Cruising the Boulevard

Cruising down today’s Ventura Boulevard at 45 miles per hour, it’s difficult to imagine its dusty beginnings as a stretch of El Camino Real, the old dirt road that once connected each of the California Missions. Even beyond this centuries-old pedigree, this 16-mile route is rich with twentieth-century San Fernando Valley lore and fascinating architecture to go along with it.

Traveling west from its eastern edge at Lankershim Boulevard, your journey will take you through the communities of Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana, and Woodland Hills, before reaching its opposite end at Valley Circle Boulevard.

Along the way, you’ll take in some of the best Modern architecture the city has to offer in the form of coffee shops, car washes, churches, banks, office buildings, and commercial strips, all designed to catch the eye of driving passersby.

Even R. M. Schindler tried his hand at commercial strip design, as you'll see in the 1942 Lingenbrink Shops. Just down the road, Hughes Market (now Ralphs) might be one of the Valley’s most expressive supermarkets, with a dramatic curve to its roof and walls of glass.

As you continue down the boulevard you might be tempted to stop at Casa de Cadillac, with shining, new cars visible in the glass pavilion of this auto showroom. And Kerry’s (now Mel’s) is a terrific example of a Googie coffee shop, designed by preeminent Googie architects Armet and Davis.

Both Valley Beth Shalom and the office building at 17100 Ventura were designed by San Fernando Valley architect Howard Lane, the latter with partner Ray Schlick. Though Lane and Schlick aren’t necessarily household names, these architects made major contributions to the Valley’s collection of modern architecture in the postwar years.

The Home Savings and Loan (now Chase bank) in Encino is reported to be the last designed from top to bottom by Millard Sheets & Associates, in concert with architects Frank Homolka & Associates. It features not only murals by Sheets on its façade, but also enormous sculptures of mountain lions by Betty Davenport Ford set in cast concrete screens by Sheets’ son, Tony Sheets.

The Ventura Boulevard of the twenty-first century may be paved, but your car may still need a wash; take a drive through the Googie car wash on the south side of the street and admire the shining stars atop soaring pylons.

Take a close look as you drive by the Fleetwood Center; this building may be the only in the country to boast a façade designed to mimic the front of a Cadillac Fleetwood. And finally, it’s tough to resist Woodland Casual Patio and Rattan, with its oblong, octagonal windows projecting out along a curved façade.

Once you’ve reached the end of your journey, why not turn around and drive Ventura Boulevard again? There are many, many other Modern gems to admire along the way.