The Runnymede Poultry Colony

Driving through the Valley using the Uber navigation app, I’ve noticed something called the Runnymede Poultry Colony popping up in the street grid of Reseda….in the middle of a subdivision.

Places that haven’t existed for decades, places with evocative names like Wingfoot, Broadmoor, Mission Acres, Wahoo…can be found on old maps, particularly those of the Pacific Electric streetcar lines.  Intriguingly, Google Maps utilizes a historical overlay, so when you zoom in, these unfamiliar names pop up in familiar places.  The White Favela, for example, sits atop a forgotten neighborhood called “Raymer”.  The navigation apps, including Uber, ride atop the Google platform and that brings us to the utopian community of Runnymede.

“Intensive little farms”, in the phrasing of its founder Charles Weeks, “bringing peace of mind, health of body and an abundant living to thousands bound in slavery by wage-earning and too much business.” It was located in the Winnetka neighborhood, not Reseda, named for the city in Illinois from which Weeks originated.

For $1500 in 1925,  pilgrims got a modest bungalow set back from the road on a deep narrow lot,  a poultry shed with 2000 hens, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a bee box and a grape arbor. You’d leave the eggs by the road for the morning pickup. You’d wash your own clothes and make your own ice cream.  You’d do it all on one acre, as a family,  living self-sufficiently in the city of Los Angeles.  In case you thought you were still living somewhere in Iowa,  you could ride the Red Car down Sherman Way and over the hill into town and watch Rudolph Valentino.  But you didn’t do that because you were pious.  You also had 2000 chickens to attend to, and kids running around in burlap underwear.  You were keeping Gomorrah well-omletted.

It wasn’t a collective farm, exactly, because you owned your own land, but there was a trade association, a community center for weekly functions and a beach house in Santa Monica the 500 Runnymede families could avail for picnicking in the summer.

If the Valley had developed along the one-acre per family Weeks model, there could have been potentially 150,000 such farm/orchard/home businesses today.  Assuming the necessity of middle children (several, ideally) we would have a population under a million, but big enough to sustain a city, with trolley lines and bike paths everywhere.  Counterfactually speaking, this was possible.

But it foundered, as did so many things, during the Depression. Falling egg prices,  the inability to make loan payments. Weeks himself went bankrupt self-financing loans to the families.  By 1934 it was over.

Instead, the Valley developed as the owners of the land wished it to. Remarkably, there remains to this day intact solitary lots … stubborn holdouts against the street grid,  crazy spinster aunts clinging to life after all the relatives have passed on.

You can see how much they’ve done with the place. That’s the problem with cheap land. Seldom do we make good use of it.

Which reminded me of the house we almost bought before we came to Van Nuys.  This one right here. It wasn’t part of the Colony, but the lot was as long as a football field. The structure was worthless.. teardown condition, but oh, the two week fever dream I had!   Not that I had any experience in this regard, my rather vague, very rudimentary, very what the hell anyone can do this plan was to grow organic spices and produce specifically for local restaurants.  I would be Mr. Local Source. The land would pay for the house. Gentleman Farmer, me. Purveyor to the stars of cuisine.

Just like this mini-farm tucked behind The French Laundry, in Napa.  When you dine there, you’re grazing right off the yard.

One of the peculiarities of our present Downton Abbey on the Pacific is working class people double bunking in apartments, fattening up on caloric take-out, while the gentry drop half a year’s salary on authentic peasant food grown on the most expensive ground in California.

As it happened, the house with the ginormous lot was already in escrow, sparing me the inevitable folly of a Branch Davidian-like standoff with City officials over unpermitted agricultural output.

I would have made my bride a widow defending the soil like an Ulsterman.  I would not have lived to hear the wise counsel of my friend Johnny: we’re only leasing it from God. The crust of the earth can shake us off like fleas at any moment.

Way, Way East of Pasadena

What do you do if you want to have a fancy wedding in Los Angeles on a teacher’s salary?

You book an outdoor venue in Temecula on a Sunday in August and ask your friends to drive out and sit under umbrellas in triple-digit heat, which we were only too happy to do! All of us! No bother at all!

Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. UpintheValley had their first tiff at a gas station in Rancho Cucamonga on the way home from Vegas.  Since then the world East of Pasadena has remained terra incognita for us, even after two decades as Angelenos.  We’re not snobs. Except for bickering, we just never had reason to get out of the car.

There is a saying in L.A.:  the car is king. This is not correct.  In L.A. the car is the preferred mode of transportation.   The street grid overlays a network of former trolley lines which in turn mimic earlier horse trails which, by necessity, hewed to canyons and watersheds.  The underlying topography and the transportation backbone correspond to the historical evolution of the city.  The freeways were only cut in later.

Here in the outer, outer ring of suburbs, the freeway is its own world entire.

Massive three-level interchanges, which make the 405/101 cloverleaf in Sherman Oaks look like a piker, sprout from a tree-less scrubland, mocking the topography. One is lifted a hundred feet in the air then sluiced into a fresh arterial without any understanding of where one is, or why this great sorting of vehicles is taking place at this particular location since wherever you are there is no here.   You’re flying over a waterless arroyo and the bleached bones of luckless prospectors.

The towns, off-ramps to subdivisions really, adhere to the freeway for life support.  They all contain the following: a business park/distribution hub called The Pointe (with an E), an auto mall, an entertainment complex called The Crossroads, or The Shops At….

…and above all, gated communities with fanciful names like…Terramor.

Terramor evokes something reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, a place very green, very watery, clannish, historical, and very far from Corona.

Should the three-hour commute from the city fail to dissuade the rampaging, machete-wielding hordes, there will be gates to repel them.  Gates! You can lay on your cool, air-conditioned pillow and bank on it.

Somehow one gets the feeling the hordes, when they emerge, will form ranks right here.  Take away the A/C, and I can visualize the Inland Empire going full Rod Serling in about a week.   The survivors will be headed in our direction, back to the city and its Mediterranean climate, looking for the Olive Garden.

Define fragility: two million people living off one pipe and one wire.  Disrupt either for any amount of time and the outer suburbs are not merely unpleasant, they are uninhabitable.  Maslow’s Hierarchy will prevail.  Forget lost cell service. Imagine a population of luckless prospectors the size of Houston poking through dry creek beds looking for a brackish puddle in which to insert a straw. There is a reason no civilization prospered here for centuries.

Then it’s back to the city, all two million of them. Not unlike the Monday commute we experienced on the way home.  Not unlike the commute people already make twice a day, five days a week, until the mortgage is burned.

Will five-bedroom outer commute California survive a Black Swan event?   I don’t know.  It may have no choice but to make the fragility work, but at a price point reflecting risk.

You don’t know who you really are until you get there.

Paul and Stephanie, joined in consecrated union.

Valley Relics

1962 Cadillac Coup De Ville, crossing the pass in mint condition.

1960s-era garden apartment complex, Panorama. Flat roof.  No A/C. Hard to believe this got permitted, but there are many such buildings around the Valley. Back then developers could get away with a lot.

Now we have cardboard windows and teetering wall units to look at.  What did people do before this?   Swelter through the dinner hour and daydream of Cadillacs.

To Live and Die in the Arts District

My encounter with the old Pacific Electric right of way on Parthenia put me in a railway frame of mind this weekend as I was walking down by the river.

Much of the Arts District sits atop a half-submerged grid of spurs to abandoned freight lines from the industrial era.

Before they were converted to lifestyle porn or subject to historic preservation, the James Hill Pickle Works, the Packard Building, Barker Bros., Edison, Nabisco, all had quotidian purposes.  The rail lines snaked right up to the loading bays.

Then, the world east of Alameda was wholesale.  Now it’s where you sample handcrafted gin made from tangerines.

Today all you see here below is retail.  There is a ten-story parking lot in place of the switching yard.

Only a generation ago, it was a perfect backdrop for a hard-boiled action film set piece.  If you’re familiar with the area today, this chase scene is a remarkable piece of unintentional found footage around Santa Fe and Mateo Streets when it was dirty, men were sweaty and everybody smoked.

There weren’t no murals then. No rescue dogs either. We soft now. About some things. When it comes to our American Civil War, the Sequel, we are pitiless with one another.