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.

Yerevan West

So I encountered this…in North Hollywood, 2am… sprouting majestically from a neighborhood of sad, small houses with attached single car garages…. Trippy. Transcendent. A mothership of American aspiration.

I stopped the car and let it swagger all over me.  It was an appreciation.

Two generations of people lived in the Valley and let their houses crumble over their heads.   Houses for which they paid less than $100,000.

They let water seep into the floorboards while they complained about busing. They sprayed popcorn foam over cracks on the ceiling but let the termites chew their way through the framing.  They put bars over the windows, but kept the linoleum floors.   Home improvement meant shag carpeting and flourescent tube lighting.

They left their houses to their adult children who were estranged from hand tools. They let the shrubbery die and replaced it with gravel.   But boy did they ever expect to be paid off when it came to sell, and paid off they were. In time, preposterous sums.

California was once so abundant middle class people changed houses the way we change cars today, discarding small brightly colored ranch houses on big lots for larger split-levels on small lots in the exurbs of Ventura County, painted an HOA-defined gradient running from excrement to beige.

The Valley was Adam Carolla-ville. It was one of those places you left and told disparaging anecdotes about when you got to where you were really going.

The carcasses of Los Angeles were left for the dusky hordes and the urban hipsters foolish enough to put down roots and not move to Austin. People so determined to be here they sunk their assets into houses without good  bones. Without any bones. Stucco boxes without a redeeming virtue save the ground they sank into a quarter inch a year.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I are Carcass People.   We didn’t intend to be.  We were going to to park ourselves for a few years in Van Nuys, build some equity into the house and then….trade up in an orderly fashion.  Because the world of real estate was rational, if untidy, right?  This was to be but a waystation.   A five to ten year sentence in minimum security prison, then back to one’s pals in Glamorama, with earned street cred.

Who knew housing mobility in LA would prove to be as starkly defined as the British class structure? The Wealth Effect, when combined with tight land use restrictions, means even if you pay down your mortgage in 15 years,  even if you climb to the top quintile of the income ladder, there’s nothing you can afford to buy that would be an improvement over what you already have.  Absent a windfall of cash, there’s no trading up anymore.

Marginal differences in down payment ability in 2004 proscribe where and how you can live in LA today. One is obliged to bloom where one is planted.   This was a lesson I resisted learning.

So when I see a house built out to the property line, a second floor added, and marble laid into the entryway, lit up like Halloween, I realize I have greater kinship with a family from Yerevan that I do with the kids I grew up with in California. They either inherited property, or they left. All of them.

These are my people.

The Abolitionists

Public enemy No. 1….

No, literally…and while we’re at it, no prisons, says the privileged white girl.

How dare I presume she’s privileged.  Because she’s holding a sign proclaiming innocence of the predations of man’s nature.  An indulgence only a prosperous and secure nation can engender in its people.

Open borders and jail cells are a particular fetish of single college-educated white women.  Ever wonder why….?


This is the quickening, yes?  Let us dispense with any plausible deniability as to our intentions.

In the new dispensation, abolition will not be enough. We shall pluck the wings off the American Eagle one by one. We shall inflict pain. 

How long did it take people to go there?  Two weeks? The center, such as it was, is relegated to nostalgia.

This logo has been officially merchandised by the Democratic Socialists of America. You can purchase it as a t-shirt with all profits dedicated to Righteous Causes™.

This is their It Girl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incumbent slayer and presumptive Congressperson from New York-14, by way of Yorktown, Westchester County.

Oh, how the media love her. Begone Stormy. We have our Joan of Arc and she’s ready to take us full Venezuela.

Free college.
Free healthcare for all.
Guaranteed income for all.
Guaranteed housing for all.
Open borders.

You can have one or several of the above but you can’t have open borders at the same time.  The last demand cancels the first four entirely. Just like you can’t have a 100% renewable energy power grid by 2035, but declare nuclear off-limits. Or plant crops in sand.

Magical thinking, plus rage, is not a sound basis for governance.

In political terms, this is driving through 18 red lights in a row with an open bottle of vodka in one hand and a fist full of opiates in the other.

By comparison, Trump looks like the most reasonable man in the room and that’s no small accomplishment.  He has been blessed in his critics. The rest of us have to live within the ruin the Resistance has wrought on civic order.

America used to work like this.  Van Nuys in its own quiet way very much still does, I’m proud to say.

Then we’re left with the eternal philosophical question.

The Curse of Ed Asner’s Housekeeper

Everything about this picture is a lie. The frame, the context, the substance. The girl was not separated from her mother. Her mother separated herself from her three other children in an attempt to regain illegal entry after being deported in 2013. Yelena was taken from her father without his permission to be used as a ticket  to cross the border.

These children are not refugees, not in custody, and not confined to a dog kennel.  This tableau is political theater, staged for a pro-immigration rally.

This photo was taken during the Obama administration.

Suddenly the Media Class are virgins.  Until last week apparently no one knew how babies were made.

We now pretend we never had a Border Patrol.  We wail as though the tangled web of immigration enforcement hasn’t been operating like this for decades.  As though the particular wrinkle of separating minors from parents (the Flores agreement) wasn’t the consequence of ACLU litigation going back to Reagan.

In Brentwood no one wants to bend over and pick up their socks, but we are obsessed with detention centers.  We are in ecstasies of sanctimony about them.

Cable TV is now nothing but people exhausting synonyms for atrocity, clicking their soundbites of outrage like castanets.   Because the world began five minutes ago. Because Trump. Behold the horror™.

This is not a war over memory. This is a war over who gets to call whom an asshole.    For there are now two American populations: The Anointed, who have a very big megaphone, and their basket of Deplorables, i.e., the Rest of US, who get to vote every couple years.

