Archive for November, 2008

Panorama City houses and curved street (Roderick 126)During World War II, the defense industry boomed in the San Fernando Valley. According to Greg Hise in his book Magnetic Los Angeles Planning the Twentieth Century Metropolis, the population of the San Fernando Valley grew 64% during the war. As a consequence, the housing industry also boomed. Private real estate developers transformed the landscape of the Valley into highly subdivided complete communities. For example, Kaiser Community Homes located its new project in Panorama City, by the Lockheed Airport. The choice of the site was mainly determined by the proximity of industry, such as General Motors, seen as potential employers of the future inhabitants. Kevin Roderick reveals in The San Fernando Valley America’s Suburb that the project of Panorama City was to build three thousand units of ready-to-move-in houses. The two bedroom dwellings came with a garage, a standardized floor plan and all the necessary fixtures for the price of $3,690.


Thus, contrary to popular belief, the Valley was not a bedroom community where all commuters were going back and forth from the Valley to their work place in Los Angeles. Promoters were determined to create a community for “living, work and play” (Hise 187). Housing was surrounded by school, recreational spaces, churches, commercial centers, and regional industries. “More than one hundred new industries within fifteen minutes”(Hise 187) was one of the most successful selling slogan of the Kaiser Community Homes.


The houses were typicallly one level ranch style tract homes. In comparison with pre-war housing, Kaiser Community Homes was maximizing floor plan flexibility. Promoters intended to create more spacious units with fewer small rooms. One of the main characteristics was the relocation of the kitchen into the rear part of the house to improve privacy and the ability of the housewives to watch their children play outdoors (Hise 201). Three bedrooms and duplexes were also available for a price range of $9,000 to $15,950 (Hise 201). The key to the Kaiser Community Homes project was the standardization of the floor plans and the parts. However, standardization was also their main disadvantage. Hence, to reduce monotony, the promoters curved the streets, varied the location of the garages, and used different façade paint colors (Roderick 126). In 1946, the Los Angeles Planning Commission joined the effort against the concept of a “bedroom suburb” in the Valley by creating a zoning ordinance to locate “self contained communities as nuclei for urbanization” (Hise 192). Since the intervention of Kaiser Community Homes in Panorama City, the desire to create complete communities in the San Fernando Valley has remained a constant preoccupation of developers.






Picture 1:  Panorama City Houses and Curved Streets (Roderick 126)

Picture 2: Houses in Panorama city have similar features as the one on the previous picture. Today we recognize the structure of the houses built in the 40’s, and notice the signs of mass production.



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Carey McWilliams book, Southern California an Island on the Land, charts the life of the Native Americans from before the arrival of the Spanish missionaries in the 1683 to the period when Anglos began moving in large numbers to Southern California. The chapter entitled, “The Indian in the Closet”, begins by describing the typical lifestyle of Native Americans in Southern California before this period. According to McWilliams, Native Americans lived in pockets across the region. They were separated by the mountainous topography and their diet consisted primarily of acorns. The arrival of the Spanish changed this. They set up missions, pueblos and presidios where Native Americans once lived. The San Fernando mission played an important role in upsetting Native lifestyle. The goal was to make Native Americans “civilized” by teaching them how to create settlements, converting them to Catholicism, and by giving and enforcing Spanish law. Native Americans began to associate missions with death because their numbers in California decreased from a total of 130,000 in 1769 to 1,250 by 1910. Some of the major factors of death were disease, forced labor, sexual practices, bad sanitation, and diet (they were fed just enough to live). Some Native Americans fled eastward and into the mountains. For those that stayed, they were forced into hard labor and were paid in beads. Many were whipped and all were forced to go to church. Some were allowed to escape their camps, but were followed and ultimately led the Spanish to capture more slaves. Along with being undernourished, they were kept ignorant to be more easily kept in subjection. After the Secularization Act in 1833, many lands were sold and Native Americans were freed, however, most became indentured servants on Ranchos where they remained for the rest of their lives.

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Although housing projects have been associated in recent decades for housing low income, minority populations they were originally built, following FHA guidelines, to house primarily low income, Anglo populations. The San Fernando Gardens, built during WWII to house workers at the nearby Lockheed Plant, was one of the few exceptions to that rule. It was racially integrated from the start, housing the San Fernando Valley’s emerging African-American population among other groups.

