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Where Is the Valley of Yesteryear? Here’s a Hint

The mystery map of the San Fernando Valley provides a few clues.

When Larry Applebaum first unfurled the painted canvas, from east to west, he matter-of-factly noted Glendale and Burbank, Disney Studios and Warner Bros. “When I saw Republic Studios, well, I didn’t know what Republic Studios was.” Applebaum just knew then that the painting was old.

Arthur Sweet, who at 75 is nearly twice Applebaum’s age, saw another clue:

ROSCOE

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(SUN VALLEY)

So this was when Sun Valley was shedding its old identity, uncomfortable that roscoe was synonymous slang for handgun.

“The fellow that owned Roscoe Hardware,” Sweet recalls, “didn’t want to change.”

Folks who study this 22-by-6-foot aerial panorama of the San Fernando Valley roughly a half-century after it was painted find themselves charmed down memory lane. And some may even get misty-eyed over, perhaps, the “McKinley Home for Boys.” And some of the more obscure references puzzle even longtime residents.

“I feel like a tour guide at the Louvre,” jokes Ivy Weiss, administrative director of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Several visitors have dropped by the chamber’s offices to gaze and gawk at the Valley of yesteryear since my second favorite Los Angeles newspaper first reported of its discovery two weeks ago.

Now the mural is mounted and displayed in the meeting room of the chamber’s new offices, located in the NoHo Arts District at Magnolia Boulevard and Tujunga Avenue. The public, chamber officials say, is welcome.

Yet while many Valley old-timers and history buffs have become aware of the painting, much of the mystery remains.

Who was the artist? Who commissioned the work? When was it painted? And why?

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Nobody knows. The landmarks--and the lack thereof--seem to place the map to, oh, 1947, give or take a year.

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This was the Valley before the freeways came and the postwar housing boom. The map shows the vast grid of roads, but few streets are identified. “Route 101 to San Francisco” is noted, as is “Route 99 to Bakersfield.” The “P.E.R.Y” is a reference to the Pacific Electric Rail Yard.

Glendale and Burbank are fairly well developed and Hansen Dam and Sepulveda Dam are shown. Farmland separates North Hollywood from Van Nuys and Sepulveda (now North Hills). The map depicts DC-3s parked on the tarmac at Lockheed Airport (now Burbank Airport). The tiny orange passenger train shown on the “S.P. Railway,” Sweet figures, was probably the old Daylight Limited to San Francisco.

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The upper right side of the canvas marks the distant towns of Sunland, Tujunga, Verdugo City and La Crescenta (misspelled “La Cresenta”). The left half of the canvas shows the West Valley, with the old towns of Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Canoga Park and Chatsworth separated by walnut orchards and “Truck Farming and Citrus.”

This map is something of an unexpected time capsule. In October the chamber was moving out of its old quarters on Lankershim Boulevard when Applebaum, the group’s president-elect, noticed what appeared to be a dusty, tightly rolled banner while cleaning out a storeroom. When it was unfurled, they realized they had a forgotten treasure of regional history.

“As it got longer, our eyes got bigger,” Weiss says. “And it was in very pristine condition.”

Fine art it isn’t, but something about the blue skies and purple mountains makes Weiss think of the art of Maxfield Parrish. “The purple mountains majesty,” she grins, “above the fruited plain.”

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Sweet, a developer and chamber director, was so enamored he donated $2,200 to have it mounted for display. “I thought, ‘This thing is priceless.’ ”

Sweet pointed out the farmland where he bought into an early tract in 1948. But some of the map’s references puzzled him, such as “Amestoy Rancho.” “That’s a new one to me,” he says. (The Amestoy family, I would later learn, once owned the property that is now the site of Los Encinos Historic Monument.)

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It seems fitting that the mystery map would be discovered at a time when the Valley seems to be at a new crossroads in history. Cartography, after all, has become a favorite pastime of Valley activists bent on drawing new boundaries for envisioned cities, boroughs, school districts and transit agencies. Secessionists will be pleased that the map’s southern border is Mulholland Drive.

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And if such a map were to be made now, it would depict the coming arrival of the Universal City and NoHo Metro Rail stations, much as this old map noted the future site of “L.A. Valley Junior College.”

“I felt this was really indicative of what the Valley was when North Hollywood was in its glory. And now we’re in the process of revitalizing the area.”

Applebaum finds himself struck by the lessons the past has to offer. At 38, he knows of the old red cars only from his parents’ stories. The Valley of 50 years ago, he says ruefully, had the east-west mass transit rail it could use now.

“People like to feel connected to the past,” Applebaum says. For his generation, he adds: “This is history we never saw.”

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Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times’ Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311, or via e-mail at scott.harris@latimes.com Please include a phone number.


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