Van Nuys, Los Angeles,
began at the new town of Van Nuys on February 22, 1911.
The area is named after
Isaac Van Nuys, who was of Dutch descent and participant in a
ranching enterprise called the San Fernando Homestead Association, a
group that purchased most of the southern San Fernando Valley (south
of present-day Roscoe Blvd) in 1869 to grow grain and run sheep. Van
Nuys split this huge acreage with his senior partner, Issac Lankershim,
getting the east area (present-day Lankershim Blvd. crossed his
section). Van Nuys also built the first wood frame house in the
San Fernando Valley in 1872.
But in an odd sense, it was never Isaac Van Nuys' town—land
speculators simply borrowed the name of his holding, the Van Nuys
Ranch. The City of Los Angeles, and
William Mulholland were building the
Owens River aqueduct, starting in 1905 and to be finished in 1913.
The San Fernando Valley was where the water was headed—first—and
speculators were out to buy the Van Nuys Ranch—and subdivide it into 3
cities, Van Nuys, Marian (now
Reseda), and Owensmouth (now
Canoga Park) and start land sales just as the aqueduct was
finished. Issac Van Nuys took his money—left his name on the town—and
returned to his Los Angeles elite—with an office building remaining
downtown with his name.
The speculators, organized into the Los Angeles Suburban Home
Harry Chandler and
Harrison Gray Otis of the
Los Angeles Times,
Moses Sherman, a streetcar line owner, and
Hobart Johnstone Whitley, a real estate promoter with ties as far
back as the "Land
Run of 1889" (the Great Oklahoma Land Rush), bought Van Nuys out,
and prepared to sell the San Fernando Valley.
From the grand opening and barbecue, Washington's Birthday, 1911,
Van Nuys was sold as "The Town That Started Right", plotted with
set-asides for a high school and commitments to build important
buildings "first", including the Bank of Van Nuys, changed but still
standing on the southwest corner of Van Nuys Blvd and Sylvan Street,
to give a sense that the vacant lots sold, with little more than
stakes and ribbons flapping in the breeze, would bloom into a city. A
major artery—double wide street—with a
Pacific Electric "Red Car" line between the traffic—was built all
the way from Hollywood, over Cahuenga Pass, through Lankershim (now
North Hollywood) out Chandler Bl, turning right into Van Nuys on Van
Nuys Bl, and then turning to the west on Sherman Way to extend to the
other "new cities" on the Van Nuys Ranch, Marian (now Reseda) and
Owensmouth (now Canoga Park). Big selling points in 1911—H.J.
Whitley's idea—built by partner and builder Moses Sherman,take the
Pacific Electric interurban—and be downtown in an hour—or drive the
paved road alongside--("no speed limit"--if your Model A could do
35 mph)--all season.
And the unlimited Owens River aqueduct water—oranges,
orchards,sugar beets, speciality crops—all available when the young
Van Nuys voted to join the greater City of Los Angeles in 1915.
But the so-called "The Town That Started Right" was built on Tyrone
Wash—two blocks east of Van Nuys Blvd—and would flood at the drop of a
Two pioneers to be noted--Hobart
Johnstone Whitley, promoter extraordinare, one of the "Boomers"
who built towns in a day after the 1889 "Oklahoma Land Rush", who drew
the designs for some 150 towns with a stick in the dust, including the
San Fernando Valley cities of Van Nuys, Reseda and Canoga Park, and
founder of Hollywood, just over the hill. Whitley also had a huge home
along his ceremonial boulevard, the "first house" you saw as you
turned from Chandler Blvd unto Van Nuys Bl.
Second, William P.Whitsett, who bought a half-interest in the Van
Nuys townsite, and remained as real estate salesman and town booster,
and whose influence grew till he was Chairman of the
Metropolitan Water District, where he helped oversee the second
great aqueduct that boosted Los Angeles' position, the
Colorado River Aqueduct to Los Angeles in the 1930s.
Written accounts in the 1910s and 1920s gave much of the credit to
H.J. Whitley—but Whitsett's long residence in town has given him more
"historical credit" for the San Fernando Valley's progress.
Van Nuys developed slowly—currently remaining is a fine collection
of 1920s and 1930s churches and California-style bungalows, which now
make up a "historic preservation overlay zone" (2004) generally east
of the 1914 Van Nuys High School. By the end of World War II, when the
GI's were demobilized, and many came West, Van Nuys and the San
Fernando Valley lived through a tremendous boom.
Many call the San Fernando Valley (and Van Nuys) in this period
"America's Suburb", as in the Kevin Roderick book. Dr. Seuss even
opined on what made the typical Van Nuys resident in a bit of poetry
Organization Man" of the 1950s.
If you "cross" all your "T's" and "dot" all your "I's"--
You can get a job in "IT" (information technology)
And you can live in Van Nuys..."
In that same sense, the Van Nuys of the 1990s has suffered the
criticism of another humorist,
Sandra Tsing Loh, in her book,
A Year In Van Nuys.
More about Van Nuys, California