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New Studio City mural salutes art of commerce

A carwash owner commissions piece depicting commercial 'landmarks' and city's history.

December 12, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It's not like the San Fernando Valley has no history.

Calabasas has the 1844 Leonis Adobe. Mission Hills boasts the San Fernando Mission, circa 1797. North Hollywood is home to Campo de Cahuenga, where a treaty signing in 1847 ended California's hostilities in the Mexican-American War. Chatsworth has a clapboard pioneer church built in 1903.

And now the "Great Wall of Studio City" pays tribute to that community's past.

A 75-foot-long mural depicting "many of the historical institutions of Studio City" was unveiled Tuesday next to Ventura Boulevard.

Oil Can Harry's dance club is included, of course. Along with La Ve Lee jazz club, Allen Realty, Du-Par's restaurant, Sportsmen's Lodge, the Wine Bistro, the local bowling alley, Studio City Animal Hospital and a bunch of other places.

The Studio City Hand Car Wash in the 11500 block of the boulevard is included, naturally. That's where the cement block wall holding the 7-foot-high mural sits. And that's where the community's most celebrated cultural clash once occurred.

In 1999, carwash owner Ben Forat erected a giant fiberglass hand holding a sponge topped by a replica of a hot-pink Corvette out front. The eye-catching, 26-foot-tall advertisement was immediately denounced as tacky by Studio City residents and as illegal by Los Angeles officials.

After losing a court battle, Forat tossed in the sponge and agreed to lower the hand and move it farther from the street.

The new mural is a few steps away from the shorter Corvette-clutching hand. And this time, Forat was promising that his latest art installation is light-years away the contentiousness of his first.

"I don't know what to say -- I like to consider myself someone who likes art," he told a small group of friends and local business operators who gathered to watch as a long strip of butcher paper was pulled from the face of the mural.

"I'm really flattered and really proud to be a part of history."

He paid for the mural, although he declined to disclose the fee earned by 32-year-old Sylmar artist Ernesto Cinzano. His carwash is the most prominent "landmark" depicted on it.

Among those who came to watch the unveiling was Polly Ward, a longtime leader of the Studio City Residents Assn.

Eight years ago she was one of those who fought Forat over the hand-and-Corvette sign.

"Benny and I have a history, " Ward acknowledged. "I said make it shorter and move it back and he said 'no.' " But "we're buddies now."

Ward talked of some of Studio City's older history -- like when the place was a center for "swing clubs" when she became active in community affairs in 1968. "Not clubs for dancing, but for swingers," she explained. Sex clubs.

Ward said she was unaware whether proper city permission was obtained before this latest carwash art project was installed. The city requires permits for murals.

"I didn't check," she confessed. "Those old days are gone. I'm mellow these days."

Jack McGrath, a Studio City publicist who represents Forat and promoted the mural idea, said the carwash is ready for another fight if one bubbles up over city permit issues.

He suggested the painting could prompt the creation of others in Studio City in what could become a colorful mural war.

And there's no shortage of sites to include in future wall paintings. Although the community's 77-year-old Little Brown Church is depicted on Forat's mural, missing are places such as Art's Deli, a local fixture for 50 years, pioneering Valley subdivider J.B. Lankershim's grave and monument and architect Rudolf Schindler's 1948 Laurelwood Apartments.

Mort Allen, whose real estate office has been there 45 years, pulled up to the ceremony in a red Thunderbird convertible. Its license plate read "MR MORT" and its frame bore the words, "preserve quaint Studio City."

Allen was talking about his role in this summer's $50-million sale of the Sportsmen's Lodge. Dating from about 1946, the restaurant and banquet complex best known for its meandering ponds is scheduled for redevelopment into a high-end hotel and retail boutique complex, Allen said.

A Studio City native, Allen, 68, said local properties, such as Ventura Boulevard's onetime Cinnamon Cinder, have unrivaled histories of their own.

Called the Grace Hayes Lodge after being built in the 1930s, it was where fan dancer Sally Rand performed. It was known as Larry Potter's Supper Club in the '40s when legendary percussionist Buddy Rich honed his act there.

By the 1960s it had morphed into the Cinnamon Cinder teenage dance club that DJ Bob Eubanks made nationally famous when he brought the Beatles to Los Angeles for the first time and then staged a raucous news conference there. More recently, it's been the Platinum club.

Studio City is the perfect place for historic murals that focus on commerce rather than old adobes and battlefield markers, said one of those who studied Cinzano's mural after the unveiling.

"This is an area of commercials and of commercial businesses," said Courtney Ellis, a financial advisor who lived eight years in Studio City before moving to Pasadena.

"This is how I remember Studio City. This is beautiful."

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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