Everything Old is New Again

There was no jaywalking in 1906 because there were no crosswalks.  There were no illegal left hand turns to make because there were no traffic signals. Automobiles and horse drawn carriages, cable cars and pedestrians  shared the roadway with men with brooms sweeping horse dung.  It is remarkable to think the people in this frame not only have no idea the earthquake is coming, but no idea we would, a century later, watch with fascination as they skittered across Market Street in black ankle length dresses and bowler hats and think: how primitive.  For them, compared to the Gold Rush days, this must have been the apex of modernity. Futuristic, even.

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In 1954 the monorail was Los Angeles’ great plan for shuttling people to the Valley. No, really. This is the mockup. It wasn’t going to be loud, dark and dingy like the elevated trains of New York and Chicago. It wasn’t going to blight the neighborhoods it served. It was going to be sleek and fast like the looming Jet Age.  “A proper beginning of mass rapid transit throughout Los Angeles County.”  Among its most vocal proponents was none other than Ray Bradbury, a man who claimed never to have driven in a lifetime of living in LA.  In case you were wondering, there was a bond measure, and people voted with their tires.

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They voted for this. For little ranch houses with breezeways and sprinklers and streets names chosen randomly from the English countryside. For freedom of movement. An entire car culture was built around this freedom. A mating ritual developed around the car culture.  People came from all over California, to Van Nuys, to partake of it.

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They built muscle cars at the north end of the boulevard, and they sold them at the south end of the same street in the same week. There was no foreign competition for the Camaro, nor fuel standards, nor anti-lock brakes, nor airbags.  Eight cylinders and a gas pedal. Made to look cool and burn rubber and little else.

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Between the GM plant and the auto dealerships, they had both means of production and a promenade between the two to display the products of conception. You rev your engine. The girls would flip their hair. The mating call was complete.  There was nothing to keep you indoors.  It was a holistic, self-contained world.  Until it wasn’t.

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Now the arteries of Los Angeles are so clogged with cars, we are reviving the trains, along the very routes the track was once laid, then buried beneath asphalt.

Which brings us back to the beginning.

When the Freeway Killer came to Van Nuys

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“Creepily and sadly one of my classmates who lived around the corner was lured and killed by the Freeway Killer while walking along the Pacoima wash to the 7/11 on Valerio/Van Nuys Blvd. That was the way we always rode our bikes…”  —Correspondence from a reader in Wellesley, Mass, who was raised on Lull St. in Van Nuys.

“Our neighbor had originally owned and farmed the land there.  Her husband had been “gassed” during WWI but I didn’t learn what that meant for many years. She had sold all but an acre of the original property and tract houses were put up.  She had retained a magnificent orchard–lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruits, oranges, plums, peaches, pomegranates, and grew her own vegetables.  She let us have the run of her yard and we were too young to realize that it was full of black widow spiders.  Part of her original property was left undeveloped (a virtually empty field we called the dead end) except for a large old, empty house (the haunted house).  That was our playground….”

William Bonin killed 21 teenaged boys in the Los Angeles area between May 1979-June 1980. He accomplished this in the 1970’s fashion: by luring them into his Chevy van.  They were subdued, raped, then strangled, frequently with their own t-shirts.  The bodies were dropped off alongside freeways around Southern California.  Bonin had six prior convictions of sexual assault at the time of his murder spree, and had been deemed an “untreatable offender” by psychiatrists at Atascadero State Hospital.   Yet there he was, the Hurdy-Gurdy Man on parole, free to cruise Van Nuys Blvd when he found Victim #12, Ronald Gatlin.

Empty fields and fruit trees and free range to ride one’s bike unsupervised was the essence of Valley life for kids in the 1970’s. It was why families chose to live here rather than Venice. Van Nuys was thought of the way we think of Valencia now, a far away land, well removed from the chaos of the city.

Three Strikes laws and electronic dragnets have done away with the William Bonins of California. By any statistical measure, Los Angeles is far safer from random crime than it has ever been.    There are more shaded streets, more crosswalks and more speed bumps and safety helmets, but you don’t see kids wandering around, away from the reach of parents.

The Pacoima wash is fenced off now.  Once the playground is violated, it’s done.  Freedom can be a difficult thing to re-learn.

Tippi Hedren at home, 1971

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Deep shag, newsprint and a tiny TV set…Sherman Oaks in the 1970’s.

In The Kitchen With Neil The Lion

Okay, so she had a maid, but what strikes me about this interior is how….downmarket it appears by today’s standards of kitchen porn. Glue down linoleum tile floors, tchotchkes, a dependable four burner stove, and cheaply varnished wooden cabinet drawers which I suspect lacked rollers.  No granite, no glass tile, no stainless steel, no Kohler.

As domestic infrastructure goes, the distance between movie star and working class family in Van Nuys is measured here in feet rather than miles.

….wait, why are you disturbed by this photo?  

Is it the lion?

Oh please, people kept backyard lions all the time in the 70’s. Stop being so judgy.

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If you want to judge, look at baby-faced Melanie Griffith waking up in the morning.

After Life magazine published a photo essay documenting the …er, unique circumstances of the Hedren household, they were encouraged by the city of Los Angeles to decamp for the Antelope Valley, where she founded the Shambala Preserve, and has rescued and fostered big cats for four decades.