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
When we lost a squash field at the corner of Lindley and Oxnard to subdivision, we lost our last good source not only of dirt clods but of squash, a vegetable for which we found many uses. (One day we found a pile of empty cardboard boxes dumped by the trestle that took the Southern Pacific tracks across Caballero Creek. We filled them with squash and stacked them in a barricade on the tracks. The engineer bringing the afternoon train east from Canoga Park plowed straight through, sending shattered rind and stringy fistulas of seed flying out over the dry wash and streaming back along the flanks of the locomotive. The man's laconic wave to us, hiding in the brush, made us giddy with pleasure.) Beyond rotting melons, nothing could replace the splatter appeal of squash. We believed that they were growing elsewhere now, not that they were gone.
I saw large orange groves torn up in Granada Hills in the early '50s but did not feel anxiety or regret. It was change. If change didn't go well, it seemed it might be our fault, for failing to adapt. I remember watching a sculptor friend of Mother in those years, a Pole named Stosh. He worked in a ramshackle studio in an old poultry shed off Reseda on Sylvan. The way he took marble away with his mallet and chisel to make a torso seemed no less magical because I had to walk through a housing tract to see it instead of an alfalfa field. Such change in the landscape itself did not at all mean our aspirations were diminished nor our capacity for wonder. For us, the world waiting to be known was still vast, more so than it could be for boys growing up in the Belgian Congo or Tierra del Fuego.
Looking back, I might say that in those days we didn't take in with sufficient awe, with enough incredulity, that sparkling chute of water tumbling out of the mountain at Sylmar. If the adults understood a deeper message in it, in the magisterial change wrought in the Valley by water from the Aqueduct, they didn't let on.
They weren't afraid of it.
TWO BOYHOOD EXPERIENCES ENCAPSULATE FOR ME THE Reseda I knew as a borderland in the early '50s. One was my involvement with a flock of homing pigeons; the other was with what occurred at John Ford's Field Photo Memorial Farm, a neighborhood property that was sold and subdivided shortly after I left California.
Domestic pigeons and rock doves (their feral relatives) derive from cliff-dwelling stock in the Mediterranean. They're most at home amid bridges and buildings. Historically, they would not have been the type of pigeon to take up residence on the San Fernando Valley's broad, treeless plain. It was only with the advance of a built environment across the Valley that they found that landscape suitable -- and they followed it.
I was given 20 pigeons on my 10th birthday, in January 1955. They were a source of indescribable joy, especially the tumblers. I could not convey adequately to anyone what their soaring and homing meant to me. They seemed to exult in life, and no other kind of reassurance could match the emotion I felt when they returned each afternoon to the small coop I'd built. I spent hours with them, trying sometimes even to keep up with their far-Valley wanderings on my bike. It seemed in my child's mind then that, together, the birds and I were exploring a shifting country between the city -- that conurbation of towns in the east Valley, with its ruler-straight yards and immaculate cars -- and the countryside, with its traipsing coyotes, dirt roads and cactus fences.
The birds took in the Valley from above; I had the ground-level view. We were watching something emphatic move across the land, implacable, unfolding like the flaps of a cardboard box.
The John Ford place I remember as huge, but it was only 8 acres, on Calvert Street off Lindley. He had it built in 1946, a retirement home and recreation center to honor 13 men from his Field Photographic Unit killed while filming frontline combat in WWII. (The unit's films won Oscars for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1942 and Best Documentary in 1943.) A horse paddock and big swimming pool at Field Photo lured us to these private grounds. We'd sneak in for night swims, and during the day try to steal bareback rides on the horses, mounting with a fistful of mane and a boost from two friends. The men who worked around the big barn, with its racks of elaborate Western tack and its fresh hay and grain smells, hardly paid us any mind.
We were also greatly impressed by a sign at the gate: No Women Allowed.
Every Memorial Day weekend (when women were welcome), a celebration began with services at the farm's small war-memorial chapel. It continued on a parade ground with an equestrian show, and finished with a torchlight dinner at picnic tables around the pool. An aluminum canoe filled with iced cases of beer (no charge) and a band in Western regalia kept revelers going into the night. My friends and I, some having slipped away from home in pajamas, studied the final blowout from the cover of oleander bushes, fully expecting someone to fall into the pool.
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