Hearing that CicLAvia: The Valley was returning was met with a lot of emotions.
Most of it was full of excitement that it’s returning to the GR818.
Seeing how successful the San Fernando Street Festival was at the beginning of the year and how the previous iteration was a lot of fun even though it was dampered by some early morning rain, getting a second chance at this is fantastic.
My only “what?” about this one came from my scant awareness that is was returning.
I didn’t learn about this until the week after the Foothills event which is a lot less lead time for me prepping my previews, especially in the heat of Bike Month.
Seeing the energy at the last CicLAvia in April, I’m eager to bring my daughter to this because now she’s at the right age to enjoy the freedom and all the fun stuff to do.
For this preview, I’ve consolidated it down into two parts: the first being an updated list of sites in and around the course, and tomorrow’s covering event tips.
Having fun on the first go around.
Just like any other CicLAvias, there is a lot to see, but since this is an area may not be familiar to some, especially since it’s away from any Metro Rail (for now), I wanted to give people as much information as possible to get everyone excited.
A couple of notes before we delve into this. First, the preview goes from South to North. One thing that may confuse you is the changing addresses along Van Nuys. The street numbers steadily rise going northbound until it veers off its cardinal direction in Arleta. Then, it rises from 9000’s to 14000’s where the numbering now decreases through Pacoima. This is one of the few streets I can think of in Los Angeles that changes from a north-south street to an east-west through its addressing.
Since I’m talking infrastructure, Van Nuys Blvd. was originally named Taylor Ave. through Pacoima after the president, while it’s current name takes after one of the most important developers in Los Angeles history, Isaac Van Nuys. I really wish I would have run into a descendant by now.
The other thing I have to add is that I’ll be color coding the sites by category to differentiate and make the map more clear. The categories are:
- Yellow – Buildings
- Purple – Sites
- Teal – Artworks
- Orange – Offshoots
Let’s not waste anytime. Here’s Mr. CiclaValley’s preview 3.0:
1. Van Nuys Assembly Plant – (7876 Van Nuys Blvd.)
The valley grew quickly in the middle part of the 20th century with industry playing a large roll. One of the gone, but not forgotten landmarks is the former GM plant next to the Amtrak Station. Now home to a large shopping center called the Plant(Grant High’s Tom Selleck developed it), this 68 acre lot used to produce the Camaro, Chevelle, Monte Carlo, Corvair, Firebird and a number of others. When it closed in the 1992, many families in the area were greatly affected, a stress I could see from some of the children I went to school with. If you check out the mural under the rail tracks, you’ll get a little bit of history and understanding why this spot was so important.
1. Great Western Savings Building – (8201 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Having getting my teeth straightened down the block for years always made me admire this mid century classic. Built in 1957 as a Great Western Savings, this structure still retains its form, while the colors have clearly changed. I always thought this is the best example of post war architecture exemplifying what a growing Panorama City was trying to look like. I should also mention that when the city was founded in 1948, they were working hard to keep the neighborhood entirely white.
2. Panorama Mall – (8401 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Didn’t you expect a mall here in the valley? The Panorama Mall was built in the 1950’s and like the rest of the area, has taken it’s share of punches. This mall used to have a more distinct mid century look to it(see, a theme), but in order to attract from a waning customer base, the complex has gone through a few facelifts along the way. If you look just to the west for the long shuttered Montgomery Ward still sits alone in an area that also used to include a Robinson’s, Broadway and Orbach’s.
Not a lot to see, but I’ll be mentioning these lanes more on Thursday. Just some cycling background, bike lanes were added to Chase Street not that long ago and recently, there has been a movement to erase them by some neighborhood activists. CiclaValley has documented this issue before and knows the value that bike lanes can add to the entire community. On the other side of Van Nuys Blvd., the long awaited Parthenia lanes would be a game changer, as traversing this portion of the valley east-west has always been problematic. Let’s hope they become a reality soon to build a stronger network.
3. Plaza del Valle – (8610 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Sitting kitty corner to reworked Panorama Mall, this outdoor mall is quite the contrast. With about one hundred stores, there always seems to be foot traffic flowing. The main attraction is the number of performances that take place in its main courtyard. If you’re walking by, you’re bound to join in. You don’t think anything special will be going on during CicLAvia, do you?
2. El Super / Hughes Sign – (Vesper / Van Nuys / Parthenia)
The only vestige of an era long gone, the El Super sign was originally erected for the Hughes Supermarket, which used to sit at this location. For those that don’t remember, Hughes used to be a fixture across Los Angeles with its first stores opening in 1952. This chain quickly spread quickly across the region, but it lasted only until 1997, when the entire company was bought by Ralph’s.
3. Red Car Remenants – (Vesper / Van Nuys / Parthenia)
While there is no real physical trace of the Red Car, you can tell by the construction of the street that something used to be here. After turning up Chandler, this line used to continue up Van Nuys Blvd. until it started taking a serpentine turn on Parthenia to make its way up to San Fernando.
