You can tell at a glance while driving by that the former home of the Los Angeles Chiropractic College is one of the cheeriest places in Glendale.
It's the fortress-like brick building on East Broadway with the green awning stretching toward the street across a wide, semicircular driveway on which two or three shiny European sedans are usually parked.
The individual bricks may be worn from age, but everything else is in tiptop shape. The lawns are clipped and verdant. The window trim is a freshly painted brown. The driveway has that just-swept look. You expect a uniformed doorman to step forward when a car drives up.
Recently, a large yellow ribbon has appeared on a palm tree out front, a haunting reflection that those inside are living in the here and now. But, first, the small cluster of buildings has an amusing history that somehow seems an inevitable prelude to what is happening there today.
It was built in the 1920s as the laboratory of Dr. Henry R. Harrower, an endocrinologist who scandalized the medical world with his marketing of Sani-tate, a potion offered as a stimulus for the endocrine glands, which regulate growth and sexual cycles.
Dr. Harrower's rapid expansion moved the Evening News to comment in an outburst of civic optimism that proved increasingly unfounded as the years went by: "What the Mayo Clinic has done for Rochester, so may this clinic do for Glendale."
The Chiropractic College bought the complex in 1949 and stayed until the early 1980s, when it packed off to Whittier, leaving the offbeat property to go to seed.
That was its condition when Integrated Systems Group bought it in 1983. The current owner, which markets large computer systems, seeks no publicity, as evidenced by the absence of any sign, logo or identification outside except the street number, "920," on the end of the awning.
In this story, the spotlight is on one of its humblest employees. Soft-spoken, 39-year-old David Brandley describes himself as the company gofer. He is the one responsible for the cheery look of the old Harrower Lab today.
"I'm the gardener, the decorator, the painter, the part-time deliveryman, just whatever needs to be done," he said.
His business card identifies him as Director of Aesthetics.
"We didn't want to put like, you know, 'flunky,' " he said.
Brandley has found a role for himself too in the national crisis. He's sending his good cheer to the men overseas.
A little more than a month ago, Brandley saw an article in The Times giving an address to write to "any serviceman" in the Middle East. He felt compassion for the troops in Saudi Arabia, remembering painfully that during his own Air Force enlistment many would come to mail call but few would receive letters.
"Being here, with the street crime and everything, it's just a place," he said of home. "But when you're away from it, it becomes--we call it the Big BX in the Sky."
In a conversation with administrative assistant Cheri Martin, the two resolved to write a letter every day.
Tuesday's read like this: "Hi! Just a quick note to let you know our hearts are with you. We appreciate your good work and sacrifices on our behalf. Our prayers are with you, and please come home safely soon."
Others added notes, such as: "Good luck to you! God bless you. Love you, Rubi Prado."
About two weeks ago, the postman surprised them with a letter from the Middle East.
"There isn't much to do here but write letters, play cards and read," wrote Brandon Braun, a Marine from Wayne, Mich. "Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well, maybe I'll get lucky and make it out of here by Xmas. P.S. I'd like to hear a little about you."
They immediately wrote back.
Four days later, a letter came from Marine Kenneth D. Salazar, a noncommissioned officer who had shipped out from Kaneohe (kan-ee-o-hay) Bay, Hawaii.
Though he couldn't say where he was stationed, Salazar volunteered that, "This isn't a training-opp. Everyone has worked with ice-cold professionalism even despite the infernoish heat."
Then he touched their hearts:
"It's the support of fellow Americans like yourselves that keeps our spirits flying high. I'm proud to be an American, always have been, but I'm all the more proud when concerned people like you take time out to write and tell me your prayers are with all of us."
He promised to answer all their letters, the day he received them. Since then, no new letters have arrived, and they haven't yet heard back from their two Marines.
"Now, we've found ourselves looking forward, rather than looking at the bills and the accounts receivables, we're looking for the letters from the servicemen," Brandley said.
The mailman brought a large bundle Tuesday. Brandley and Martin divided it and thumbed through.
"Nope, not today," he said.
"It's like, 'What's wrong? Where are they?' " Martin said.
It may be like that for the duration.
On Tuesday's letter, Martin signed: "Don't forget to drink your 6 gallons of water a day, Love, Mom."
It could be a message from Rochester before the Great War.