More than a month ago I gave Los Angeles Times editor-at-large Thomas Curwen some ideas for places that played meaningful but little appreciated roles in the history and lore of Southern California land and real estate. I’m happy to say he composed a nice piece for the Sunday paper that picks up on some of the suggestions and adds other locations in the Valley. Here are some excerpts:
The fence, Pacoima — “My father had a thing about fences,” writes Mary Helen Ponce in Hoyt Street, her memoir about growing up in Pacoima in the 1940s. “I often thought that … it was important for him to fence, to secure the right of ownership.” Sixty years later, Hoyt Street — south of Van Nuys Boulevard and east of the train tracks — still has a thing about fences. They march right out to the sidewalks and announce themselves like guard dogs in front of these modest stucco and wood-sided homes with their icicle lights, geraniums and ficus trees, plastic toys and tables out in front.The Cascades, Sylmar — The history of L.A. is writ in water and dust, and no single location contains that history better than where water from the Owens River pours into Los Angeles. Close to the middle of nowhere, pushed up against a dry and rocky hillside, some 10,000 people once gathered at this spot. They stood beside a long concrete runway that emerged from the ridge above. It was a brilliant November day in 1913. A band played “America,” and on a bunting-draped grandstand, dignitaries dressed like European royalty began the speechmaking.
Oldest orange grove, Northridge — There may be more hidden in a few pockets of private land, but at the corner of Lindley Avenue and Nordhoff Street on the campus of Cal State Northridge stands the oldest, most contiguous remnant of the Valley’s agricultural past. Wander among these trees, stretching over 6 acres, and you fall back to a time before there was a Northridge, before there was a north Los Angeles. The town was Zelzah, the “watering place in the desert,” and in the summer of ’23, a Norwegian family visiting from Oklahoma purchased a 10-acre parcel and got to work.
Tarzana — Here on a small hill in Tarzana stood Gen. Harrison Gray Otis’ hacienda and ranch, Mil Flores. In 1919 it was sold for $125,000 to Tarzan’s creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, who at first resisted, then embraced the development of Tarzana, “Gateway to the Sea.” It was one of the first subdivisions in the Valley and is still being divided today. Welcome to Monteverde, a tract of 30 homes designed in the Spanish Revival style by the architect who transformed Pickfair into a Venetian palazzo. The homes have up to 6,600 square feet and are priced from $2.8 million — a 2,240% return on Burroughs’ investment.
Shadow Ranch, West Hills — Four stories tall, snarled with dead limbs and peeling bark, the eucalyptus trees at Shadow Ranch soar above the ranch homes that line Vanowen Street. These elegies, these few blue gums, trace back to the stock that Alfred Workman imported from Australia in the 1870s. Workman, a tenant farmer employed by wheat barons Isaac Lankershim and Isaac Newton Van Nuys, planted them at a time when the Valley was treeless and raked by summer breezes and winter gales. Windrows offered the only protection.
He includes the Brady Bunch house at 11222 Dilling Street in Studio City. There’s an interactive map on the Times website with Curwen describing some of the locations. There’s more on most of the iconic locales in The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb.