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.

St. Catherine of Friday the 13th

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I met a grifter on Sepulveda this afternoon, handing out prayer cards.  She was blonde and pretty and dressed all in white and had two young daughters with her, dressed in gold lame stretch pants and white halter tops.  The card offered conversations with God, through her, by which I could obtain success in life and win.  Superimposed over the bleeding heart of Jesus was a photo of a fat guy in an afro sitting on some kind of throne beckoning with his fingers.  From the picture, he appeared to be the father of the twin girls. The card had a long list of things they could summon forth for me: health, divine guidance and miracles.

On the other side was a picture of her which looked as though it were lifted from a back page advertisement for outcall massage.  Call me anytime! God bless you!

After dinner, I went to the gym. On the way home, I stopped to take a picture of the creche in front of St. Catherine of Siena church. As a teenager Catherine cut her hair to ward off potential suitors her mother arranged for her to marry.   They intruded upon her pre-existing mystical marriage to Jesus.    “Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee,” she advised.  She is known as the patron saint of sexual temptation. Also, those who are mocked for their piety.

As I was laying on the sidewalk finding the best angle, a young couple stopped to talk to me. His name was Danny. Her name was Mary. She cradled a sleeping chihuahua-yorkie puppy.  They got him for Valentine’s.

Danny said he wrote wrestling scenarios for the WWE. I couldn’t help but think of Barton Fink.  He had a Coen Brothers-ish sense of humor. He wore a crucifix. I asked him if he was Catholic. He said he believed in a higher power. A blind watchmaker.

I suggested the first question is: why something, instead of nothing?

It was Friday the 13th. In another hour it would be Valentine’s Day.

They were a nice couple.

Mary
Mary and the puppy Jeebus

Reseda, reconsidered

Reseda resists public affection. Of all the old neighborhoods of the Valley, it has the least curb appeal.  Or to put it another way, it’s the last shopping district in LA without a Starbucks.  Or a Pinkberry, or Chipotle or anything of that nature.  A mixed blessing, perhaps. Driving down Sherman Way one sees all the blight of Van Nuys and Panorama City, but without the abundant street life, colorful murals, food trucks, swap meet stalls and teeming commerce of more populated areas.  Reseda is the place grandma refused to leave, and the kids hate to visit.  It’s where the Old White Valley and the New Valley of the Asian/Latino working class coexist in uncomfortable equipoise amid a parade of empty storefronts.  Or, to put it another way, Detroit.  Earlier this year, I posted a rather snarky photo array of Reseda on a Sunday afternoon which was, in retrospect, a little unfair.  Last week, driving home in the late afternoon,  I stopped for another look around:

Out of business this summer
Out of business this summer, after 40 years
No longer selling books
No longer selling books
Glatt Kosher, and zero reviews on Yelp
Glatt Kosher, and zero reviews on Yelp

Okay, maybe this isn’t helping. A lot of Reseda is like this.  There’s no avoiding it. But then there are still thriving old school establishments like this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And of course this, which I wrote of last week, the reason I stopped the car in the first place:

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Maybe its the rosy light of an early evening in Autumn. Maybe it’s the fact they are still toughing it out with Target and Home Depot just up the road, or just the spirit of the holiday season, but I am resolved to be more respectful of Reseda.  I leave it here:

Waiting for walk-in traffic
Waiting for walk-in traffic

Fittingly, the Love Thyself Barbershop.  ‘”All are Welcome”.

 

Kennedy Lock and Safe Co.

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Same location, same business all these years.  Old school, like out of a movie.  The durability of trade. Think how much Valley history has passed through these doors. Think how few businesses like this have survived the encroach of franchisement, of strip mall big box stores and el Nino cycles of recession, and lived to tell about it.