4. Valley Ice Center – (8750 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Bowl Kings Bowl! We’ve never had a CicLAvia with an ice rink on the course until now(Pasadena was a block away). Built originally as a bowling alley in 1955, this facility was converted into a skating facility at the turn of this century with a second ice rink added later on(it was roller for a time). This facility now has the LA Kings footprint on it, but during the Gretzky era in the 1990’s, the team used to practice exactly three miles west of here before they moved to the larger El Segundo facility. You’ll still find vestiges of the old bowling alley inside, but now the rink plays host to UCLA Ice Hockey games.
5. Panorama Theater – (9110 Van Nuys Blvd.)
There isn’t a sign more of an eye grabber in the area more than the Panorama Theater. Built in 1949, this theater originally seated 1,000 patrons until it was split into two about twenty five years later. Rolling by, it’s impossible to miss the classic mid century marquee directed high above Van Nuys Blvd. Now serving as a church, you are still a few of the building’s original elements inside.
6. Back to the Future McFly House – (9303 Roslyndale Ave.)
This is about a mile off the route, but I could hear someone complain if I left this out. I just decided to add it because I can’t resist using that quasi-pubescent Marty McFly voice. Mom? Doc? Hoverboard? I really could go on. The house itself hasn’t changed much since the movie’s 1985 release, but still don’t interrupt the inhabitants even if you’re Crispin Glover. You weirdo. The electrical tower in the back may seem inoccuous, but actually it lays along a swath of mainly undeveloped land that was laid aside for the unrealized Whitnall Highway.
2. Lady of the Valley Mural – (14015 Van Nuys Blvd.)
To cover all the murals along this one mile stretch, for what is commonly known as the “Mural Mile”, is impossible. Because some of these twenty one artworks are angled behind buildings, I feel like I discover a new one every time I come by. I will mention a few of my favorites which I’ll include “The Lady of the Valley” by local artist Levi Ponce. It is properly placed, almost serving as a gateway, as the first mural to greet you before you enter this significant stretch.
7. Pacoima City Hall – (13520 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Don’t fret about the name, you’re still in Los Angeles. The Pacoima City Hall was built by world renowned architect Michael Rotundi in 2004, serving the neighborhood in a number of ways. LA City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, community organization Pacoima Beautiful and the new Cafe O Muerte call this facility home. The courtyard is a set up for community events and outdoor movies, and on Saturdays there is a food exchange that will be held specially for CicLAvia as well.
3. The Day the Music Died – (13433 Van Nuys Boulevard)
It’s impossible to pass up this commemoration of one of the greatest tragedies in music. In 1959, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Pederson crashed in Iowa killing all inside. Valens, who spent the majority of his life growing up in Pacoima, died before ever reaching his 18th birthday. In the mural itself, Levi Ponce paints a Chevy in the background, which Don MacLean alludes to being driven to the levy in his song “American Pie”.
4. Pacoima’s Art Revolution – (13349 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Histrionics aside, it’s hard not to fixate on yet another mural by Levi Ponce. This artwork makes a strong statement that Pacoima is in the midst of an art revolution which has truly taken hold since this piece was finished four years ago. A fully weaponized Mona Lisa helps make the point. I also believe it’s quite a bit larger than the original at the Louvre.
8. Victorian Home – (13204 Judd St.)
While there may not seem to be many homes of architectural significance in Pacoima, most people don’t realize this city has its roots from over one hundred years ago. Many of the homes retain their original form, but good portion were stuccoed over instead of replacing their wood paneling. Another clue to its past is the smaller scale of the streets compared to the rest of the city. When you take a look at this house, imagine what it used to look like in all its Victorian glory and then try looking at the rest of the neighborhood with the same glasses.
9. Myke’s Cafe – (13171 Van Nuys Blvd.)
Mention the name Myke’s to anyone from the area and it’s hard for them not to elicit a smile. It is a local favorite because it retains its individuality, keeping a “F it! This is what we’re doing attitude!”, even if the wording “hole in the wall” is mentioned. The food has it’s own angle, with such items red velvet pancakes, mole burger, beer floats and other delectable oddities gracing the menu. The ambiance and service may be a bit haphazard, but that’s part of the charm. Since the last CicLAvia, Myke’s has opened a new location in Sherman Oaks!
10. Discovery Cube – (11800 Foothill Blvd.)
A bit off the beaten path, but if you’re bringing kids, this is good to keep in your back pocket. For those that remember the Children’s Museum shut down in 2000 from its location right across the street from City Hall. It was supposed to move into this space in the Hansen Dam complex long ago, but this building sat dormant as for years there was no funds to put anything inside, something I covered here. The Discover Cube finally opened in late 2015 and has been hitting its stride since. I always take my daughter to the Kings exhibit because I know that somebody down at the Orange County location is trying to indoctrinate their kid to be a Ducks fan.