Today it houses mostly low income Latinos who are primarily Mexican immigrants. The ‘Gardens’, as the residents call it, are meant to provide “safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities” according to House and Communities Government website. The projects is also home to something else, the Pacoima Project Boys. This gang consists of over an estimated 300 members and is the most violent street gang in the northeast region of the Valley. Analysts and critics point out that crime relates to social or economic status, so it might help to look at the conditions and hard realities that these families face on a daily basis.

Upon entering a project, one might get a feeling of unease or even a chill due to the existing conditions of these so called ‘homes’. Although public housing has been used to house the unfortunate over the past decades, it can often seem like a harsh environment. Public housing is usually a large building structure that has open space located in the middle acting as a backyard for these units. The front-back relationship is often two facades that are identical with walls that have very small openings for windows. These small windows are designed for security proposes but also affect the amount of lighting and ventilation that enters the room. Very much alike in concepts with gated communities, windows are often fenced off in order to keep out “unwanted” visitors. Since crime and gangs are such a big part of the projects even the landscaping is strategically placed around the exterior of the building for security reasons. Bushes and trees are placed by windows and entrances to try and secure the premises as best as possible. The building is usually painted with two tones of neutral colors to manipulate the façade into being more complex from what is really there. These types of homes work opposite of suburban communities, in which the densities of these buildings are very high and often located right next to strip malls and factories. While common homes average in size of 2000 square feet, the projects would have units as small as 750 square feet.

Falletta, Liz. “East Los Angeles Public Housing.” Delirious la. 2001. 10 Nov. 2008 <http://http://www.deliriousla.net/ar334/ar334tour-housing.pdf&gt;.

“HUD’s Public Housing Program.” Homes and Communities. 28 Nov. 2007. 10 Nov. 2008 <http://http://www.hud.gov/renting/phprog.cfm&gt;.

San Fernando Gardens exterior

San Fernando Gardens exterior

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Possibly considered one of the more controversial industries housed within the borders of the San Fernando Valley, the adult entertainment industry is also the producer of a $14 billion a year market. The industry began within the 1950’s and 60’s with privately made 8mm and 16mm home video cameras that were small, portable, and easy to operate.[1] The versatility of portable home video recorders provided the industry with a very economic means of film production. These portable cameras saved the adult entertainment industry from the blow the motion picture industry took when television appeared in the 1950’s.The very popular “motel” movie aided in the process. This low budget approach to film production consisted of a quickly made film set in a non-disclosed motel room. For many years, adult film making was primarily a privatized, word-of-mouth movement.

The most difficult hurdle facing the early adult film industry was how to advertise for an underground production of material not allowed on the big screen. The answer came in 1969 when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) developed a rating system that included X-Rated as a category. The new rating system enabled the premier of Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat in the New York World Theater in New York in June 1972. The adult film industry’s emergence into popular culture is often credited to release of that film. However, local and federal regulations soon tightened the screening of X-rated film on the big screen, impacting the industry in California and across the country. After the fall of the X-rated film on the big screen came the advent of the video cassette in 1977.[2] The adult entertainment industry was the first to capitalize on this new technology by beating the major motion picture corporations to release the first film on video cassette.

The San Fernando Valley had very strict rules governing the production of adult films during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and producers in that area had difficulty surviving. Prior to 1986 the production of adult films, according to the LA county district attorney, was punishable with a prostitution charge, stating that sex for money, even on a film set is prostitution.[3] In order to produce the films, crews in the SFV would often time shoot in safe locations typically in neighborhoods that had been evacuated due to forest fires.[4] In 1986 Harold Freeman, adult film producer and director, stood up to the grand jury on charges of pandering in Encino, Ca. The charges were for the production of adult films in the state of California. Only after endless appeals filed by Freeman did the court rule in his favor, dismissing the case and ordering Freeman to only pay all fines and fees. The Supreme Court determined that “the county’s actions had been spurred by anti-porn crusading, not by any legitimate violation of prostitution laws.”[5] As a result of that case, porn was now legal to produce and distribute within California and over night the business began to grow exponentially.

Today the SFV is home to the country’s major producers and distributors of adult entertainment. Among nearly thirty-five major companies, several of the largest are Wicked Pictures, Adult Video News (AVN), Vivid, Leisure Time Entertainment, and VCA Pictures (hustler). AVN, the organization that hosts the adult movie awards annually in Las Vegas, made San Fernando Valley its home in 1984. The company publishes a monthly trade journal that discusses news within the adult entertainment industry. VCA Pictures, Hustler’s film production company, is recorded as being the countries largest distributor of adult films. Through harnessing new technology, the adult entertainment industry continues its booming business. With an estimated $14 billion annually, the industry clearly has a found its home within the SFV to be profitable and significant.


