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Can the Valley Be a City if It Doesn’t Have a City Hall?

The revolutionaries promoting the idea of the San Fernando Valley parting from its kin across the mountains to become a city of its own should start focusing on the details of just what this would mean.

All the high rhetoric about tax dollars, services and fairness may be good for the cause, but it tends to gloss over the difficult choices ahead.

Like, where would the new city council meet?

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Anyone who has witnessed the august leaders of Los Angeles in conclave assembled in Room 340 of City Hall downtown knows that venue could be difficult to match.

The present council’s working chamber is a large, somber hall with plentiful hardwood pews, illustrated coffer ceilings and a row of lusciously grained marble columns forming an arched arcade along the walls, which is handy for council members who need a quiet spot to confer confidentially with the lobbyists who constantly seek their attention.

The search for a space of equal grandeur, or one at least sufficient to balance the egos that will gather there, could reopen an old wound. Valley leaders have long been frustrated by the lack of a building to serve as a

civic focal point.

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It has been more than a decade since some Valley business heavy hitters decided to build a prestigious concert hall, and still not a brick has been laid.

In a gesture to the Valley last October, the current council assembled for a meeting in the Pierce College auditorium in Woodland Hills. It proved too small, forcing the hosts to rent extra chairs and set up a canopy outside.

But I just can’t see the leaders of the brand-new sixth-largest city in the United States gathering to debate our urban problems surrounded by rolling meadows, cows and sheep.

Better they should sit in state at the Chateau, that wedding-cake-white colonnaded replica of a 17th century French palace haughtily crowning Chalk Hill on Ventura Boulevard.

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Upon its completion in 1985, my colleague Al Martinez aptly described it as “that gothic, antebellum, neocalamitous . . . monstrosity.”

Of course, in jest, he intentionally left out the adjective “Enlightenment,” the period that gave its name to the architectural style the building actually mimics. This might be an inspiration for the council members, who all too often may find themselves short of enlightenment.

Judging by the many “For Lease” signs outside the Chateau, it has space available.

Another colleague proposed Universal CityWalk. We could expect the amusement park to go along, because this would be the natural conclusion to the whole idea of the place--a replica of a densely compact city, of the kind we aren’t, but thoroughly sanitized of seediness and fenced off against menace.

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Let’s not forget the Sherman Oaks Galleria. It’s central, has plenty of parking and would offer the ancillary public service of exposing thousands of Valley residents to participatory democracy, if they eavesdropped on council debates while searching for just the right baggy shorts and baseball cap.

When not in use, the Galleria’s council chamber could be converted to a roller rink, thus getting the most out of city facilities.

Speaking of economy, it should be noted that there are plenty of city-owned offices around the Valley.

It might seem logical to house the new government machine in that graceful New Deal-era tower in the Van Nuys civic complex, often called “the Valley City Hall.”

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It comes with all the amenities one associates with a seat of municipal government: a police headquarters, two court buildings, a fire station, a library and a pedestrian concourse complete with homeless people, a flock of hand-fed pigeons and two stands where you can buy a hot dog for a buck fifty.

Alas, this gem is nowhere near spacious enough to receive the parade of councilmanic personages and their retinues that will descend Cahuenga Pass should the Valley strike out on its own.

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Maybe the thing to do would be to condemn those tacky bail-bond outfits across the street and build a suitably prestigious City Hall to which the old building could be the annex.

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A contest could be held to choose the architect. I could see a Frank Gehry design with undulating, off-kilter walls rising from the neo-Babylonian facade of the firetruck bay from Station 39 across the street. It would be just the right mix to dazzle the world with the Valley’s reverence for tradition and daring sense of the future.

Of course, that will take time and money--a lot more of both than anyone will guess at first. In the meantime, the council would need a home.

I’d go for the Chateau.

We need all the enlightenment we can get.

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The Galleria’s council chamber could be converted to a roller rink.


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