Cruising the Boulevard | Los Angeles Conservancy
Ventura Boulevard, circa 2002. Photo by Gary Leonard, from Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

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.

Car Wash
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Car Wash

Originally known as the Auto Laundry, this Googie-style Ventura Boulevard gem is one of few that retains its spectacular original details that unmistakably advertise it as a car wash.
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Casa de Cadillac

A well-known landmark of San Fernando Valley Modernism, Casa de Cadillac has been showcasing cars continuously since 1949, but only recently has it been restored to its original grandeur.
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Fleetwood Center

A strip mall renowned for its Cadillac facade has never been home to a Cadillac-related business, let alone a dealership.
Lingenbrink Shops
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Lingenbrink Shops

Its modern bones still apparent under new signage and canopies, this small shopping complex prefigured the now-common typology of the strip mall.
Mel's
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Mel's

A great example of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis early Googie designs, showing their use of angled rooflines, dramatic signage, and other space-age elements that would become even more angled and dramatic in their later work.
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Office Building

A lovely example of Mid-Century Modern architecture in a low-rise, commercial context, easy to miss in the abundance of eye-catching architecture on Ventura Boulevard.
Valley Beth Shalom
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Valley Beth Shalom

A sweeping Mid-Century Modern design of brick, glass, and concrete designed by Encino architect Howard R. Lane and including a cornerstone quarried on Mt. Zion.
Photo by Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy

Woodland Casual Patio and Rattan

Few Ventura Boulevard Mid-Century Modern designs are as captivating as that of Woodland Casual Patio and Rattan, which is somehow space-age and organic at once.