I recently took a leisurely drive from the bottom of Van Nuys Boulevard at Ventura, and headed north to the end, all the way to the podunk obscurity called Lake View Terrace. (Kudos to Rodney King and the peace-lovin' LAPD for putting this wretched stretch of dust and meth on the map.)
The Boulevard was a major artery in the roadmap of my early life -- I’ve worked, played, cruised, and wreaked havoc on the street. And I’ll be damned if its current complexion isn’t a microcosm of this spicy little melting pot we call the Valley.
At its south end, Van Nuys is all warm, fuzzy, and white. Hey, there’s Solley’s Deli, still mediocre, still overpriced, popular with Goyim who don’t know any better (Hello: Brent’s in Northridge. Best deli in L.A. Hands down.). Still lots of car dealers blowing those annoying plastic flags up around Burbank.
Krispy Kreme? What the hell’s that about? Where’s the Winchell’s on every corner? And Farrell’s is gone. I’m misty-eyed as it occurs to me that my son will never be assaulted by a straw hat- and garter-wearing wait staff on speed delivering a sugarized gut bomb called “The Zoo.”
It’s here at Sherman Way where things begin to get weird. Basically, where the city of Van Nuys turns into Panorama City. Suddenly, the street I cruised in my mighty ’68 Camaro has been blown up, replaced by a parallel universe that speaks many different languages, none of which I understand.
Damn it all to hell! This is the very ‘hood in which I celebrated my manhood. My bar mitzvah reception was held at Nob Hill, a raggedy old banquet hall where I danced the day away in taupe three-piece suit from Sears. The building now houses an indoor swap meet. And on it went. No more Tower Records. No Arcade U.S.A. No Mike’s Pizza. No Americana Theater. That place was revolutionary – a multiplex in the 1970s! I once saw a hesher’s wet dream double bill at the Americana: The Last Waltz and FM. But it’s gone, all gone…
My life is in ruins.
When I first moved to the Valley in 1973, into a project-like apartment complex on Columbus Avenue near Chase (called, cheerfully “Columbus Gardens”) in a town called Sepulveda, Panorama City was our major metropolitan area. When you needed something – I mean, something you couldn’t get at Dales Jr. – you drove five minutes to Panorama City.
According to a recent L.A. Times story, Panorama City was designed to be readymade bedroom metropolitan center that catered to central Vals, many of whom had pitched their tents near to their jobs at the Schlitz Brewery or the General Motors Plant.
And when those places went sayonara, so did Panorama City as I remember it. I guess the beginning of the end started before I too flew the coop. When the old-school outdoor Panorama Mall decided to put a roof over its head. I was a charter employee of the new center in 1981, working the night shift at Hickory Farms. Flanking us to the north was an Italian restaurant owned by the singer Jerry Vale. He often stood nervously outside his establishment, wondering when the customers were going to show up.
It was so slow I often worked alone on my 5 –9 p.m. shift, resplendent in my blue polyester slacks, red gingham shirt, and blue tie. I ate a lot of cheese. But at least I can say I left a part of me in Panorama City. While cutting up the Beef Stick in the back of Hickory Farms, I sliced off the tip of my thumb. Not knowing the severity of the injury, I bandaged it up and continued to work. Before I left for the day, I decided to replace the bandages, since they were drenched in blood. Seeing a red geyser on my hand convinced me that I should go to the hospital, where I promptly underwent a skin graft.
According to the Times article, Panorama City’s trying to turn its lemons into lemonade. To make it a utopia of discount shopping, catering to the area’s predominant ethnic makeup (currently Philipino and Latino). Hey, the Walmart’s already in place, in the space where longtime PC beacon The Broadway once proudly stood.
Planners are even tossing around that magic phrase “foot traffic,” in the belief people will actually walk around these areas. It just might work, if only because some who shop and live in the area may not be able afford to own a car. (Hell, I can barely afford a car.) Several positive steps have been taken, particularly an ordinance regarding the eyesore signage that dots the northern part of the Boulevard.
I wish them well. And if anyone out there finds the tip of my thumb, please drop me a line.
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