When Pacoima Was Negro

Georgia Taylor, "Negro", leading the fight for fair housing

Georgia Taylor, “Negro”, 1965

We think of the term today as antiquated. An othering expression.  But this was the politically neutral, dispassionate term used widely in the media, and not in uncomplimentary way, to describe participants in the civil rights movement.

When the Valley was White, the Negroes lived in Pacoima.

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Consequently Pacoima was once the hotbed of political activity in the Valley. Face it, the hotbed was never going to be Sherman Oaks.

Signing up Freedom Riders, 1961

Signing up Freedom Riders, 1961

We think of Pacoima today as the home of Richie Valens and Danny Trejo, and the muralist Levi Ponce. We don’t think of black people.  But it was one of the few places in the Valley which rented to them.

Housing segregation was enforced by an honor code among real estate agents.  As a remedy the state legislature passed the 1963 Rumford Housing Act, which challenged restrictive practices.  The first challenge of the law took place in San Fernando, where landlords were holding the line against any bleed through from the black population of nearby….Pacoima.

In response, the following year the California realtor lobby put Proposition 14 on the ballot:

Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.

It passed overwhelmingly.  By two thirds in Los Angeles County.  Three years later, Prop. 14 would be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Reitman v. Mulkey.

By then, the Watts riots had happened.

After Watts, Negroes were Black.  The beatific and patient visage of Georgia Taylor, local NAACP, was no longer the face of progress.

The Mohammed Mosque, 1961, now Iglesias Vida Y Luz

The Mohammed Mosque, 13209 Van Nuys Blvd,  now Iglesias Vida Y Luz

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, the Dodgers won the World Series, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met at UCLA. Of lesser note, but more lasting consequence for Los Angeles, was the quiet passage of the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act.  Nominally it abolished the quota system on national origins in place since 1924. In practice Latinos and Asians flooded into California, first as a trickle, then in a tidal wave by the mid-1980’s, rendering the feud in the courts and the ballot box between whites and blacks academic.

In the 1970’s Pacoima would produce USC All-American tailback Anthony Davis and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. The city was three-quarters black. By 1990, it was 70% Latino, and no longer produced NFL draft choices.

Today, you can enjoy the cuisine of three continents in a single strip mall, cheaply.  It’s part of what makes Los Angeles special.   When you step outside, the kids roll by in their cars,  windows down, hip-hop thumping: nigger this and nigger that and bitches and hos and money and guns.  If there is any lingering social discomfort over this, it remains tucked within an ironic framework people have grown used to.

I guess that’s progress. Just not the kind Georgia Taylor was thinking of.

(All photos courtesy of the Valley Times Collection)

When Men Were Free to Oink

Miss Gym and Swim , 1963

Miss Gym ‘N’ Swim, 1958…gripped and grinning

You could get away with this back when. You just pull her in by the ball and socket joint, wedge her under your armpit so she can’t get away, then run your meaty thumb over her clavicle while your photographer pal takes his time adjusting lights and changing film rolls.   Forget that engagement ring on her finger. You’re Allen Rich, TV critic of the Valley Times, and you have a judge’s ribbon on your lapel. You’re enjoying the perks of the job.

Poor Linda, keeping her legs slightly crossed, right toe forward, like they taught her at the pageant, smiling through the blooms of pipe breath and lunchtime bourbon, doing her best not to understand the gravelly incantations from local big shot, Mr. Rich:  Give us a spin, darling…I know people in publicity…

 

A jazz funeral for Old Blacktop

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Our neighborhood was nailed together in the summer of 1948.  There were three basic floor plans, no landscaping, no insulation, no air conditioning, single bathrooms, galvanized steel pipes, primitive 3-circuit Zinsco electrical panels serving a meager two outlets per room. No less a personage than Bing Crosby himself declared it to be a paradise on earth. WWII vets and their sway-backed pregnant wives scurried in with gratitude.  Not long after the City of Los Angeles severed all ties of obligation, and for the next 66 years people paid their assessed taxes and fees and only once, to the best I can discover, have the streets been repaved.  Until this morning, when heavy equipment rolled in, starring this truly amazing machine, which strips away the first two inches of asphalt, grinds it into gravel, then spits it up a conveyor belt and into a truck, all while moving at a walking pace.

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Sound City Studios, Then and Now

 

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Classic rock albums were once recorded here.  You can learn all about it in Dave Grohl’s new documentary.

From the Daily News:

“I am a total Valley Girl,” Grohl clarified. “I love living in the Valley. My wife was born and raised in the Valley.”   How did that happen to, arguably, grunge rock’s biggest icon?

“I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and lived in Laurel Canyon for a year,” Grohl added. “Basically, I just drank my way through the Sunset Strip and (slept with) anything with a pulse and then I thought, yeah, I gotta get outta here.”

After some time out of state, it was a recording studio conversation with fellow musician Beck that convinced Grohl to settle north of the hills.

“There’s that funny stigma that is the San Fernando Valley, that it’s not a cool place to live,” Grohl noted. “I never understood that.

“So when Beck said `I think I’m gonna move out of Silver Lake.’ I said, `Dude! Valley! You’ve gotta go Valley.’ And the engineer in the studio said `The Valley? You don’t want to live in the Valley.’ And I said, `Well, why?’ And he said, `Because it’s the f— Valley!’

“That’s when I realized, that’s exactly where I want to live. Let everybody have the other side of the hill. I have the f— Valley! I love it here, it’s great.”