Here, in my beloved Van Nuys, peasants are locked into storage containers without plumbing until their families settle with the coyotes.   Landlords exact tribute from women for the keys to a first apartment. Shift supervisors exact tribute from women as the gateway to a first paycheck.   Brokers troll the Home Depot parking lot soliciting cash kickbacks from day laborers in exchange for a place on the truck, in scenes straight out of On The Waterfront.  I have witnessed this.

Just behind the veneer of $600,000 single-family homes are second families living on the down low in converted garages without heat or ventilation.  Tool sheds are pressed into use as casitas where laborers sleep in shifts.  People sell their wares on the sidewalk.   This is our new normal.  Into these feral arrangements the Anointed propose to deposit a fresh stream of undocumented people of unlimited number.

In Marxist terms, who benefits? The people living in campers parked on Bessemer St.?

How about people living out of dumpsters?

Or utilizing baby strollers as pushcarts for can collecting?

Or the Off-Ramp Dispossessed?

On the other hand, how about the guy who owns the bungalow with a four unit add-on?

Or the local gentry?

Trump if nothing else has proven to be the Great Clarifier. In their zeal to denounce, people have revealed themselves.   To quote the activist mob who hounded the DHS secretary out of a restaurant: “No borders! No walls! No one is legal!” Okay, then.  Now we know.

We have on our hands a reverse election. The Anointed, having deemed les deplorables insensible to reason, has determined to dissolve the public and replace it with a fresh population. One which owes them.

All the Van Nuys pictures are true. They are taken within a mile of my house.

Except this one, from Boyle Heights, ground zero of the anti-gentrification movement.  Los Angeles contains ironies within ironies. It is an animal like no other.

A Kind of Hush

At twilight last night on Sepulveda the LAPD set up traffic cones, parting the cars like the Red Sea…and into the breach walked the parishioners of St. Genevieve parish, murmuring the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t think any of the delayed drivers were expecting this.  I was out walking the dogs, and I didn’t expect it either.  A quiet vigil was met with respectful silence from the inconvenienced.

America is decidedly more pro-life than when I was younger.  But quietly so. Simultaneously, it is also loudly pro-gay marriage.  These are thought of as being in opposition. In a narrow political context, perhaps yes.  But they are more complementary than one would credit.  The politician willing to straddle the contradictions within us has an ungrateful nation waiting to tear him asunder.

I say come to Van Nuys. We ground zero for understanding.

1948, In Shards

This is the first sentinel we encountered on our way to the fancy tile emporium in NoHo.


The second sentinel, awaiting our return. He shuffled over to us as though he were about to deliver a handwritten letter.  One grows accustomed to panhandlers at the intersections, conniving or addicted, but not hunched with calcium loss.  I’d say he looked about 70, the same age as my bathroom.

The bathtub was forged in cast iron by the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Co., then dropped into the framing by a road gang in 1948, with no thought given to later renovation, leaving only one exit route, via sledgehammer.

This was the American Radiator Building in New York City, gilded icon of the Jazz Age, all Gothic turrets and coal-inspired black brick.

It once had a showroom in the basement for its useful, class-neutral products: radiators, boilers and bathroom fixtures. Now it’s a Moroccan-themed cocktail lounge called Celon where one can order a Lavender Oasis martini for an undisclosed price.   The Radiator Building is now the Bryant Park Hotel.

Because one cannot over-improve for the neighborhood anymore, even in The Nuys.  Because we are all hostage to whatever 1948 house we landed upon in the somnolent years before The Restoration.  Because no one can trade up to Echo Park.    Because equity trumps the purchasing power of a paycheck, so we bloom where we’re planted.

Because a white tiled bathroom would make Mrs. UpintheValley so very, very sad.

That world is in shards, now.

Humble Origins

The original Microsoft headquarters, Albuquerque, NM. Annual gross revenues, $16,000.

The first ten employees, plus a pizza delivery boy who stepped into the lower left of the frame by mistake. Any one of them could purchase a small nation today, for cash. Original Intel HQ, Menlo Park. I happened across these pictures on a listicle and it struck me just how…Van Nuys-ian they were: low-rise, utilitarian and anonymous.

Could this mean genius is flowering in my neighborhood, underfoot yet unrevealed? If not genius, then a fresh, paradigm-crushing business model? Is someone quietly assembling the next Death Star just beyond my back yard? Let’s take a walk into the world behind Target and find out.

Empty, but I think they used to make furniture out of recycled wood.

“Deliveries in reap.” This building say go away and says it with unintentional poetry.

Looks empty, but was recently the production offices for Workaholics.

Full to capacity, but in the business of renting space for someone else’s dreams. That’s a very old paradigm.  LA 1.0.

Sketch Paper Design, a post-production facility.  Promising. Plus a pirate flag, which isn’t. Too self-referential.

Somehow I don’t think Document Engineering, Inc. is headed for the NASDAQ. Glover looks like B-roll footage for a crime story on the local news.

I found this logo plastered on a door to a windowless bunker and was instantly intrigued.  What the hell is The Lucky Hand, Inc? What is the significance of the hamsa, the eye in the palm?

Nothing on the exterior hinted at what lay within. The row of well tended roses only enhanced a riddle straight of Thomas Pynchon, like the Trystero society in The Crying of Lot 49.

Look closer, said the palm.  I ward off spirits.  I am known since antiquity as a protector against the Evil Eye.

Well…a little Googling tells us it’s an air freshener company.

Killing evil odors, that’s Van Nuys for you.  Better as a mystery than a product. But then mysteries usually are.  Humble score: 100.