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Thursday, November 24, 2005

(crossposted at Daily Kos)

In response to whether I'm homesick for the holidays...

A Hobbit who hasn't been far from the Shire...

Often times I regret the fact I haven't traveled very far from where I was born. I was born in Hollywood, California, and raised in the San Fernando Valley. I've lived outside the Valley exactly two other places: near Portland, OR for about six months, and in West Los Angeles for three years.

The Valley really doesn't have much to recommend it. The most history we have has to do with the brutal Mission System and the Spanish Land Grants. I can't go to San Fernando Mission and not feel the presence of angry, sad spirits. The Mission System made slaves out of the original people of this place, the Tataviam-Tongva people.

Aside from the Missions what else do we have? Cal State Northridge hangs onto the mournful, diseased remnants of one of the last orange groves. William Mulholland plundered Mono Lake and other lakes in North-east California to bring water to the desert-dry Valley. The California Aqueduct is the only reason why the Valley was an agricultural powerhouse in the early 20th Century. By the '60s, the land rush for agriculture had ebbed, and agriculture yielded to a new land rush: to make the Valley the bedroom community for Downtown LA and the Studios of Hollywood and Burbank.

Most of the Valley was developed as exactly that: bedroom communities, without any sort of industry that could employ people in the community aside from retail, food service, pumping gas and so on.

I am proud to say I live now in an area that was designed from its beginnings as something different. When Panorama City was on Fritz Burns' drawing board at the close of World War II, he envisioned a different kind of place, where people would live and work in their neighborhoods. Today, the idea of the "Urban Village" seems novel. It was downright revolutionary when Burns proposed it and later built it. It was financed by aluminum tycoon Henry J. Kaiser, later most famous for the Kaiser Permanente health chain he started for his employees.

Panorama City not only was a residential community, it was a full-service city of its own. General Motors, Schlitz Brewery, Anheuser Busch Brewery, The Carnation Company, Litton and a few other defense contractors all built plants in Panorama City. Anheuser Busch even built Busch Gardens, an amusement park, on part of land it owned and later took back to expand the brewery.

The shopping district between Parthenia West to the north, Roscoe to the south, Van Nuys Boulevard to the east and the 405 Freeway to the West was, in its prime, a showplace. You still can buy a Ford or a Jaguar or a Saturn at Galpin Motors, although Montgomery Ward, The Broadway, Orbachs, and The May Company are long gone. The massive stand-alone Broadway is now a massive Wal*Mart, anchoring the Panorama Mall with the Latino-oriented department store La Curacao.

We used to have one of the first multiplex movie theatres in the Americana 5, a little north of the shopping district and right next to a bowling alley which is now an ice skating rink. The Americana is now divided in two: an indoor Futbol arena where the locals play pickup soccer matches; and a beauty school where local girls (and the occasional boy) study to get their cosmetology licenses and hope they lead to a better life.

Anyway, enough prattle about the Panorama City of yore. Let's be blunt: right now it's a place to live for people who can't really afford to live anyplace else. It's not quite a slum. The closest thing to a slum in the Valley is Pacoima, which had a bad name as far back as the 1950s if you remember from the movie La Bamba. Pacoima has housing projects, Panorama City has modest "starter" homes built for returning GIs and mile upon mile of apartment buildings, all built in the "lanai" style with an interior courtyard and apartments surrounding the courtyard. The courtyard usually has a pool, but the one in our building is now a big planter for rose bushes and palm trees. It's primarily populated by working class Latinos, some here legally, some not. We have a good-sized Filipino population here too, with a smattering of Black, White, Thai and Korean families.

I'd like to be able to say I've traveled the world, seen all the exotic places I've dreamed of. In my neighborhood, the only way people go off to see places beyond home is in the Armed Forces. Some go back and forth between their ancestral countries and home, but most pretty much stay put.

All of my family has pretty much settled in West Los Angeles. Those who lived in the Valley wanted to get out of it as quickly as they could. The Valley, to them, is the home of the loser. As far as they are concerned, we're losers for staying here. And I suppose we're losers for not being able to afford anyplace else. We've been in this particular building since 1989, and pay a ridiculously low rent thanks to moving in during a renter's market and the landlord only being allowed to raise the rent 3%/year thanks to "Rent Stabilization." If we were to move we couldn't afford the rent elsewhere. So here we stay.

I'm home, sick, for the holidays. I'm currently trying to shake a cold. However, I can't say I'm homesick. I am home. This is home. No matter how humble, Panorama City's home.