In June of 1957, my family moved from a cramped, 1920s neighborhood in West Hollywood to a new, spacious 1950s neighborhood in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. On Vista del Monte, our wide street, all of the house lots were surprisingly expansive, and remnant walnut trees still graced many of the yards around the valley rambler homes on our new block. There were still peach orchards, a whole walnut grove remained behind our back fence, beyond which ran Van Nuys Boulevard. Fragrant orange groves grew nearby. I had just turned eleven years of age. At the time, and for a kid, it was a veritable paradise. The days were carefree, and there was no doubt, we were experiencing the American dream.
Change was coming.
I finished sixth grade at Kester Avenue Elementary, moved on to Van Nuys Junior High School, both schools were within walking distance. There was a shortcut through the peach orchard across Magnolia Boulevard to the junior high. Most days we went that way, but sometimes we walked the long way down Van Nuys Boulevard past Bob’s Big Boy, then down Clarke Street to school. Bob’s had great chocolate donuts for a nickel each. Those delicious donuts were well worth the extra time and distance. Life was good.
Consider for a moment, at the time, one impossible to miss constant was the car cruising culture along Van Nuys Boulevard, and the Bob’s Big Boy Drive-in was also the main hub of that culture, day and night. No matter where you lived, those of us who grew up in the valley, were destined to become part of that cruising culture during our teenage years. Much the same could be said of teenagers in every town and city across America. Cars and cruising were a formative experience for the better part of three generations, and for me in particular. Was this also part of the American dream?
Again, change was coming, but who knew?
On to Van Nuys High School, 50 th year graduating class, 1964. Then on to classes at both LA Pierce College, and also LA Valley College, some at night, while working a full-time day job at the ‘Valley News and Greensheet,’ and later at Musso-Clifford Advertising near LAX. In 1968, I transferred to California State University at Northridge, then known as Valley State College, and enrolled in the History Department, but soon found myself in their very fine Department of
Photography. Three years later, I had completed the necessary classes for my degree in History and a minor degree in Art, specializing in photography.
In the spring of 1972, on a tip from a friend, who had recently started work at, the now legendary, ‘Corky’s Restaurant’ on Van Nuys Boulevard, I set out to document the renewed and vibrant cruising scene on that boulevard. The photographs from that summer are presented in this visual essay. The project was a perfect fit for me.
Looking back to 1972, few of us expected the ‘cruising’ scene, along with the young people’s spontaneous use of the public space on the main streets and boulevards across America, to all but disappear by the end of the 1970s. Neither am I able to digest just how quickly the wide- open spaces, so prevalent in the San Fernando Valley in the late 1950s, were entirely filled with homes, apartments and strip malls by the time I was documenting the nightlife on Van Nuys Boulevard in 1972. Barely 15 years had passed.
The Van Nuys photographs now stand as a unique ‘time capsule’ of vanished American life.
All of these photographic images were made using a 35mm camera and Tri-X 400 film. All hand-held. Most often, I ‘push processed’ the film to bring the film speed up to 800 ASA. To a large extent, and on most images, I was shooting at the extreme edge of the film envelope due to the very challenging and uneven lighting situations. Years of careful preservation, countless hours of curating and editing went into the current presentation of these images. The modern ‘fine art’ prints, both ‘pigment,’ and traditional ‘gelatin silver’ are superb.