The San Fernando Valley is remarkably well known for a place that doesn’t exist in any official sense.
Natural disasters, heinous crimes, films, television episodes, novels, magazine write-ups and popular songs — even acceptance speeches at the Oscars — have made The Valley familiar turf to millions who have never seen it in person.
Until World War II, the Valley was an expanse of ranches, orchards and dairies with about 112,000 residents. Wartime defense plants began to attract more people. Then in 1943, Republic Pictures in Studio City released a B-western called San Fernando Valley.
The film starred Roy Rogers, the hugely popular singing cowboy, and his future wife Dale Evans. Set on a working ranch somewhere, the movie didn’t contain even an allusion to the real Valley. But when Rogers and later Bing Crosby tantalized a nation weary of war with the picture’s dreamy theme song…
“I’m gonna settle down
and never more roam,
and make the San Fernando Valley
…the Valley’s secret was out.
After the war ended in 1945, the radio networks and national magazines talked up the Valley as a special place for homecoming GIs. “It reminds them of their own hometown!” announcer Sam Hayes gushed on NBC. Nobody sang songs about Levittown or Lakewood or the other suburbia’s rising on the land.
But then, no other postwar nirvana had thoroughbred ranches, movie studios and stars like Clark Gable, John Wayne and Lucille Ball (plus Bing and his golfing buddy, Bob Hope). There was a famous “honorary governor” in actor Edward Everett Horton, and celebrity “honorary mayors” in almost every community.
More important, the Valley offered acres and acres of new homes at prices young couples could afford, within commuting distance of good jobs over the hill in Los Angeles and Hollywood.
The Valley became the fastest growing place in the country. By the end of the 1940s, the postwar population had doubled to 402,538. It doubled again, then again, to pass a million in the 1960s.
The Valley’s legend grew, even though it didn’t even appear by name on some maps. In a hit television comedy of the early 60s, The Adventures of the Real McCoys, a family of rural folk came to farm in the San Fernando Valley. The star, Academy Award-winning actor Walter Brennan, was himself a real-life Valley rancher.
Soon came the Brady Bunch and Valley Girls, and an image was born.
Today, few Americans are not familiar with the San Fernando Valley. And it continues to lure immigrants from around the world.