Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

This episode of Our Conquest of the Los Angeles Trickle … er, river … will encompass several days’ of travel, as none of the individual days really added up to enough for an episode. The crocodiles and hippos must have been dozing, plus we rarely caught a good look at the river itself …

We begin with lunch at the oldest operating Bob’s Big Boy, which we passed in the last episode. Designed and built in 1949 by Wayne McAllister, who greatly influenced diner design of the 1950s with this streamline building. I understand this is the “Googie” school of architecture, influenced by car tail fins and chrome, the Atomic Age and the Space Age. Always interesting to learn these things. However, the most exciting thing about the Burbank Bob’s is … the Beatles ate there! Yes! We asked our waiter and he confirmed it, and said they sat in the last booth in the back. They used to have a plaque there commemorating the event, but people kept stealing it, so they moved it to the front where they can keep an eye on it. Good move. I’d steal it …

Later, we parked on the west end of the Toluca Lake neighborhood and started down Cahuenga Boulevard toward the river. We went out on a bridge and quickly saw there was no way to reach the river. There was a path on one side, sometimes on both, but blocked by chained gates. Again, what’s that all about? The paths didn’t look any different than ones we’d walked on before. There is less graffiti out here in the Valley than we’d seen in most places further south. When we did get to walk along the river, there were far fewer homeless people than we’d seen earlier. Some Homeland Security-type bureaucrat with a bug up his ass, I suspect. If you can lock it up, do lock it up. No telling when Osama might come sneaking around with a truck bomb to blow up the Los Angeles River … as a matter of fact, the next day we did see a dump truck driving on the river. It’s not every town where you can make a statement like that.

So we started what would turn out to be one hell of a serpentine walk. We entered South Weddington Park, a nice little green space with lots of shade trees. It was clear to me from Google Earth that none of the little side streets to our north were going to get us to the river, and even if we did, I’d seen more fences from the Lankershim bridge. But Lee thought the last one might go through, so we went to the end … and found it was just possible to squeeze between a fence and a palm tree onto a dirt path. We couldn’t see if the path continued under the Hollywood Freeway, so we trekked on … and found out it dead-ended there. On the other side was the river, and North Weddington Park, tantalizingly out of reach. So we had to re-trace our steps, something I hate to do.

South was a concrete block wall. It looked like we’d have to go all the way back to Lankershim … but Lee spotted a gate that had carelessly been left open just enough. Once more we squeezed through, and found ourselves in a Park ‘n Ride lot for the Universal City Station of the Red Line subway. It was full, which was nice to see. All those cars off the freeway, all those drivers riding the train. It’s a drop in the bucket, I know, but every little bit helps. Feeling like the Children of Israel after wandering 40 years in the desert, we hurried up to an overpass, crossed the freeway, and descended to Ventura Boulevard, the main artery of the south part of the San Fernando Valley, tucked up against the base of the hills. We’ll be seeing it again, before the river curves north.

From there, north along Vineland, and thus back to the car.

* * *

Up LA River Part 9: hand carwash

More roadblocks—I guess I should say riverblocks—confronted us the next day. There were several places where, logically, we should have been able to get through to the paths, but they were all blocked. So we were more than halfway into our day’s outward journey before we even caught a glimpse of the river. There was a pedestrian bridge at this point, but if you crossed it you’d quickly find that access to the southern bank was denied by more fences and gates over here. This was the establishment that put the studio in Studio City. I had always wondered about that, and now I knew. It was CBS Studio City, and I’d driven by it many times on Ventura Boulevard and never noticed it, as it is tucked away behind other buildings and businesses. You can only get a good view of it from the river side.

It was originally the Mack Sennett Studios, when he moved there in the late 1920s from Edendale, today’s Echo Park. Later it was Republic Pictures, famous for B-movies and serials. John Wayne became a big star working there. For a while it was co-owned by Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM. Many classic TV shows were shot there, and still are. It looks like a busy lot, from across the river.

Up LA River Part 9: John Varley squeezes through

Now we took a big gamble. At Google I had seen a branch of the river called the Tujunga Wash fork to the north along in here. To our east was a vast apartment complex with no break in the fence. It was impossible to get to the CBS side of the river. If we forged ahead along the wash we risked having to straggle back about a mile … which, as I said, I just hate. But we don’t know the meaning of fear! (Well, we do, but we laugh at it.)(Well, maybe not laugh, but we’ve been known to snigger.) And sure enough, right up there by Moorpark Street … a dead end. Fences, and a locked gate. But wait a minute. That one fencepost butting up against the other fence that lines the river. There’s a six-inch gap there. Maybe seven inches. And it’s chain-link … Damn me if I was turning back. I figured if I put my back against the chain-link and pushed, I might just slide my belly past the post. And I made it, leaving only a small amount of skin and no clothing at all behind. The things we have to go through to conquer this damnable river.

There was a flamenco dancer, of all things, in the Moorpark Playground. She had brought a board with her, laid it down, and was tapping her little heart out to a slow but steady beat, arms held out at her sides, fingers snapping. The things you see, when you walk.

Up LA River Part 9: Laurel Canyon entrance

We made our way to Laurel Canyon Boulevard, the flat part out here in the Valley, and saw we were at the beginning of the Los Angeles Greenway, which looked nice over there across the street. On our side was a gate in the shape of a frog, which lead to a bike path that couldn’t have been more than a quarter of a mile before it butted up against CBS. What’s the point? Back home, I determined that the greenway went on for about two miles, part of it paved. We’ll see, on our next walk.

Because of the long jog north and the lack of river crossings, this had already been a longer than usual walk, and we still had a long way to go back to the car. So we stopped at DuPar’s, a Los Angeles institution mentioned in many hard-boiled detective books. I’d never eaten there. We each order a cup of soup and half a sandwich. My corned beef was only okay, but the cup of clam chowder was really a small bowl, and it was the clammiest chowder I’d ever had. Well … maybe that’s not the right word, I don’t mean to imply that it was cold, it was piping hot. But it was simply swimming with clams. Well … clams don’t swim, do they? Though certain types of scallops do. Thick with clam chunks, okay? If you ever get to DuPar’s, try the clam chowder.

Then it was onto fabled Ventura Boulevard. Like Sunset, it changes character many times along its vast length. In Studio City it’s an odd mix of seedy motels and upscale sushi bars. You can see a giant hand holding a Corvette in the air, a retro Harley painted like a Ouija board, a nightclub named Fuel, an ivy-covered restaurant so trendy I was unable to find a name for it (La Loggia, Lee said; it was on the valet parking stand), a Bentley sports car parked on the sidewalk, an exotic bird shop, and dog groomers uncountable. I quite like this part of the street, though I admit I was so knackered at this point that I barely noticed a lot of it.

June 4, 2007

© 2007 by John Varley; all rights reserved