When Hank Truxillo moved his family to the San Fernando Valley a few
years ago, they hoped to find an earnest, down-to-earth neighborhood.
They discovered it in Reseda, on the banks of the Los Angeles River.
"It's (got) an old, funky downtown, just the way I like it," said Truxillo, 51, now secretary of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. "It is an interesting, unique place. It is Americana."
It should be. Reseda will celebrate its 100th birthday on Saturday with a Reseda Centennial Music & Arts Celebration. The bash in Reseda Park will feature live bands, art, food, rides, a car show, movie night and more.
For the past century, the central West Valley community has been the little L.A. suburb that could -- and couldn't.
Reseda, one of the first towns in the Valley, became an epicenter for its postwar development (as well as the real epicenter for the 1994 Northridge Earthquake).
Later bypassed by freeways and shopping malls, it also became a byword for economic blight.
Despite such challenges, however, some hope for a Reseda rebound. They see a Reseda rich in Hollywood lore, rife with historic schools, churches and parks and rekindled by its Main Street mom-and-pops.
And symbolized by the historic Reseda Theater.
"Reseda was the hub of the
San Fernando Valley, like a prospering flower," said Nancy Sweeney, founder of Revitalize Reseda, a nonprofit advocacy group. "(But) it's a wilting flower trying to be rerooted.
"Up, up and away -- we're looking for the flower to prosper once again."
Once part of the Lankershim wheat empire, the town first known as Marian was born through a patriarch's love for his daughter -- and a newspaper publisher's love for money.
With Owens Valley water on the way, a syndicate run by Los Angeles Times publisher Gen. Harrison Gray Otis bought most of the southern Valley, according to historian Kevin Roderick.
His Los Angeles Suburban Homes launched three new towns to help spearhead a local land rush: Van Nuys in February 1911; Owensmouth (later named Canoga Park) in March 1912; and Marian (Reseda) on July 20, 1912.
Marian was named for Otis' daughter Marian, wife of Times' scion and business manager, Harry Chandler.
Each burg was linked by an expansive new boulevard, Sherman Way. Pacific Electric Red Car trolleys were soon added to carry commuters 25 miles downtown.
Less than a decade later, Marian was renamed Reseda, after a commonly found garden plant. Until the 1940s, it was a hub for sugar beets, walnuts, lima beans and lettuce, with a population of several thousand.
After World War II, its population exploded. Shaped like a square -- between Victory and Roscoe boulevards, and Corbin and White Oak avenues -- the 6.5-square-mile community now harbors 72,000 residents.
At its heart is Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way.
"This used to be the place to shop," said 39-year-old Cary Iaccino, chair of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, gesturing toward what used to be a J.C Penney, not far from a long-gone J.J. Newberry five-and-dime. "Then they put the Northridge mall in, and sucked away all the core businesses.
"That was the beginning of the downfall."
Iaccino walks past the commercial ghosts of yesteryear.
Past the famous Country Club -- which hosted acts from Tina Turner to U2's Los Angeles debut in 1981 -- now Iglesia de Restauracion, a church of mostly Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants.
And up to the boarded-up Reseda Theater, which opened in 1948 and closed 40 years later while showing Spanish-language films. The landmark was featured in the film "Boogie Nights" which centered around the lives of porn performers in the Valley.
Ambitious plans by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles to convert the theater into a mixed-use restaurant-apartment complex were recently thwarted when the state shut down all CRAs.
More than $63 million in makeovers planned by the CRA were scrubbed in central Reseda, Sweeney said.
The Reseda Theater now sits in limbo along with other blighted properties along Sherman Way.
"We've been wondering what's happening for two years," said Iaccino, who is running for Los Angeles City Council, gazing from the theater's sidewalk terrazzo to its soaring marquee, topped by a daytime moon. "We've got empty buildings. Boarded-up buildings.
"Before, we had small business activity. Now we have empty buildings."
There are rug sellers, check cashiers, dentists, appliance stores and empty storefronts. Across from the intersection's renowned Traders Loan & Jewelry pawnshop, there is what was once the Reseda State Bank, one of the oldest buildings in town.
This is where Paul Goldman's father set up Allen's Flower Market nearly 30 years ago.
"I grew up in Hollywood," said Goldman, 48, arranging a dozen red roses. "Back then, we made fun of the Valley. Now we all live in the Valley. We enjoy living out here. What was once a suburb now is very urban.
"There's no reason why, with a couple of nice additions such as a big box (store), we couldn't once again become a draw."
Aura Estrada, originally from Guatemala, has bet two businesses on it. Not far from the Restauracion church, she opened Aura's, a high-end California fusion diner, and CS Earth Origins, which sells nutritional supplements.
"The response (has been) amazing," said Estrada, 35, who once operated restaurants in North Hollywood. "People were afraid to come in -- (saying) 'It's too fancy,' 'too expensive.' They couldn't believe it.
"So far, so good. I can't complain. I like Reseda."
Some have been less than enthusiastic.
In his rock hit "Free Fallin'," Tom Petty told the world, "It's a long day livin' in Reseda." Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing also sang the less-than-poetic line, "We are all in some way or another going to Reseda to die."
Hollywood has been far more kind.
Director John Ford founded the Field Photo Memorial Farm, where former World War II photographers once tipped glasses with the likes of actor Jimmy Stewart.
Once the home of Filmation Studios, which created "The Archie Show" and "Fat Albert" cartoons, among others, Reseda has been featured in such movies as "Grease," "Drive" and the L.A. River chase in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The Reseda Drive-In, once featured in "Targets" starring Boris Karloff, is long gone.
In 1984, Mr. Miyagi took a Reseda teen and turned him into the "Karate Kid" at the South Seas apartments on Saticoy Avenue.
While its Los Angeles Jewish Home celebrates its 100th year, other Reseda businesses have been voted among L.A.'s best -- including Fab Hot Dogs, Ramen Nippon, Valley Produce and California Nursery. On any given day, Las Fuentes and its Melody's Mexican Kitchen are jammed.
That's why Truxillo, who works in the entertainment industry, chose to move his pregnant wife and young daughter to Reseda.
Their house, which abuts the Los Angeles River, is home to a garden of cucumbers, raspberries and artichokes.
"It's a blast," said Truxillo, chair of the neighborhood council's centennial committee. "We're all excited about expressing what Reseda is all about.
"One hundred years of the past, 100 years preparing for the future. We're trying to create the future of Reseda."
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