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CANOGA PARK : Group Seeking to Redefine the City's Image

March 26, 1994|JILL LEOVY

It takes some imagination to see Canoga Park as Bill Brady sees it.

Brady, an auto repairman, is chairman of Rebuild Canoga Park, a group that aims to channel earthquake aid money into creating a new image for the area. His vision for Canoga Park is of a popular pedestrian shopping mall and night hot spot complete with live theater.

"We need to bring people back to small towns--get them out of downtown and CityWalk," Brady said. "We need to take these small towns back and and use them as they were intended to be used."

Rebuild Canoga Park drew about 30 people at its first meeting earlier this month, and has already won the backing of the Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick and Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills).

A second meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 7 in the Canoga Park Community Center, 7248 Owensmouth Ave.

Despite this support though, Brady's plan for redevelopment of the area is perched on pillars of optimism miles high.

After all, in recent years, Canoga Park has been anything but a desirable ZIP code.

The downward slide of the neighborhood has been underscored by a tendency for residents on its fringes to secede into other neighborhoods. Such a secession created West Hills a few years ago, and the anti-Canoga Park mood lingers to this day. In recent weeks, another residents' group at the Winnetka/Canoga Park border, eschewed either designation, and opted to try to become part of Woodland Hills instead.

Then, there is the damage left by January's big quake.

Nearly every building in Canoga Park's quaint antique district on Sherman Way was rendered useless by the earthquake. Only a few have resumed operations. The result has been a devastating blow to an area with few other anchor businesses to attract visitors.

But Brady has no problem looking past the graffiti, the run-down apartments, and most recently, the quake-shattered storefronts and rubble.

"Imagine," he wrote in a letter to local property owners earlier this month, "Sherman Way being lined with two- or three-storied California-Spanish style structures with arched facades, the lower level a covered arcade, the second level offering patios, all linked by bridges and walkways that would lead to expanded city car parks."

Brady wants to focus on a two-block stretch of Sherman Way between Jordan and Alabama avenues. His plan is to meet with individual business owners and win their cooperation, apply for grants and foundation money and seek pro bono contracts with local architects to put the group's vision for the neighborhood on paper.

The odds may not be favorable, but there is no time like the present, Brady argues.

"This is the most receptive atmosphere for redevelopment we could have because of earthquake," he said.

And at least for now, many Canoga Park merchants seem at least willing to see what comes of the effort.

"It would be wonderful," said antique dealer Stan Goldman, who has been working to try to keep the antique merchants together while their buildings are being repaired. "It would be a wonderful thing to do if they can. But it takes a lot of money and a lot of planning. I don't know if I'd live to see it."

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