Bashir, Martin. Porn in Hi-Definition: Too Much Detail? Piracy, new technologies, high-definition cameras threaten change; Feb 23 2007, Nightline. http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Story?id=2854981&page=1

Glass, Loren. Second wave: Feminism and porn’s golden age; October 2002, Radical Society. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4053/is_200210/ai_n9085969/pg_1?tag=artBody;col1

Robert C Sickels. 1970s disco daze: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and the last golden age of irresponsibility. Journal of Popular Culture. Bowling Green: Spring 2002. Vol. 35, Iss. 4; p. 49

“Pornography Statistics 2007,” http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html accessed November 12, 2008

Arcand, Bernard. The Jaguar and the Anteater: pornography and the modern world. Toronto, McLelland and Stewart. 1993

Images courtesy of Larry Sultan The Valley scalo Publishers (August 2004) and Vivid logo, Blu-ray logo, Ryan Klinger

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The San Fernando Mission

The Mission San Fernando Rey de España exists today as one of the oldest buildings in the San Fernando Valley. The Mission was established in 1797 by Father Fermín Lasuén. Like many built before it the mission was one of three primary architectural components used to establish permanent ground in order to successfully begin colonizing the surrounding area. The presidio, pueblo, and mission made up that infrastructure. Having only the mission in San Fernando Valley, it was primarily used to become self sufficient; cultivation and farming was its main goal in order for it to thrive.

Construction of these massive earthen buildings was relatively simple and efficient. Using sun baked blocks to construct its adobe façade, the interior space inside stays at a relatively cool temperate feel. The adobe blocks absorbed much of the outside heat. Adobe was the most suitable building material for areas where there is minimal rainfall and excessive hot heat weather. The Mission San Fernando Rey de España was considered to be one of the very first permanent built structures in the San Fernando Valley. Housing shelters like these and many more to come were built with materials and construction methods typically known as ‘Vernacular Architecture’, that is – virtually all materials used to make this building are literally taken locally or even derived from the very earth and soil that it sits on. The idea of vernacular architecture is especially important today as we pay particularly close attention to things such as low impact products on the environment and low carbon output when dealing with today’s architecture. Through its early and innovative use of local materials, this building became the ultimate in green and sustainable architecture before its time.


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The American experience of shopping has evolved through the years, changing as developers come up with new ways to attract shoppers. One shopping center that has gained countless hype and controversy before its opening is The Americana at Brand in Glendale, CA. Not only is it situated along Brand Blvd., which is historically one of the busiest and most popular shopping districts in the San Fernando Valley area, but it utilizes a system or typology that is quickly becoming the accepted standard when it comes to shopping centers. The best way to describe it is Caruso-like, after the developer. Caruso is responsible for developing many of today’s most popular shopping centers including The Grove in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.

This typology is one part shopping corridor-like layout, with the stores side by side along a “street”, and one part indoor mall-like layout, where there is a few central entrances to an enclosed area (although it’s open-air instead of having a high-domed ceiling). Mix in multilevel parking and you get The Americana at Brand. It includes housing, high end retail stores, a movie theater, a playground with high-tech water fountains, and restaurants. It is suppose to function as an open-air “community” and regional retail “environment” that serves as a “fashionable” local gathering place. The Americana’s design should be noted as well. The architectural style of the Americana is meant to reflect an industrial European city, including a massive elevator shaft with exposed steel beams.

Ultimately, it is designed to appear “like” a public space, but in actuality it is mainly private property. This is done in order to allow consumers to think of it as an inviting place where they would feel comfortable to visit and spend time. To sum up in a few words, The Americana is an inward-facing commercial establishment, which gets mainly accessed from underground parking garage. However it does connect to Brand Blvd. This is where the two typologies meet. The outdoor arena-like mall meets the main street, which ultimately leads to the town square, Brand Blvd.

Americana at Brand in the making

Americana at Brand in the making

Americana at Brand in the making
Americana at Brand

Americana at Brand

In contrast to the shopping environment created by the Americana at Brand are the mobile taco trucks, fruit stands, ice cream carts/push carts, etc. that are an L.A./SFV staple. These stands are some of the few places you can see a gathering of people from any race, any class, from any age group at 3 in the morning-creating an impromptu restaurant environment. Taco trucks not only feed a craving, but also bring people together. It’s what defines us as Los Angelenos; New York has pizza, Chicago has hot dogs and we have tacos. All these cart pushers are cultural icons, they represent the sensibilities of hard working Angelenos. From a strictly culinary point of view, these vendors provide food not found elsewhere–this is food from the little-known towns and regions. It is the opposite of the type of food and vending represented at the Americana at Brand. Through local taco trucks I’ve eaten dishes from all over Mexico, most in the $2 price range. It has been a culinary education that I would not have even been able to dream up on my own.


