Los Angeles is the perfect city for discovery and there’s no better way to do it by bike. This isn’t a place that’s littered with historical vestiges, but just enough that scouring delicately on two wheels is the right speed to encounter these finds.
One of these areas filled with finds is right here in the valley, in Van Nuys. Home to both the previous Pacific Electric and Southern Pacific rail lines, this neighborhood developed over the last hundred years, changing to suit the times. The 1933 Long Beach Earthquake and freeway expansion eroded some of Van Nuys’ early character, but there is now a rebirth involving a mix of the old and new.
A transplant from Chicago, Andy has lived in the Valley long enough to study and explore many of the area’s nuisances. When you look at a place this closely, you learn that Van Nuys doesn’t come from one giant narrative but a bunch of smaller stories that formed the inner workings of a growing community.
I’ll be out there as part of the ride this Saturday and Andy will be leading the tour. Here he answers a few questions that will give you some background about what you’re going to see.
What was the first thing you appreciated about Van Nuys?
One of the wonderful things about Van Nuys is that it retains many characteristics of the pre-WWII era which include walkable streets, old homes, and many conveniences, including ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, diverse cultures, and a lower cost of living for housing and services than in many other communities.
Van Nuys Fire Station No. 39 – The Valley’s Oldest (photo: Andrew Hurvitz)
What are some of your favorite historical spots?
The 1932 Valley Municipal Building (VMB) is, of course, the most notable landmark in Van Nuys. It gives a sense of place to the whole civic center area. Fire Station #39 across the street on Sylvan, is an Art Deco styled building designed to compliment the streamline moderne VMB.
Also west of Van Nuys Blvd, again on Sylvan, one finds a coherent collection of old Van Nuys government buildings. They no longer operate as post office and library, respectfully. But they are still standing and restored, and give a connection to the older Van Nuys that existed before WWII.
The Katherine Avenue Historic District is a lovingly maintained area of old houses with a landscaped traffic circle and an architectural assembly of various pre-war type homes.
Katherine Avenue Historical District – (photo: Andrew Hurvitz)
If you had a time machine, what era would you like to go back to explore?
I would definitely transport myself back to the 1930s when Van Nuys was a lovely small town surrounded by agricultural industries. It had every modern convenience, but was also safe, environmentally gorgeous, and seemingly a happier community of recent arrivals who had came to find work, and happiness, in depression-era California. The air was clean, the nights were cool and fragrant, with the scent of orange blossoms, and people sat on front porches reading or listening to the radio.
What should people know about the area that isn’t readily apparent?
People should understand that Van Nuys is not all about prostitution, crime, illegal activities and slum properties. The main streets are admittedly ugly and broken down, but when you turn down a side street, you will often be surprised at the well maintained homes and even opulent properties that are used for commercials, films, and TV shows.
Van Nuys is well positioned to take advantage of public transportation and development opportunities in the new bike and train friendly era we are entering. If we can slow down traffic and provide pedestrian and biking areas that are inviting, clean and safe, we will see a positive transformation in Van Nuys.
Where do you see Van Nuys in twenty years?
I hope that progressive business and political leaders can develop Van Nuys is a way that is invigorating, exciting and environmental; and is commercially and socially, inclusive and creative. We must build architecture that is bold, unique and draws people to want to come to Van Nuys the way they are now going into Culver City and downtown Los Angeles. There is no reason to put up with the same mediocrity in our built environment that has characterized Van Nuys for the last 40 years. If we build junk mini-malls and big box chains, surrounded by 10 lane streets with speeding cars and trucks, we will have more of the hell we now inhabit.
Businesses like brewer MacLeod Ale are in the forefront of creating a product and place where local community people gather and have fun and feel proud of their community and its creations.
But local leaders must also not neglect safe and clean streets and keeping crime out of the area. Nobody is going to invest in a place where they think people don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth in Van Nuys. People do care and they want better.
The ride meets at 11:30 a.m. this Saturday, February 20th, at the Van Nuys Orange Line Station and leaves at 12:00 p.m. Please RSVP if you can make it.