For Carole Lombard and second husband Clark Gable in 1939, their new ranch in Encino must have been heaven on earth...close enough to studios in Culver City, Hollywood, Universal City, Burbank and elsewhere, far enough to experience refuge from the hectic city life of Los Angeles. In the 1930s. '40s and beyond, many Angelenos sought the same sort of lifestyle in the San Fernando Valley -- and not all were from the film industry, nor did they need a movie star's salary to buy a home.
Some 75 years after the Gables settled in at Raoul Walsh's old home, the Valley -- now a huge part of Los Angeles proper, some 1.8 million of the city's nearly four million population -- has a home to exhibit its history. The Museum of the San Fernando Valley opened last month in Northridge, on the second floor of a one-time real estate office. It's starting small, open only three days a week, but has hopes of becoming a big deal.
Classic Hollywood is prominently featured in the history of the San Fernando Valley. Many film stars bought homes in the Valley, such as Ann Dvorak, seen here in 1935...
...others, such as Van Nuys High alumna Jane Russell, spent their youth there:
That's an ad for the Valley-based Westmore family of makeup fame; Lombard used Wally Westmore's services for the 1933 horror film "Supernatural," where grey makeup gave her the visual effect on screen of being possessed by the spirit of a murderess:
What was included in this Westmore makeup kit undoubtedly provided a more benign impression:
Fabled portrait photographer George Hurrell spent many of his later years in North Hollywood:
Barbara Stanwyck had a 6,500-square-foot home built in the Valley in 1937, then sold it to Jack Oakie in 1940 and later was dubbed Oakridge. The 9.47-acre estate was purchased by the city of Los Angeles in 2009 to serve as a community passive recreational site, and is prominently featured at the museum:
(I presume Lombard and Gable are pictured in that painting because they were friends of Stanwyck's and probably visited on multiple occasions.)
And Clark was the subject of a sculpture by local artist Henry Van Wolf:
Other facets of Valley history are included too, such as its residents' service contributions. Since 2002, veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict have met each week at a local Wendy's to discuss stories. The "Wings Over Wendy's" group founder, Art Sherman (green shirt), explains memorabilia for visitors...
...including a helmet that saved his life during World War II:
Parts of the Valley were rural for quite some time. In the early 1970s, I can recall a program televised early weekend mornings called "Agriculture U.S.A.," a quiz show on ag topics featuring high school chapters of the Future Farmers of America (in retrospect, it almost sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit). One of the competing schools was from Canoga Park; now a highly suburbanized community, it's highly unlikely an FFA chapter exists at that high school now. (However, there is a thriving farm program at Pierce College, one of two junior colleges served by Orange Line bus rapid transit.) In places such as Chatsworth, at the far western edge of the Valley near the mountains, you can regularly hear coyotes howl at night, and residents are urged to bring their pets indoors.
The museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, though it will be closed New Year's Day. For hours and more information, call (818) 347-9665 or visit http://www.themuseumsfv.org. Learn more about Oakridge and its future at http://www.theoakridgeestate.org, and about "Wings Over Wendy's" at http://wingsoverwendys.org.
We'll close with a song about the Valley...and no, it's not from Moon Unit Zappa (fer sure!). Rather, it's "San Fernando Valley" from Bing Crosby (and written by Gordon Jenkins, a later Frank Sinatra arranger), a hit from 1944 encapsulating the reasons why so many came to it in the first place: