy of Architizer.

Architecture by Graham Baba.

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Four Days After the National Cataclysm.


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Four days after the national cataclysm, uneasy inside, tentative, mourning for my nation and its political immolation, I took advantage of a partially overcast Saturday morning and walked on those quiet, well-kept streets north of Valley Presbyterian Hospital.

Tom Cluster’s emails had introduced me to the area, and I wanted to see for myself what it looked like.

On Columbus Avenue, where Tom had grown up, the street was still lined with trees, with neatly kept houses, and well-paved sidewalks. In front of his childhood home at 6944, where he lived from 1955-62, a gravestone next to the driveway read: “Beneath the Stone Lies Squeaky 7/13/61.”

I assumed a pet, but have not asked Tom yet. But I am sure he will fill in the mystery.

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If you walked just three streets, Halbrent, Columbus and Burnet, you might be forgiven for believing that virtuous, middle-class, hard-working, Ozzie and Harriet Van Nuys was still the norm.

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There is hardly any trash, the curbs are swept, the lawns are cut, and it seems that the hospital itself is as sanitized on the exterior as the interior. There is a calm, a self-assurance, an illusory orderliness conveying control. The buildings, dating back to 1958, drum shaped towers, share the grounds with more recent concrete ones; but unlike Cedars or UCLA, there is no affluence in the architecture, no preening for impressiveness or garish technological materials. This is a plain Protestant place, stripped down and frugal.

At Valley Presbyterian, there is also a long driveway leading from Noble, west, into the main entrance of the medical facility. The edge is lined with raised, planted beds under a 1950s modern, illuminated overhang. Welcoming and efficient, it conveys a public language of progressive health care and community.

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The Edsels and the Oldsmobiles and the Pontiacs wait patiently at the entrance as the medical staff bring out wheelchairs. Dad, always calm, lights a cigarette and turns on the radio to hear how Don Drysdale is doing. Mom, in labor, is brought into the hospital by nurses as Dad goes to park the car and walk back into the hospital to wait, in the maternity area, for his wife to give birth to their third child.

Volunteer girls in red lipstick and white uniforms hold trays of apple juice in Dixie cups. They walk the floor and offer refreshments.

Dad took the afternoon off work but will be at the GM plant in the morning. His wife will spend a week in the hospital and they will pay their $560.00 bill in $15.55 monthly installments over the next three years.


For a few blocks, a section of Van Nuys, its homes and hospitals, is still preserved in a formaldehyde of memory and architecture, a Twilight Zone where hospitals were up-to-date and affordable, great schools were within walking distance, jobs were plentiful, work was secure, streets were safe, and houses reasonably priced.

Beyond these streets, the real, harsh, angry, misery of another Van Nuys in another America plays out.

And we Californians, we Angelenos, are caught in a vise of fear, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, and seeing the day of demagoguery descend over Washington and the world.

In preserved pockets, like the one north of Vanowen, some cower and hide from a restless surge of irrationality in search of scapegoats, chasing myths down dark alleys of the mind. The state, if it comes to it, may join the vigilante in enforcing the law. Or the law, if it is just, may return us to a semblance of sanity.

The best and the worst, the past and the future, it is all here in Van Nuys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big, Empty Foreground


On Flickr, where I sometimes spend my time, there is a group of photographs called “The Big Empty Foreground.” These are urban places, usually wide-open spaces, without people.

Many of the contributors come from Europe, a place one does not often think of as empty. Soccer fields, parking lots, office plazas, old factories, these are some of the unpopulated places.


 

Sepulveda Cleaners 2In Van Nuys, we have a lot of wide, empty foreground. Expansive asphalt pavements, empty shopping centers, abandoned houses on large lots.

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Near Vanowen, between Archwood and Sepulveda, there is a collection of one-story businesses: a cleaners, a phone store, a fishing tackle store and an odd place called Reynoso’s Lapidary and Supply which specializes in rocks, gems, stones and agate slabs.

These are in a building put up when land was cheap, sometime in the 1950s. And they are plain and homely and functional, but also practical, because the cars are put in back and the sidewalk is in front. Signs are small and discreet.

What intrigued me, on a day when dark clouds enclosed the sky and transformed the light of Los Angeles into something moody and cool, was how casually open space was made in the back, without gates or fences, or trees. That’s the way we parked in the 1950s at a suburban place. There was no thought given to landscape, only to laying down asphalt.