4. Lopez Canyon / Kagel Canyon / Gravity Hill – (Kagel Canyon & Lopez Canyon)
If you happen to be one of those that shows up in clip-ins(not advised), you’re not far from one of the valley’s most interesting climbs. Continuing north on Van Nuys Blvd., you can head a little west and up solitary Lopez Canyon. Your other option is the more easterly residential & cemetaried Kagel Canyon, which in parts reminds you of Topanga Canyon. Both converge at the same spot and have equally difficult finishes, especially as you’re battered down from headwinds coming off the mountains. Kagel Canyon also contains a bit of urban myth in what is known as “Gravity Hill”, which is covered by a bunch of YouTube videos. From my ventures, I say it’s an urban myth, but find out for yourself.
On top of these listings, I wanted to go back and cover some of the places you should visit a little off of the course.
1. San Fernando Middle School – (130 N Brand Blvd.)
Rarely do I get excited for a middle school, but you’d be hard pressed to take your eye off of this beauty. San Fernando High School was established back in 1894, one of the earliest in Los Angeles. In 1906, the campus moved to this site where it flourished with this neo-classical themed auditorium, erected in 1916 designed by architect John C. Austin, who was also responsible for such little known buildings as LA City Hall, Shrine Auditorium and Griffith Observatory. The school held grades 7 – 12 until 1952 when the high school moved to a new campus east of the site. That’s too bad because Nury Martinez and Felipe Fuentes, the two LA City Councilmembers represented at this CicLAvia went there.
2. San Fernando Brewing Company – (425 Park Ave.)
Full disclosure: I love beer. To expand on it, I love places that has a great atmosphere to drink it. The San Fernando Brewing Company has only been here since 2012, but it’s here to stay. The space’s openness, soothing ales, healthy pours and free snacks is enough to do it for me, but the staff is super friendly as well. They’re also very accomodating to bikes as well. I’m glad I don’t live nearby or else I’d be changing my profession to barfly.
The Lopez Adobe is a well preserved house that plays a large part in the area’s history. Geronimo Lopez served as a messenger during the Mexican American War, even delivering the terms of capitulation to U.S. General John Fremont. Lopez had built his first adobe in 1861 which also served as a general store, school and post office. In 1882, his cousin built the two story adobe that stands today and is now the city’s oldest building. The first adobe didn’t nearly have this longevity, as it was raised in 1910 for the San Fernando Reservoir. The current adobe almost faced the same fate as the city secured funds to purchase the property back in 1971. The adobe holds tours on the fourth Sunday of the month. When is this CicLAvia again?
4. Mission San Fernando – (15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd.)
What you’d consider the valley’s earliest landmark hasn’t always been what you’d think. The Mission was founded in 1797 and what you see today based on the third church built in 1806. In 1834, the mission was secularized and Governor Pio Pico used the buildings as headquarters for his rancho. Thanks to President Lincoln, the mission was returned to the church in 1862 with much needed work necessary on the structure.
Improvements progressed slowly, but it wasn’t until 1923 that things were in working order to function as a church again. Still, work needed to be done and the Hearst Foundation stepped in during the 1940’s to rehabilitate the structure. That was until 1971, when the Sylmar earthquake destroyed the church forcing it to be completely rebuilt. On top of it’s long history, such luminaries as Bob Hope, Chuck Connors, Ritchie Valens, Jane Wyatt and a host of others are buried there.
5. Andres Pico Adobe – (10940 Sepulveda Blvd)
One of the most historic homes in Los Angeles, the Romulo Pico adobe was built starting in 1834 with many additions along the way. Originally built by a mixture of Native Americans, it was sold by Governor Pio Pico to Eulogio de Celis along with a big portion of the valley in 1846. A couple of rooms were added, but by 1853, the adobe found its way back into the Pico family’s hands. The property was rarely used, but Romulo Pico was credited for restoring the house and adding a kitchen and another couple of rooms. Near the end of the century, Romulo moved to Los Angeles and the home fell into disrepair once again. It lingered for years until the city bought it in 1965 by the urging of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society, that now occupies the site today. You can come visit the grounds on Mondays and the 3rd Saturday of the month where you can also see the Lankershim Reading Room, the only remaining structure from the Lankershim Ranch.
6. The Bear Pit Bar-B-Q Restaurant – (10825 Sepulveda Blvd.)
There’s a lot of competition in the valley for your Barbecue dollar, but the Bear Pit keeps on coming up in conversation as the valley’s best. Originally rooted in the Santa Clarita valley in the 1940’s the restaurant moved to the better valley in the next decade when the owner, Ben Baier, decided to partnered with Don Carrow. Yes, that Carrow. The restaurant expanded and added a couple other locations, but changed hands a few times leaving Mission Hills as the last Bear Pit left. Still, the restaurant is highly popular and has a great reputation for its food.
As you can tell from my map, I didn’t include a route, but it should be pretty straight forward to use Brand Boulevard as the spine to see all these sites. If you happen to wander off, then lucky you!