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In Search of Main Street : The arteries that form the heart of Valley communities are not always easy to recognize. But they're out there...

September 03, 1993|JEFF PRUGH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Main Street, where have you gone?

A journalist turns his lonely eyes to you--wherever you are.

Yes, we know you're still on life-sup port near the heart of downtown Los Angeles--and that you live in the hearts of anyone who ever cast a wistful gaze at a Norman Rockwell etching.

But when it comes to searching for you out here in the suburbs, it's about all we can do to keep from putting out an all-points bulletin or sending out tracking dogs.

We suspect you've pretty much gone into hiding--but where?

East side, west side, all around the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, we can find only one Main Street.

But that Main Street--in the city of Burbank--happens to be an impostor. It's not even Burbank's "main" street. Maybe it was named for a water main.

So now, we've no other choice but to look for "main" streets named something else--streets that exude a community's heart, if not also its soul.

Many of the San Fernando Valley's so-called "main" streets weren't necessarily planned that way--or, as Scott Spooner, president-elect of Northridge's Chamber of Commerce, puts it, "It all depended on which developer got there first."

Actually, very few communities boast streets that cry out "Main Street" in the classic, Rockwellian sense. Calabasas' Old Calabasas Road fits the mold, as do Granada Hills' Chatsworth Street and Glendale's Brand Boulevard.

Some communities have at least two "main" streets--one etched deep in a community's history, another forged out of its economic mainstream, or still another where teens and young adults go cruisin'. Examples: North Hollywood and Burbank.

Some have "main" streets that intersect--Woodland Hills and Reseda, among others.

Other communities are so new--or have "main" streets that look and feel like so many other busy streets--that even the old-timers have to scratch their heads and weigh their words before they tell you where they think their "main" street is.

And still others--notably Westlake Village--have "main" streets so elusive that you need someone not just to give you a map but to draw you a picture.

Then, too, one can argue that freeways are actually these valleys' "main" streets--or that major thoroughfares such as Ventura and Van Nuys and Roscoe boulevards, or Sherman Way, or Soledad Canyon Road, are "main" streets because they link communities.

As Bobbette Fleschler, president of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society, points out, "Sherman Way was designed as the east-west thoroughfare for the Valley, along the lines of the Champs Elysees in Paris."

Ultimately, these "main" streets we tour today--as with judging art or rating food--are defined as such by the eyes and taste of the beholder.

"If I interpret a 'main' street correctly," Jim Mahfet, executive vice president of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, says, "it's not just one that's a busy thoroughfare but one that's linked closely to a community's identity."

For her part, Kathy Krol, manager of Granada Hills' Chamber of Commerce, makes a case for her community's Chatsworth Street, with its shopping, trees and sidewalks.

"If you can't walk it, it's not a main street," she says. "And I mean walk it safely ."

East Valley

BURBANK (San Fernando Boulevard): A stranger might think the main street is Olive Avenue, which sweeps from the Verdugo Mountains to the Media District. But historians say it's San Fernando Boulevard, which crosses Olive in the heart of town. The boulevard became a pedestrian mall in the late '60s, then reopened in 1990 to vehicular traffic (now interrupted by the Media City Center shopping mall). "It's the route the early Californians took from the San Gabriel Mission to the San Fernando Mission," says Ellen Dibble of the Burbank Historical Society.

GLENDALE (Brand Boulevard): With its sidewalk trees, office towers and a backdrop of the Verdugo Mountains, Brand Boulevard offers a spectacular main street. But Brand also bears recessionary scars--abandoned stores and cinemas--and a reputation for after-dark malaise. Help may come in early 1994 with the rebirth of the Alex Theatre as a performing arts center. For now, many Glendalians find main street at the Glendale Galleria shopping mall, at the Montrose Shopping Park on Honolulu Avenue (a slice of "Mayberry RFD" with a view of downtown L. A.'s skyscrapers) or, at night, in Pasadena's Old Town.

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