By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In 1953, Reseda stood on the narrow, anomalous boundary between town-lot subdivision and small-scale irrigation agriculture.
The northwest and northeast corners of the Valley were marked for me by formidable icons in 1953, by the Simi Hills above Chatsworth to the west and by the Cascades of the Los Angeles Aqueduct near Sylmar to the east. The former incorporated several movie ranches seen often in B Westerns, of the sort Esther and Bobby Davis were helping Republic Pictures to make in those years (and which I and my pals watched as avidly as did any other group of American boys). The Cascades, lit up at night like the fabulous debouchment of a liquid silver mine, was the tumbling riot of water pumped over and through the mountains from the Owens Valley.
I can imagine no other but a Southern California childhood of this particular era that might have been tensioned in such a peculiar way. A boy could easily anchor himself, his innocent psyche, midway between the hay field and the public swimming pool in the San Fernando Valley, finding the two but a few minutes apart on a bicycle. He could position himself, as well, midway between a pre-eminent American symbol of mythic (though misleading) bounty in the east and, to the west, a rugged landscape of earnest but spurious histories, around which the country was reinventing itself in the Eisenhower years. Subdivision, Encino, 1953
To visit the Cascades as a boy, to stand in silence in a wash of water-chilled air before Mulholland's altar, was to experience something like spiritual exhilaration. It was solace and Edenic magic. To drive through Santa Susana Pass on the other hand and see a distant posse chasing cattle rustlers, to hear the pop and crackle of gunfire, did not seem in the least otherworldly. Recording these dramas was what your parents -- or other parents you knew -- did every day. They made up what you would later see at the movies or on television. Such scenes viewed from the car, however, were not entirely prosaic. The cowboy dramas embodied a serious code of behavior. The heroes rooted out and destroyed evil, and they were brave and eminently trustworthy in a world threatened by such as Hitler, by such treachery as Pearl Harbor represented.
We were not so removed from WWII in Southern California in those days as other American boys might have been. Fighter jets from Edwards, Miramar, El Tejon and other air bases all streaked across the west Valley regularly, sometimes breaking the sound barrier and shattering a living-room window. Perfecting aerial combat, making cowboy dramas -- that's what we imagined adult work to be. That and, for boys living in Reseda, field and orchard work, or maybe a blue-collar job at the General Motors assembly plant in Van Nuys.
The backbone industries -- moviemaking and aircraft development -- were brought home to me symbolically and tangibly by Esther and Sidney. Esther presented my brother and me with Roy Rogers sweaters and signed photos of cowboy stars like Hopalong Cassidy. When Sidney visited, he would often bring a new model plane to assemble, like the B-36 bomber he had worked on. The planes I most liked to put together were flying boats: a military aircraft called the PBY Catalina, built in San Diego during the war; the Martin M-130 (one of which was the China Clipper); and the Boeing B-314 (among which was the California Clipper).
My vision of life's goals, imagined at various times beneath poplars and eucalyptuses on dirt roads somewhere west of Reseda, was infused, of course, with romantic notions of justice and rescuing the unfortunate which I took from cowboy pictures. I had, as well, a yearning to run away, to wing far out across the Pacific in the China Clipperand there take up another life. More deeply, though, a sense of how my life might work hinged on my perception of that peculiar borderland that Reseda defined for me in 1953. One's hopes for a good life might depend entirely on the direction in which one looked. Onion field, Encino, pre-WWII
During my years on Calvert Street, a huge alfalfa field, bounded on the east and west, respectively, by Etiwanda Avenue and Reseda Boulevard, on the north by Victory Boulevard and on the south by Southern Pacific's right of way, was plowed up for tract housing. This was the breaking wave of urban development, but you couldn't say the landscape was thereby irrevocably changed. Something of the original land, something deep and elusive, remained. I can see it still today, like the memory of a thunderstorm awakened by sunlight glinting off a car bumper.
When the L.A. River channel west of Reseda was cemented in, we adapted to it almost without thinking. Instead of slogging through the cattails, trying to avoid stinging nettle and seeing which of us was quick enough to grab a water snake, we arbitrated our friendships in new games. Who could roll an automobile tire down the freshly grouted cobblestone bank of the river the farthest? You had to get just the right pattern of bounces to make it sail over the low water channel and roll partway up the other side. When tract houses came in where the alfalfa field had been, and we could no longer squirm around on our tummies in games of hide-and-seek, we learned to attach roller-skate trucks to two-by-fours and go hurtling down the new sidewalks. Where curbed gutters gathered the runoff from lawn sprinklers, we constructed elaborate check dams of mud and leaves and fashioned Popsicle-stick rafts to bob on the flow.
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