2018 is ready to take a drop…
The truth of how to renew ourselves surrounds us. We just walk past it every day. We know names and places but forget their meaning.
I’m going to start 2019 with gratitude. This is going to be my baby step.
Court-ordered school busing lasted two years in Los Angeles, 1978-80. Like all busing schemes, it ended, for practical purposes, the moment the first white kid was ordered to get on a bus to a black neighborhood.
As the repository of white students in Los Angeles, the Valley was at ground zero of resistance. Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) wrote Proposition 1, a state constitutional amendment prohibiting court-ordered desegregation based on residential patterns. It passed in 1979 with 70% of the vote, a greater showing than even Prop. 13.
That was a different Van Nuys, California.
In fairness to the parents, this macrame of red lines, each representing a bus caravan of kids driven over the hill and back, starting in kindergarten, was LA Unified’s fever dream for achieving racial integration.
Today the argument is academic. There are few white kids left to bus in LA. They live in Santa Clarita now. Or Portland. If they’re here, they’re in private schools.
1978 California was bland food and free-range kids and no seat belts and no China and no Google and cheap neglected starter homes and tacky retail to the horizon.
1978 California also had a broad middle class culturally homogenous enough to forge a consensus against the edict of a judge from Laguna Beach.
*Historical photos courtesy of Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection
“‘Our nightmare has ended. It’s the answer to our prayers.’ This was the reaction of a Sherman Oaks mother of seven children when the Valley Times told her Thursday that state engineers have recommended that a guardrail be built along the Ventura Freeway where it faces her home. Mrs. Jack Rush, 4721 Greenbush Ave., had appealed for the guardrail since two cars, a load of lumber, a giant truck tire and a conglomeration of hubcaps and other auto accessories had come flying into her yard and the yards of her neighbors.”
Seven kids. No guard rails. Hubcaps flying into the yard. Hello, 1961. This is sounding so very early Paul Simon.
Please send us freeways, we once said. We threw parties for them. Actually, we still do, only we ask for more lanes and want them to end just short of where we live.
Men in rumpled suits once drew lines on maps with an enthusiasm born of consensus over what constituted Progress.
Jobs over here? Check…
People moving…where? Hand me my ruler.
We’ll put a tunnel under Griffith Park (not a bad idea actually) re-surface in North Hollywood, and then a straight run to Chatsworth. Done!
The Whitnall Freeway (the middle line above) was never realized, owing to community resistance in the eastern half of the Valley, by then nearly built out.
People were beginning to discover elevated freeways were a tad noisy. They had a way of shattering the very orderly calm families left the city to obtain. Yet they serve the same necessity the left anterior descending artery does in the human body. No city functions without them.
This has been the sticking point in California for fifty years: Older neighborhoods don’t want to concede an inch to ease the commute to the exurbs, despite relying on commuter labor. Exurbs want as much distance from the city as possible while drawing a paycheck from same. Nobody wants to ride a train.
So, we build trains, hoping people will
change their minds capitulate when things get bad enough. Young people love living in the snazzy new developments over the train stops and taking Uber to work. Wealthy neighborhoods get high sound walls and a veto on new development and petition against sprawl, the working-class no sound abatement at all and encampments in the shrubbery. As soon as they can swing it, they move further out, toward Bakersfield.
Everyone has a prayer to be answered, but few wish to marry their fortunes to those of a stranger. Each of us feels his righteousness to be well-earned. Which may be for the best. If you believe Saint Theresa of Avila, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.
*historic photos courtesy of Valley Times Collection
Richard Nixon, veep-ing at the Panorama Mall, 1956…
…and returning to fertile ground for his gubernatorial run, October 29, 1962, one week before The Fall.
California was a two party state then. The Valley was the swing vote.
You know who really loved Nixon? This guy. There’s an amusing moment in season five of Mad Men (set in 1966), where Bert Cooper consoles him, rubbing his shoulders: “I’m telling you, Nixon’s waiting in the weeds…” Roger Sterling had only two years to wait for the restoration to complete. The wilderness would prove to be merely intermission in a character-as-fate drama which would unfold all the way to 1974.
“Mrs. Peggy Goldwater Holt, right foreground, receives a bouquet of roses from Cherie Adams at the first meeting of Goldwater Girls at Phil Ahn’s Moongate Restaurant in Panorama City. Several hundred Goldwater Girls, between 15 and 18 years of age attended.”
Hot Republican teenagers, that was a different Valley. Practically a whole other country.
Historical photos courtesy of the Valley Times Collection
What if someone suspended a cluster of Case Study houses in the airspace above a working-class community in the Valley? Improbable though it may sound, this is coming soon to a ghost building not far from me.
Who would buy there and how would you market it? I can’t improve upon this pithy analysis from a noted New Urbanist:
“Soooooo. Let’s say you are a reasonably solvent individual who wants 1) a mint condition glass box home that 2) hovers above the Blade Runner view of LA and 3) is a manageable Lyft to the perks of civilization. But you also 4) fancy yourself a bit of an iconoclast who 5) savors the grittiness of said landscape – so long as you personally never have to touch it. What better location than the White Favela of Panorama?”
“You get convenience, street cred, and an ironic address all at once. Two options. Each apartment will be huge and very expensive, designed to appeal to empty nester Boomers who don’t want to mow the lawn anymore. Or, these will be tiny personal cubbies and large common areas to facilitate Millennial bonding. There’s more than one way to cash flow a dead office tower.”
The Stahl House above (Case Study House#22, Pierre Koenig) was built in 1960, Panorama Tower, a modernist filing cabinet of offices, in 1962. Neither structure served its purpose for very long. The tower was designed by none other than Welton Becket, the king of jet age Los Angeles architecture: Capitol Records, the Cinerama Dome, Pauley Pavilion, to name a few.
Stahl, the most iconic private residence in the city has been unoccupied for years (also, has only two bedrooms). You could fit four on each floor of this building, and every window would a have a comparable view to the horizon, making the re-imagined Panorama Tower the case study of Case Studies: a luxury Bento Box embedded in the exoskeleton of a mid-century icon, the only one its kind in the Valley.
Takacs Architecture is handling the adaptation. Izek Shomof is the developer. A little sleuthing reveals he has chosen the Millennial option: 194 live/work units. Fifteen per floor, with ground floor retail extending into the adjoining lot.
Tower Records is no more but when it was around it meant something if your town or neighborhood had one. The Valley had four and one of them was rumored to be in Panorama City of all places. I was so skeptical of this I had to double check on Google Streetview:
If this seems like a rather sad and stark neighborhood declension, note within a five block radius of this location The Broadway became WalMart, Robinsons became El Super, and Ohrbach’s became the Valley Swap Meet.
General Motors became Home Depot, setting things into motion, which is as concise a summation of post-industrial Los Angeles one can make in five words.
This was the Panorama Tower, 1962. Mid-century sleek, but empty since the Northridge earthquake, nearly half its lifespan.
After a quarter century, it is being redeveloped not as offices, but as lofts. Live/Work (read: GrubHub and YouTube Whoring) has come to downmarket Panorama, just in time for the rebuilding of the trolley line. There are plenty of people in the neighborhood who already clean floors and do windows, making it a green and holistic proposition by New Urbanist standards, even if that was never the intention.
Our official industry now in Los Angeles is lifestyle porn. We don’t build muscle cars on Van Nuys Blvd. anymore, but we will soon have Wayfair couches and quartz countertops.
The tents are with us forever .