The long decay of Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley

On Monday last, I drove to Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Park for a pickup softball game. I left the house at 8 a.m., which should have left plenty of time to reach my destination.Unfortunately, the 101 was extra grouchy and Waze sent me meandering through a labyrinth of surface streets, including a long jog north to Sherman Way before heading south on Van Nuys Boulevard.

What a demoralizing ride.

Besides the soul-robbing gridlock every Los Angeles mayor since Jose Vicente Feliz in 1781 has pledged to reduce, the ride down Van Nuys Boulevard was a journey through a dystopian gauntlet of boarded-up storefronts, abandoned sofas, overflowing trashcans and homeless shanties abutting graffiti-splattered cinderblocks and plywood.

What was once the epicenter of commerce and culture in the San Fernando Valley is now so depressing, even the X-rated video store went out of business.

When a neighborhood is too seedy for a dirty book store, it’s more than a cry for help.

Back in the “American Graffiti” days of car and sock hops, Van Nuys Boulevard was where the cool kids congregated for burgers and Cokes, cruising and kissing.

Men shopped for slacks and fedoras, while women tried on shoes and lunched with the ladies.

The trendy shops are long gone, replaced by bodegas selling beer and lottery tickets and bongs. “For Rent” signs in multiple languages have yet to produce any takers.

(Courtesy of Doug McIntyre)
  (Courtesy of Doug McIntyre)

Like my men’s room disaster, lots of things undid Van Nuys Boulevard and countless other once thriving neighborhoods.

Tastes changed.

Demographics changed.

Kids flocked to the Westfields and Gallerias, choosing malls over main streets.

Then the internet crushed what was left of mom-and-pop commerce.

Why fight traffic and risk a ticket at a parking meter?

Why get hit up by panhandlers begging?

Or fall victim to an unprovoked attack by a tragic lost soul who should be in a mental hospital or rehab facility, but has been condemned to the streets?

When the customers stopped shopping and the kids stopped cruising, stores started failing and landlords lost their shirts.

Not even the adult bookstore survived the downfall. (Courtesy of Doug McIntyre)
Not even the adult bookstore survived the downfall of Van Nuys Blvd. (Courtesy of Doug McIntyre)

Buildings started to decay. Our city councilors and mayors ignored the pleas for help, first in English, then in Spanish, now in every language.

It wasn’t one thing that did in Van Nuys Boulevard, just as it isn’t just one thing causing name brands like Whole Foods and Nordstrom to pull out of downtown San Francisco, and everyone but junkies to bail on downtown Portland, Oregon.

The disaster dominos tumble one after the other.

Mayor Karen Bass should take the same drive I took last Monday, Sherman Way to the Government Center on Van Nuys Boulevard, but only if she sits up front.

You can’t see the real Los Angeles through tinted windows in the back seat of a taxpayer-funded, chauffeured SUV.

Doug McIntyre can be reached at: His novel “Frank’s Shadow” is available for preorder at and