The Way We Live Now, Pt. 1: Sherman Oaks

Option #1, Kodachrome Redux

Option #1, Kodachrome Redux

In the late 90’s,  there was a film called Two Days in The Valley.  Predictably, most of the film took place off Mulholland Drive.  In mansions. The few flatland scenes featured a bearded Jeff Daniels ranting defensively that it “was a nice place to live,” as though the proposition were very much in doubt.

The Kardashians claim residency in the Valley, by way of Calabasas.

Frank Zappa enshrined the eponymous Valley Girl in the pop lexicon from his redoubt in the Encino Hills.

Free Fallin, the closest thing we have to a local anthem since Bing Crosby, was written by Tom Petty in a post-heroin haze in Hollywood.  The jump off phrase: ‘It’s a long day, living in Reseda, there’s a freeway running through the yard,’ was chosen randomly for its imagery and meter, not for geographical coherence.

If you cross the Sepulveda pass on your drive home, that is sufficient, in our cultural understanding, to be Valli-fied.  In politics, if your district touches any ground north of Mulholland you “represent” us.   A study of legislative maps is an exercise is residency-avoidance.  Richard Alarcon, holder of one of the few seats wholly contained within the flatlands proper, managed the trick of never living here for years.

While the Valley serves on television as a perpetual stand-in for everything from the midwest to contemporary Appalachia, you have to go back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High for something approaching an accurate depiction of where and how people live here.

I’m going to make a ruling. The Valley begins at Ventura.  If you have a view, by definition you have no claim to Valley citizenship.   The real Valley is a place where nobody who matters lives and nobody knows.  Except the 1.5 million of us who do.  We’re the orphaned colony of Sacramento and City Hall.   And yet, Los Angeles would grind to an apocalyptic halt without us, even for one day.

Which raises the question, how do we, deep in the stucco boxes, our little lights twinkling in the street grid down below, how do we live here?   What are we getting for our money? It has occurred to me recently the math in the city no longer adds up.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I, the Little Marital Engine That Could, find ourselves, after paying an upside-down mortgage for several years,  sitting on a modest amount of equity.   What if we wanted to trade up?  Is it possible? What could we get?

Join me while I take a tour of the neighborhoods,  starting with Sherman Oaks.

The house above is listed at $900,000. Post-war, three bedrooms, 1600 square feet. All upgrades.  It is not, to use the industry term of art, ‘South of the Boulevard’. In fact, it is well North. North of the freeway. North of North, just off Burbank.

This used to be the American Dream…3o years ago.  It’s the kind of house no one builds anymore in the post-Sopranos, open-floor plan, granite kitchen, Great Room exurban splendor. This is an artifact of Americana, like Kodachrome film stock.

When it was built, who lived here? A teacher?  An auto mechanic? A grocery store assistant manager?

Who buys this house today, a junior partner at a corporate law firm? A dentist? I doubt this is what they had in mind on the climb up, but this is Los Angeles and what can one do? Even the swells must make compromises.

Do you make over $150,000 a year?  No?  Neither do we.  We’ll have to look a little further north.

Option #5, Poso-ville

Option #2, POSO-ville

A standard post-war stucco box, with predictably small square footage, but nicely fixed up.  Usually a good kitchen remodel, and lots of native plants in the yard.  Crucially,  south of Oxnard.  South, mind you. People aren’t paying $150K more for the same house as the neighbors two blocks to the north in Van Nuys for nothing.  They’re no longer Van Nuysians!   They’ve petitioned the city for redress and the city has lifted the mark of Cain from the chain of title, the albatross,  the hex on their postmark. They’re Part of Sherman Oaks, now. The dusky hordes and their obese children are Up There, tucked safely on the other side of the Orange Line.  One almost never sees them. Almost.

Unfortunately these houses are in the $650-700K range.   We could live here if we made $100k a year. What used to be the gold standard of earnings success gets you this…and white neighbors…in the Valley.

We don’t make that kind of money, but we’re getting closer.

Option #2, The Condo

Option #3, The Sad Condo

This is half a block from Sepulveda, about two miles north of Ventura Blvd. Like most condo buildings in the Valley, forgettable, colorless, slightly dated.  Not run down by any means, yet bearing the vague stigma of 80’s dreck. The apartments are what you’d expect: well-carpeted.  The elevator is very slow.  The only amenity within walking distance is Target.  Basically, a place to sleep, stash your belongings and watch TV after work.  Or a place to watch as much TV as possible, if that’s what your life has come to.  A friend of mine bought an apartment here in a bidding war, all cash. Divorce settlement.

This is where you end up when he leaves you for someone younger and prettier.  This is the House that Built the Botox Industry.

There are two listings here on Zillow, both two bedroom: $425,000.  If we wanted to live out our days like George and Martha, we could afford this!

3 thoughts on “The Way We Live Now, Pt. 1: Sherman Oaks

  1. This one required me to fix a well fortified gin and tonic. I slip in to my own personal Way Way Back Machine for a virtual trip to the Olde Country.

    Two words. Are you ready? Canoga Park. There. I said it. Sherman Way and Variel. I want you to put on your rosiest colored glasses and dim the lights. Lower. I said lower. Take a sip. Okay now.

    Picture an Eisenhower era beige stucco apartment building with eczema. All outdoor space is tarmac and poured concrete. Low maintenance. The chain link fence really gives the entry walk a homey touch. The vague kidney shaped outline in the center courtyard was a pool a long long time ago. The building is sandwiched between a discount liquor store and a mom and pop used car lot. “De nuestra familia para la suya.” Your bedroom window looks out directly to the dumpster. After the sun sets the sodium vapor flood lights snap on and you can hear the sound of a thousand triangular plastic flags on strings flap in the wind. Cars roll by slowly along the side alley. Mariachi. Jesus. Mariachi. Jesus.

    That, motherfucker, is life in the Valley.

  2. good thing the little marital engine that could enjoys a healthy dose of gratitude for its van nuysian domesticity.

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