There was a reason why I came home to Reseda.
It bears repeating the impetus of naming the site as such. To prove evidence of this impetus, I had to come back to see for myself and share that history and knowledge with someone currently living there.
The visit came to the attention of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. They are in the midst of board elections, so they sent an available board member to meet me. Turns out that Fran is a car guy. This turned out to be a perfect match for a whirlwind tour of Reseda past and present.
Fran is not just a car guy. Though, he is not a native of Reseda, Fran felt that the Reseda Neighborhood Council is going about their strategy to uplifting Reseda though economic and cultural development was a good match for him to become a member of the board. It takes a Reseda resident to understand what that community needed aside from the standard mantra of "making it better."
Fran and I toured Reseda and discussed its rich automotive heritage. By the time Mom and Dad bought the house on Amigo Avenue, Reseda was the place where you bought a new car. Dealerships lined up along Reseda Boulevard of the most important makes – Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Chrysler-Plymouth, AMC and Jeep. You also came to the Volkswagen dealer on Vanowen, just off of Reseda, for a Beetle or a Squareback. Buick’s dealership was on Sherman Way near Tampa Avenue – next to Lorenzen’s Mortuary. Honda established a spot on Reseda Boulevard that remains today. Kolbe Honda is the only new car dealership left in Reseda.
What happened to the rest of the dealerships? Reseda Dodge closed within the past few years and became a combination of an independent lot and service center. The same fate yielded for Reseda Imports – the British Leyland dealer – and the second location of LaTorre Volkswagen. The latter used to be the AMC dealer that sat across from Kolbe Honda. The Chrysler-Plymouth dealer turned into a service center for a long-time Mercedes-Benz dealer in Encino. Auto Stiegler maintains that location, though their old showroom may have expanded on Ventura Boulevard. Rancho Chevrolet turned into a bicycle shop before I left Reseda. Town & Country Ford is simply dust – now occupied by a CVS Pharmacy. As for Butlin Buick, apartments now occupy the old site. A business now occupies the old Sanucci Volkswagen – the first site of the LaTorre dealership.
Though dealerships – Kolbe and the independent lots – exist, Reseda is better known for its auto parts and service shops. The number of such business is simply staggering, some popped up since I moved in 1987. Yet, some are gone. There was a big auto parts store at the corner of Sherman Way and Darby Avenue that is now a thrift shop. Others have been replaced with body shops, repair centers and other parts and accessories stores.
The fact that there is still a plethora of auto parts and service locations in Reseda supports the community's roots. The heart of this community is working class. Driving through the neighborhoods, I still got a sense of the working class nature of Reseda, but with a twist. There were plenty of middle class families that dotted in and around town – same as today. If you saw what cars and trucks we drove then, you would question the large number of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Lexuses that reside in Reseda. I never recalled my own neighborhood having more than one BMW – a 1969/70 2002 in white. We had our share of motorhomes, pickup trucks and a vast variety of mainstream sedans and wagons.
Fran and I talked about some of the car culture that existed when I was younger. Some of us may have participated in the cruises along Van Nuys Bouelvard or have hung at a local Bob's Big Boy to show off our rides – at least those are the two I am familiar with today. The only thing close to any of this happened after Reseda High School's football games, when we would descend on Loehmanns Plaza at Casa di Pizza and hung out both in and outside the popular restaurant. A few of us did donuts on the parking lot, but most of us posed with our cars, chatted with friends.
Casa di Pizza is no longer there – replaced by an upscale eatery. Yet, my brief visit to Loehmanns Plaza saw an inkling of a car culture that still exists in Reseda. Towards the end of the strip mall is Fab Hot Dogs, which I noticed a few enthusiasts hanging out there along with their rides – a Subaru WRX, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, a couple of BMWs and so forth. The tip-off came when a guy wearing a shirt supporting the use of manual gearboxes as the way to drive was getting into his car in front of my media vehicle.
However, my brother and I were exposed to a world beyond Reseda's imaginary borders. Los Angeles always had a strong car culture that was diverse. If I grew up in Robbinsdale or Madison, I would not have seen the number of Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Lamborghinis as I had in my youth. They were on Ventura Boulevard – on parade by owners who lived on the Santa Monica Mountains. Four decades later, these makes have become part of my coverage in this work.
While we toured Reseda, Fran talked about an idea he had for the Reseda Neighborhood Council. To honor Reseda's car culture – past and present – he wants to put on a car show. The idea is simple: 100 cars, lined up at a park near the West Valley Los Angeles Police Department station and the local branch of the city’s Public Library, judging and a paean to the musical legacy of Reseda.
There was an old Sav-On's drug store that became a seminal music and sports venue – the Country Club. Henry Rollins once performed there with Black Flag, along with the cream of the crop of Southern California punk and New Wave headliners. It was also a boxing venue during its heyday, switching dates with bands only heard on KROQ. This grabbed the attention of many from across the L.A. area to come to Reseda even as it was declining around them.
The confluence of the automobile and music is a great idea and a perfect match for the mission and goals of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. Fran envisioned this for Reseda residents to participate to show off their rides. From my ride along and subsequent drives, I do believe Fran could easily get his 100 vehicles – including motorcycles.
Perhaps we need to encourage the Reseda Neighborhood Council to support Fran’s idea of a car show. Not just to encourage local participation, but support by the enthusiast community and related businesses in Reseda and the San Fernando Valley. By community collaboration and engagement, an event such as this has the potential to become a huge success.
Reseda continues to be is a spot on the map for car culture. Same as it was when I was a kid. Perhaps that solidifies the name of this site – a paean back to a place where the car is still big business.
All photos by Randy Stern