A walnut or orange grove, on many acres, probably occupied this land before the building was built.

This landscape back here will probably be developed someday and covered completely in a banal apartment, approved by city zoning.

But for now there is light, and space, and sky.

 

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The Incarcerated City.


 

_ABH2013 On these winter days, when the streets are emptied of cars, and the skies are filling with rain clouds, our neighborhood of Van Nuys cools down and empties out, revealing a strange amalgam of enormous parking lots; as well as businesses and homes surrounded by iron gates and fences.

In its entirety, these fortifications evoke prison: a high security, patrolled, guarded, and fearsome place where criminals and children are kept back by a fortress of steel and iron.

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For sixteen years I’ve lived here, always imagining that every New Year will bring an imaginative, humane and socially comprehensive new architecture into Van Nuys.

I fantasize that the parking lots will be torn up and rows of orange trees replanted in the soil. I think someone will see the enormous plots of land, now taken up with blight and decay, and see this as the new place to construct walkable communities with native plants and organic gardens surrounding little residential communes.

That is the dream, shared by some of my neighbors.

Reality is something else.

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On Sepulveda, between Archwood and Lemay, the hellish Ridge Motel is on Death Row, surrounded by fencing and covered with graffiti and garbage. It had long outlived its usefulness and functioned only as a prostitution and drug outlet, blighting its surroundings and neighbors.

Across Sepulveda, Fresh and Easy has closed, taking with it moldy produce and difficult checkouts. But sometimes I’d come here, and liked its convenience, its weird combination of English, Indian, Spanish and Asian foods, its overpriced milk, eggs and breads. And I miss that friendly manager who always smiled and helped me.

One Thanksgiving, about 2012, we bought our entire meal here and ate it back home with my mother, a pre-made, plastic topped collection of containers with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and turkey. My father had recently died, and my mother was to die two years later, and the holiday meal had a morose sadness intensified by the microwaved artificiality of our victuals.

Fresh and Easy is gone, but what remains are those walls and gates around it, and that big parking lot in front, and a reminder that even when there is no business, or no people, we will still live in an incarcerated city, a place where entrances and exits are controlled, and guarded from either imagined or real, chaos and crime.

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And those vast spaces of nothingness that are spread all over, those too are outdoor jail yards of lifelessness, neither urban or rural, human or natural.

These are the prisons that keep us captive and hold our imaginations and our existence hostage.

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The Local Sweeties and Public Safety.


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Courtesy of a community minded neighbor, we folks gathered tonight in a computer lab inside Casa Loma College on Kester to hear Senior Lead Officer Erica Kirk, Gang Officer DeLeon and a man from the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety speak about property crimes, prostitution and gangs.

The people were mostly older, largely white, and on friendly terms with one another. Before the speakers began, two chatted up about church, “I don’t hear the bells ringing any more!” and on grandchildren, “My granddaughter still works in Woodland Hills for a sod broker!”

Around the building, within spitting distance, ghetto apartments were sprayed with gang signs, prostitutes walked freely, speeding cars plowed through red lights, and old refrigerators and couches were dumped alongside the road.

But inside the room, reassuring voices of authority, festooned with badge and pistol, spoke of laws and arrests, patrols and progress against criminal activity.

Abandoned houses, trashy front yards, barking dogs at 3am, explosions, gunfire, helicopters, stolen cars, discarded marijuana containers, dumping, ubiquitous sex trade, stinky winds that blow sewage smells into the bedroom, none of these facts of life in Van Nuys would soon disappear, but some attendees were damn angry and determined to speak up and put a stop to the madness.

“Why don’t you arrest these prostitutes and ship them up to Nevada where it’s legal!” one man yelled. “They’ve been at it for forty years on Sepulveda.” And I pictured a sad whore, walking in the sun since 1975, wrinkled, abused and hated by local homeowners.

Another new arrival to Orion came with his pretty wife and spoke about his accounting of the used condoms found on streets around his beautiful estate.

“Since August 1st I’ve counted 33 condoms on Blucher, 44 on Langdon, 53 on Peach Avenue and 27 on Blucher!” he announced. My mind, always visual, imagined a sticky, gooey condom near a peach. For his wife, inviting the grandchildren into the front yard while a sex act was going on in front of the roses and white picket fence was quite appalling.


 

Some gentle people seemed innocent as to the fact that they lived amongst violence and anarchy. “The Mexican Mafia? What’s that?” a woman asked.

Another older woman spoke of her son coming home at 3am and passing three young men tagging a stop sign near Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “He stopped his car and rolled down his window and asked them why they were doing that,” she said. Officer DeLeon advised that it was, perhaps suggestible, not to confront three taggers at 3am in Van Nuys.

If Donna Reed and her family were transported to tonight’s meeting they would fit right in. That old time Angeleno, who came of age after WWII, whose life was formed in a sea of childish televised wonderment , made an appearance tonight, as delightful and improbable as Walt Disney meeting the Devil.

The local sweeties who came for this meeting were the nice ones who make up the silent and invisible and powerless backbone of Van Nuys. They cannot compare, in numbers or influence, these citizens, to the 180,000 who are in Van Nuys illegally, and whose presence regularly is spoken of in terms reverential and pandering, as when immigration reform comes up, as if we as a nation are commanded to do something to break the system further and destroy national sovereignty in the name of political correctness.

These people who gathered here tonight are regularly told there is not enough money for law and order, but when I spoke up and asked the crowd if they would pay fifty cents a gallon tax on gasoline to double the size of the (13,000) LAPD and bolster it, nobody raised their hand. “Why don’t you tax cigarettes?” a female cancer patient asked.

There will no doubt be more community meetings in the future, but the prospect for improvement in Van Nuys is dim. Without leadership, even the best intentioned community group, even the best cops on the beat, cannot hope to overcome the nonsensical and insane carnival of crime that dances all around us day and night. IMG_9557 IMG_9552

 

 

Hart Street, Firmament Avenue, Sherman Way and Sepulveda.


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Yesterday, between the rains, after the air had been washed, the skies were radiant. And enormous cumulus clouds towered above, bottoms gray, tops white. The sun came and went. Streets of dark shadows ended in blinding light.

I walked in the wind up Sepulveda, north of Vanowen, and went left along Hart Street.

This is a neat neighborhood of mostly well-kept houses on generous lots. It is not rich here, but the general feeling seems contented. There are no sidewalks but lots of walkers.

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Near Sepulveda, at 15322 Hart, there is a burned-out house with a lovely second floor balcony and no trespassing signs on a gate; secluded and romantic, it awaits rebirth from ruin.

At 15439 Hart, someone is selling a 1970 (?) Yellow Ford pickup truck.

15521 Hart (built 1952) is a white house with blue awnings. Though it faces south, into the hot sun, there are no shades trees in front.

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Firmament Avenue is the last street in this neighborhood east of the 405 freeway. Large houses and empty lots, well kept estates, battered weed infested places, townhouses and bungalows, all are found on the block between Hart and Sherman Way.

These are the kind of typically Californian streets that make people from other states uneasy. They mix danger with intoxicating beauty, ruin next to richness. Is this a good or a bad place? In this area an old lady might come outside and offer you apple pie… or aim a gun at your head.

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7110 Firmament could be a location in a 1940s Van Nuys movie with its roadside mailbox, cyclone fence, picket gate and wood houses set way back behind mature trees and overgrown ivy.


Next door, at 7128 Firmament, a brown stucco house with a red tile roof and white balustrade bedecked wall is carefree and liberal with its architectural elements. They are seemingly picked out of air and dropped onto a large lot hidden behind black screened fences and decorative lanterns. A Nury Martinez election placard is planted near the driveway.

Up at 15549 Sherman Way, Helen Towers (built 1972) is a large, 93-unit apartment building with a pool and lots of parking set on an acre and a half property right next to the on-ramp for the Northbound 405. Strangely bucolic, it seems well kept, if a bit dated.

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At the Starbucks (15355 Sherman Way) a man ignited himself in burning flames last week and later died. I stopped off there for iced green tea. There were no signs of death, only life, and frozen faces glued to phone and screen.

My walk back home took me past the Royal [6920] Sepulveda Apartments, a “K” shaped, two-story complex frivolous in design, far from royal. Built in 1961, the 92-unit complex seems sex-soaked and secretive, untethered from anything around it, a floating, decadent motel of licentious and libidinous acts. Surrounded by parking, for quick escapes and quick arrivals, behind its closed drapes lie transient guests.

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