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Bishop Room at the Mission San Fernando ReyThe Housing organization during the Mission period reflects the desire of the Franciscans to convert the Native population to Christianity and to the “civilized” life style of the Spanish Crown. The mission San Fernando Rey was built in 1797. It was composed of a small chapel, a main church and the main living area: the Convento. The massive adobe structure was 243 feet long and its façade was embellished with twenty one Roman arches.

While the clergy was enjoying the comfort of the Convento, Native Americans, according to Carey Mc Williams in his book Southern California An Island on the Land, were treated as “the lowest level of humanity”(24). Men were used as free labor, and women were kept under confinement. Indeed, they were enclosed in the monjerio, a seventeen yard long and seven yard wide barrack made of adobe bricks. Bunks were disposed along the walls, and the sewer in the middle of the room was used as latrine. The only ventilation sources were narrow windows out of reach (McWilliams 32). The lack of hygiene, to which Indians were not used, led to the spread of infections responsible for a large percentage of the deaths of this period. Native American men were not usually prisoners of a building space as were the women, but they were still discouraged to escape through even more vicious techniques. The living conditions imposed to the Native Americans by the Padres inspired feelings of despise between both parties. Native Americans, who used to live their lives with the flow of nature without any kind of rigid form of organization, were seeing every aspects of their existence, what they ate, where they slept, where they were allowed to go, who they were allowed to see, etc. , dictated by the Padres. Even though, their lifestyle in the Mission led them to spend a lot of time outside, they were now forced to exploit nature for its resources, instead of living in harmony with it.

rancho-cahengaDouglas Monroy, in his book  Thrown Among Strangers The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California,  states that during the Spanish period, the ranchos were depicted as places of “grace, honor and pastoral affluence”(115); however, in the early Mexican times the ranchos were not examples of material comfort. The adobes were initially two room houses. The living room, la sala, and the bedroom were shared by the whole family. Beds were made of twigs and leaves, blankets were made out of hides and sheets were rare (Monroy 115). The Don was the lord of the family and the head of the Rancho. The land was managed by the Mayodomo who directed ten to twenty Vaqueros, usually Native Americans who learnt Spanish and were good equestrians. The rest of the work was performed by uneducated Native Americans. The Rancho housing organization mirrored the mutual dependency between the Indians and the landowners. Even though the gente de razon looked down on the Native Americans, they needed their labor. On the other hand, the gente de razon were the main source of food for the Native Americans. The opposition of status that was established between the gente de razon and the Native Americans was a way for the first ones to establish their social status as elite (Monroy 138). Thus, thanks to the labor of Native Americans, Ranchos progressively accumulated wealth.

The main house was an adobe house organized around a central corridor and a patio. The entrance of the adobe was characterized by a large porch. The main core of the house, located in the front part, was organized around a front hall. Family members’ bedrooms and living areas were adjacent to this hall that led to the rear part of the adobe. The rear part was usually organized around a central rectangular patio that gave access to additional bedrooms on one side, and to servant areas on the other. The far rear part was dedicated to the Don offices.

After secularization, Ranchos became very important to Californian production. The main house was considered as a business center. In some Ranchos, up to one hundred Native American laborers were supervised by the Mayodormo  and organized into small manufactories of “wool combers, tanners, shoe makers, seamstresses, washerwomen” (Monroy 101).  The front porch was used as the main place of production because it was the cooler and the most ventilated area of the house. However, some Ranchos also had their own individual production rooms.

A separated stone structure was used to put the cattle and house the Vaqueros (Monroy 113).The Native American who worked in the Ranchos lived on the Rancho land in the indiada, structure near the main house, or in houses “made of tules or sticks stuck vertically in mud and then thatched” (Monroy151) by the herds. In Rancho Ex-mission San Fernando, the Mayodomos had their own Adobe House juxtaposed to the Main House (or Convento). Thus, during the Mexican period, the Ranchos establish the pattern of social and economic relationships in the San Fernando Valley.



Picture 1: Bishop Room at the Mission San Fernando

Picture 2: Rancho Cahuenga, from The San Fernando Valley America’s Suburb by Kevin Roderick (29)

Picture 3: Production Room at the Mission San Fernando Rey

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