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A DAY IN

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In Praise of Pacoima

October 15, 2006|Jessica Gelt

After World War II, Pacoima was one neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley where African Americans were permitted to buy real estate. By 1960, 90% of the Valley's blacks called it home. Many lived in the Joe Louis tract, modest dwellings that still line up in neat rows between Glenoaks and Herrick. Pacoima has been ethnically diverse since the late 1880s, when its farms produced olives, peaches and oranges and attracted Asian and Latino workers. "The Fruits of Our Dreams," a mural celebrating Pacoima's past and rock star/homegrown hero Ritchie Valens, is on an exterior wall of Williams Furniture on San Fernando.

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SHOP, DROP

Baubles and the Barrio

For a dose of Olvera Street minus the tourist hordes, try Lucy's Artesanias Tipicas Mexicanas. "When I needed a wooden hand blender for Mexican hot chocolate and I couldn't find it, I went to Lucy's," says Becky Villasenor, formerly of Pacoima Partners, a nonprofit that's revitalizing the commercial corridor. 13443 Van Nuys Blvd., (818) 899-5839 . . . Owner Horacio Mirazo calls 20-year-old Esther's Panaderia a "barrio bakery." Do as hungry locals do: grab a tray and some tongs and load up with cookies, cakes and delectable sugar-dusted empanadas filled with manzana and calabaza. 13314 1/2 Van Nuys Blvd., (818) 896-0281.

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35:

The estimated percentage drop in crime in the past three years

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FOOD, DRINK

Tortilla Take-off

At Lenchita's, an institution since 1977, you can watch cooks dip their fingers into water before they roll, slap and fry chunks of cornmeal dough for your meal. The resulting tortillas are fresh and chewy, and the two kinds of homemade salsa are mouth-burning good. 13612 Van Nuys Blvd., (818) 899-2623 . . . Dining doesn't get more oddly entertaining than at Rocky's V, the watering hole at tiny Whiteman Airport, where private Cessnas and TV news choppers touch down and take off regularly from the tarmac just beyond the outdoor patio. Inside, there are framed pictures of aircraft from as far back as the '40s, and regulars who have passed away are immortalized under a plaque that says "Goners." Co-owner Marisa Iadevaia is quick to point out that the "goners" did not go in plane crashes. On the menu: juicy burgers, hot chicken wings, taquitos and an array of icy draft beers. 12653 Osborne St., (818) 896-8828.

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ONE THING TO DO

Sunday Is for the Soul

Attend a service at New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, where Grammy-winning gospel singer Andrae Crouch is pastor and the sanctuary soars with soulful music from the Praise Team choir and the enthusiastic congregation. Services start on Sundays at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; they end when the singing stops. 13333 Vaughn St., (818) 361-1087.

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Literary Landmark: The childhood home of Mary Helen Ponce was at 13011 Hoyt St. In "Hoyt Street: Memories of a Chicana Childhood," she recalls 1940s Pacoima: "Mejicanos in our town took pride in their homes and, when money allowed, repaired a dilapidated roof or painted their casitas a bright color. They took special pride in having a yard full of plants and flowers, and these grew well in the rich California soil."

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