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One Tour Way Off the Beaten Path

June 22, 1989|T.W. McGARRY | Times Staff Writer

It's bad enough admitting you live in the Valley, but what on earth could you show visiting know-it-alls from some place like New York or London or Gettysburg, Pa., for that matter?

Sure it's all a bad rap, all those stereotypical jokes about the Valley and Valspeak and time warps. Nobody says "wellll, grody, fer surrrre" any more except obnoxious cousins from New York eager to wax up the old image that you have guacamole for brains and they are the Carborundum on which the cutting edge of hip is sharpened.

But still and all, there was nothing here before about 1955, right? C'mon, wasn't that when they bulldozed the grapefruit trees and Annette Funicello or Ozzie Nelson or somebody moved in and perfected the '50s?

There's nothing like, historic, is there? How could there be? Everyone who's ever lived here is still alive, aren't they?

Wrong, Bunky. Go to the back of the class, and while you're there, study up on this handy guide to places of unusual, historical or funky interest in the Valley.

Before we get to the Cold War and that stuff, we'll start out with the heavy history.

So there you are, leaving Universal City. They're here for another two days and they're whining, "Now what, now where?"

Go right across the street.

Here on Lankershim Boulevard, right across from The-Studio-That-Ate-The-World, is the place where the United States took a major step on the road to superpowerdom. The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department has a small adobe-style house and a feeble museum commemorating what happened on this spot on Jan. 13, 1847: The acquisition of much of the western United States and the Pacific Coast, turning what had been a collection of Atlantic Seaboard colonies less than 75 years earlier into a continental power with a springboard to the Pacific.

Surrender Site

The small Campo de Cahuenga Park marks where the military forces of Mexico surrendered to Lt. Col. John C. Fremont, commander of the California Volunteers, ending the Mexican-American War in California. The Mexicans had won the early battles, but the tide had turned. Fremont, marching across the Valley en route from northern California, had cleverly put out word that his surrender terms would not be harsh--just give us your cannons and go home.

This may have been the last time the San Fernando Valley played a strategic military role until the 1950s, when it suddenly blossomed with bastions of the Cold War, many of which were not well known in their time, and for that matter, haven't drawn many bus tours since.

A Cold War tour of the Valley should start someplace out around northern De Soto or Winnetka avenues, in Chatsworth.

Someplace around here, in an area now covered with instant-entrepeneur electronics firms, there was a CIA station, back about the time of the Korean War. Groups of Russian- and Chinese-speaking employees monitored Soviet and Chinese radio traffic in Siberia, Manchuria and other places where there is never likely to be a Club Med, even now.

Look up at the Santa Susanas, that long ridge where you tell the folks back in Duluth you see snow every winter. Visible on the high peak at the western end, at least on clear days, is a cluster of buildings. Today, it's a California Conservation Corps training center.

But it was built as a NIKE anti-aircraft missile launching base in the days when it was presumed that the Los Angeles aerospace industry was a key target and that the Soviets would come after it with airplanes carrying nuclear bombs, Hiroshima-style.

The aerospace-rich Valley was both an important target and a natural shield for the city to the south, and a ring of missile-launching sites was built and manned into the late 1960s. Drive down Victory Boulevard between White Oak Avenue and the San Diego Freeway. The Air National Guard base on the south side of the street was once the headquarters for these bases. The missile bunkers (the ground-level steel doors are impossible to see from the street) were converted to storerooms long ago.

For another chapter of the story, go up to Mulholland Drive and proceed westward until the pavement ends, up above the Lake Encino reservoir. Keep going on the gravel road. (Or, if you like your car, maybe you should just take this part on faith; the unpaved part of Mulholland is suited more to horses than horsepower.) A short distance to the west on the south side of the road is a small, cement building.

It is surrounded by a cyclone fence, meant to keep out the teen-age madcaps who get inside anyway and have littered the ground with bottles and defaced the building with graffiti. This was a radar tracking station, apparently a secret at the time--it doesn't appear in contemporary public descriptions of the NIKE batteries. From here, Our Side would have shot down Dr. Strangelovski, had the Soviet bombers ever appeared.

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