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All She Wrote

People forget, but the Valley and Hollywood are nearly joined at the hip, geographically speaking. Separated only by a small hill, a quick, ever-so-curvy ascent up Cahuenga from the Ford Theatre will drop you right into the comforting lap of Ventura Boulevard, the Valley’s most presentable (to cityfolk, anyway) artery.

First stop is, of course, Studio City. The name says it all: It is the hub of the symbiosis between Tinseltown and The Land Over the Hill. And anyway, the stupid tourists who pay $10 to park and walk around like sheep, mingle with suburban wannabe gangstas, and eat hyped-up chain food at Citywalk won’t know the difference. Like hand grenades and horse shoes, it’s close enough if you’ve come all the way from Podunk.

Citywalk is truly a Hollywood production, a fake city brought to you by Universal, the same megacorporation that hatched that other tourist clap trap – Universal Studios. These attractions are such big-budget monstrosities that it’s easy to forget Universal is actually a living, breathing movie studio.

But Universal and its garish money makers are the exception. A slew of entertainment companies, from CBS on down, conduct business on or around Ventura, with significantly less splash.

Which makes the Valley as much Hollywood as Hollywood. And that’s not even factoring in the studios in Burbank, which, while technically the Valley, is really an island unto itself. Nor do I count the adult industry – trumpeted in the national media as “The Other Hollywood ” – the bulk of whose product is produced and manufactured in the Valley.

There’s no other explanation for the glut of exceptional sushi between Colfax and Coldwater (gratuitous plug: the jalapeno roll at Matsuda – to die for). To cater to the family of five from Reseda? Don’t make me laugh – that’s what the Olive Garden’s for. Hollywood people like to eat well. And sometimes not, which explains the long life of that heart attack encased in glass that calls itself Jerry's Deli.

Sadly, though, word is that a little pocket of the Valley’s Hollywood heritage will soon make way for the wrecking ball. On Radford Avenue, just north of Ventura, a quaint complex of bungalows and a small building that’s housed writers and production companies for more than 50 years, will soon fade to black, replaced by pricey condos.

It’s an unglamorous, grind-it-out sort of place where writers sweat, and writers pace, and, on occasion, writers actually write. Philadelphia Story scribe Ogden Stewart long kept an office here. So did John Wayne, when what is now CBS was Republic Studios. More recently, it’s where, most appropriately, John Herzfeld wrote Two Days In the Valley. Larry David has used it as a casting office, and it’s the production headquarters of the reality series Bounty Hunter.

For the writers who ply their trade here, it’s both a circus and a sanctuary. Ross Johnson is a journalist works in a shoebox-sized hovel at the Radford complex. Equally hyper and hard-boiled, Johnson shares a kinship with many other tenants in that his decades-long career has undergone many extreme makeovers, most by necessity rather than by choice. He comes here to work, but he never tires of the daily freak show. “One day there would be ten sumo wrestlers looking for a part in the hallway outside my door. The next day they would be casting Asian strippers, or Britney Spears look-alikes. Then one day I'd open my door and Terrance Stamp would be sitting there and we could rap about The Limey.”

Neil Tolkin has been in and out of these offices since 1990, depending on the worth of his Hollywood stock at a given moment. A screenwriter with an admirable resume (License to Drive, Richie Rich, and Emperor’s Club are among his credits), he heard about the demise of the office two months ago, but the landlords, Tustin Properties (which could not be reached for comment), have been mum about the details. “It’s a comfort zone,” he says. “It’s always been great, there’s always people working. It inspires you. I used to look at my window and I could see Sydney Pollack editing The Firm. He wore the same clothes every single day – jeans and a jean shirt.”

It’s been a good place, a perfect place, for writers to do what they do. “What is a good writer;s building?” Johnson asks. “It's gotta have light, it's gotta be close to a coffee joint and a liquor store. Cheap sushi and Chinese gotta be down the block. Bookstore has to be close by. Free off-street parking. Gotta be quiet, and have good air conditioning if it's in the Valley. This place has it all.”

Everything, it seems, except a happy ending.

Everything, it seems, except a happy ending.

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