Once a thriving working-class community, but hit hard by retail and job losses in the 1990s, Panorama City is poised for change. The 5.5-square-mile community was the first planned development in the San Fernando Valley, with schools, parks, shopping, a hospital and industry. But planners foresaw a population of 20,000 to 30,000 for the unincorporated community, not today's 74,000.
Steel magnate Henry J. Kaiser had a motto: "Find a need and fill it." After World War II, Kaiser and land developer Fritz B. Burns realized returning GIs would need homes and plenty of them. Kaiser Homes bought about 400 acres of the Panorama Ranch dairy farm with plans to build 3,000 two- and three-bedroom homes. With $500 down, a veteran could purchase a two-bedroom home for $10,000. For Kaiser, whose father went blind and daughter died due to improper medical care, healthcare was a priority. Central to the plan for Panorama City was the Permanente Hospital. It was renamed Kaiser Permanente in 1953.
A Broadway department store opened in 1955 in one of the first malls in the San Fernando Valley, followed by Robinson's, Montgomery Ward, Orbach's and more than 100 smaller stores. A Schlitz Brewery, a General Motors Chevrolet manufacturing plant and Lockheed in nearby Burbank provided jobs.
But even a working-class utopia can't last. Newer shopping malls, including the first indoor mall, Northridge Fashion Square, which opened in 1971, drew West Valley shoppers. Tastemaker Orbach's was shuttered later in the decade, and other stores followed suit. The community was also hard hit by the downturn in aerospace and the closing of the GM plant in the early 1990s.
With some of the most affordable homes in the Valley, the area attracts young first-time buyers, said Realtor Linda Carreon of Dilbeck Gibson GMC. Planned unit developments, or PUDs, a cross between a single-family home and a townhome, are sprouting up with price tags in the low $300,000 range.
The Van Nuys Metrolink station is nearby, as well as easy access to the 5 and 405 freeways.
The Panorama City Mall has been reborn as a bargain shopper's paradise. The former Broadway building is now a multilevel Wal-Mart. The old GM plant reopened in 1995 as the Plant, a discount shopping center anchored by a Home Depot.
Good news, bad news
The Urban Design Assistance Team, a volunteer group sponsored by the American Institute of Architects of the San Fernando Valley, has proposed a town center revitalization plan, which includes a landscaped traffic circle, artist lofts and a farmers' market at the Plaza de Valle, new senior housing, a convention center, a performing arts center and a hotel.
Architect and project leader Jerry Pollak said he selected Panorama City as a prototype because "it has the best potential" for renewal thanks to its central location, surrounded by residential areas. The apartment buildings have been a source of crime in the past, Pollak said, but the hope is that better education resources, including a manual arts workshop near the Plant and outreach programs for youth, will offer alternatives to drug abuse and crime. The L.A. Planning Commission has endorsed the plan as a guideline for development.
The area is in transition, said Realtor Jerry Humes. "There are pockets of really nice homes, but it seems ... torn in different directions," he said. "People are moving up and moving out. This is a starter community."
As of early April, there were eight homes on the market, from $335,000 for a 1,893-square-foot PUD home to $650,000 for a 2,400-square-foot house on a 24,900-square-foot lot. Thirteen condominiums and townhomes were listed from $139,500 for a 752-square-foot condominium to $299,000 for a 1,514-square-foot condominium. An original Kaiser home at 1,026 square feet on a 6,000-square-foot lot is on the market for $345,000.
Panorama City is at the intersection of Los Angeles Unified School Local Districts A, B and C. Three elementary schools serve the area with scores from 668 to 697 on the 2003 Academic Performance Index. Most middle-school students attend either Sepulveda Middle School in North Hills, which scored 564, or Byrd Middle School, 596. High school students go to Francis Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, which scored 518; James Monroe High in North Hills, 561; or Van Nuys High, 613. LAUSD is building a new high school in the community.
Single-family detached resales:
*Year to date.
Sources: DataQuick Information Systems, "The San Fernando Valley, America's Suburb" by Kevin Roderick, "San Fernando Valley" by Charles A. Bearchell and Larry D. Fried, Dilbeck Gibson GMC, Paramount Rodeo Realty, api.cde.ca.gov, www.ziprealty .com, Claritas, www.realestate.com.