Valley Municipal Building (Van Nuys City Hall)
1932 – Peter K. Schabarum
14410 Sylvan Street – map
This post is dedicated to the LAPD officer who stopped me from taking pictures of this landmarked building, saying photography of the monument wasn’t allowed in the wake of 9/11. My arguments to the contrary proved futile. However, I did get a handful of shots before I was forced to stop. So, no, I didn’t get any views of the building’s southside.
At the very height of the Great Depression, Peter K. Schabarum, an architect who’d wind up working for the City Bureau of Buildings for twenty-five years, designed this Zigzag Moderne building using downtown’s City Hall as his model (Schabarum’s San Pedro City Hall, HCM 732, has also been described as a smaller version of the downtown landmark, but I can’t figure a resemblance). At the time of his death on March 23, 1950, Schabarum was residing at 13018 Chandler Boulevard in Van Nuys, not too far away from his most famous work.
Courtesy L.A. Public Library Photo Collection
Plans for the $275,000 City Hall branch to serve as a San Fernando Valley annex were completed by the end of 1931. (I’ve seen $400,000 pegged as the cost in at least two Los Angeles Times articles, but the $275,000 price-tag, including $110,000 in labor, is more often mentioned.)
Van Nuys City Hall contains more than 49,000 square feet of space within an eight-story tower on a two-story base. Originally, it housed the Bureau of Engineering and a hospital in one wing, with the Police Department and Municipal Court, complete with a jail, in the other wing. The Department of Building and Safety was on the third floor. Other municipal departments located here included fire, health, humane, prosecutor, clerk, civil service, engineering, and assessments.
Construction began in the spring of 1932 with the Herbert M. Baruch Corporation as the general contractor. On October 6 of that year, Mayor John Porter officially laid the cornerstone following a three-mile parade – complete with ox wagons, of course – down Van Nuys Boulevard. One of the many guests of honor at the ceremony was Tarzana’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. Van Nuys declared a holiday that afternoon, observing the town’s biggest celebration in its history.
Dedication Day was February 22, 1933, twenty-two years to the day of the founding of Van Nuys by William P. Whitsett and company (we just missed the 75th anniversary, it turns out). Festivities began at the Van Nuys Woman’s Club with a joint Kiwanis and Rotary Club luncheon with the latter’s president, Cliff D. Carpenter, presiding. 10,000 people turned out for the ceremonies at the new City Hall annex that afternoon. There was music by the L.A. Police Band and a bunch of drill exhibitions from groups that included the Canoga Park Girls’ Bugle Corps. LeRoy Johnson, Universal’s head of publicity, was emcee, and there were talks from the likes of George Sidney and Boris Karloff. (Seriously – you gotta love a town where Boris Karloff stops by to dedicate your public buildings.) Attorney Joseph Scott had kicked things off with a patriotic Washington Birthday address and he closed the day with another after a series of speeches courtesy of various officials including (former) KKK-member Mayor Porter.
Van Nuys City Hall got its seismic grade in 1996 to 1998 after the Northridge earthquake. Four years later, facing a threat of demolition, the landmark was the recipient of a major rehabilitation culminating in a re-dedication in 2005. In the meantime, the city moved many of its services into the $33 million Marvin Braude Constituent Center next door.
I really wish I had the opportunity to take a few more photos of the building. Sure, I could’ve gone back another day and snapped a few more, but I was just too pissed off (still am!). However, you can check out these awesome galleries, including some recent restoration shots and tremendous vintage construction views by Mr Raymond B. Knudsen, at the city’s official website. (The Knudsen shots are, apparently, pre-9/11.)
“Van Nuys To Get Branch City Hall” The Los Angeles Times; Dec 21, 1931, p. A8
“Valley City Hall Work Near Start” The Los Angeles Times; May 1, 1932, p. D1
“Van Nuys Area in Firm Trend” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 12, 1932, p. 19
“Valley All Set for City Hall Fete” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 2, 1932, p. C10
“City Hall Fete Today” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 6, 1932, p. 8
“Van Nuys has City Hall Fete” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 7, 1932, p. 13
“City Hall Rites at Van Nuys Set for 22nd Inst.” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 13, 1933, p. A5
“City Hall Fete Set for Today” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 22, 1933, p. 4
“New Van Nuys City Hall Dedicated by Notables” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 23, 1933, p. 6
“Peter Schabarum” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 24, 1950, p. B13
Up next: Baird House