Sunday, January 4, 2009

No. 202 - Valley Municipal Building (Van Nuys City Hall)

Valley Municipal Building

Valley Municipal Building (Van Nuys City Hall)
1932 – Peter K. Schabarum
14410 Sylvan Street – map
Declared: 10/18/78

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.


Valley Municipal Building

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.

Valley Municipal Building
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.)

Valley Municipal Building

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.

Valley Municipal Building

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.

Valley Municipal Building

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.)

Valley Municipal Building


“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


Anonymous said...

Mr. Bariscale I'm beginning to think you are visiting these locations wearing a trench coat and looking around with shifty eyes from your many post with security harassing you. hehe.

Great postings none the less! :)

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Victor. So you're saying I should leave the dynamite at home? Happy New Year.

Nathan said...

LAPD, huh? That sounds pretty official-like. (Did you tell him that if you can’t get photos of sexy moderne buildings, the terrorists have won?) Though whatever images you might’ve been capturing, you terrorist you, if that is your evil design, I recommend typing in the address on (Use the birdseye feature.) Or, tell the cop your camera is empty, and the real photographer is right behind him. There! The lady with the umbrella! And it’s not even raining!!!

Nevertheless, when confronted with less gun-toting security, you might want to cite them (loudly and officiously) United States Title Code:

TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 120
§ 120. Scope of exclusive rights in architectural works
(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted. — The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

…which is also pretty official-like. And of course there’s the nifty PDF here . I should also like to point out that this is pretty funny.

(And for the sake of the record, Mayor Porter was “former” Klan, roughly analogous to our Mayor Villaraigosa as “former” MEChA.)

All that said, I love this durn’d building. Gotta love that whole late-70s learning-to-appreciate the-Deco-thing.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Nathan, I've corrected the KKK reference. Apologies to "former" Mayor Porter. Thanks for the Flickr link, it was inspiring. I've had my run-ins with homeowners and security guards, but this was this first time I was up against a true officer of the Law, or what he believed was the Law. He was a nice man whose Raison d'etre was apparently getting all up in Floyd B. Bariscale's business. And how did you know I was dressed as a lady carrying an umbrella?

Anonymous said...

I had that happen to me at the Pasadena Federal building. I was photographing a bed of cactus.

Anonymous said...

While YOU know you're not a terrorist, the cop who asked you to stop taking photographs of a prominent government building doesn't know that at all.

The LAPD has been trained to watch for that type of activity to prevent a terrorist act. The cop was just doing his job.

With that said, I'm so glad I found your blog. What a wonderful resource...even without the photo of the south side

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

That's my point, Anonymous. While I appreciate the LAPD and the officer doing his job, preventing people taking pictures on public property is simply not part of his job. If there were an ordinance or any ruling not allowing it, that's one thing, but it's my - and your - right. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's his job to make sure I'm allowed that right. That said, thanks for the compliment regarding the blog. I'm glad you found it, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that a cop stopped you, ILLEGALLY, from taking a photo from a public sidewalk and of a public building.

There is a YouTube video of another similar cop who insists,ILLEGALLY, that a videographer cannot film the BART train station in the SF Bay Area. That cop is under scrutiny by higher authority.

Finally, I just spoke with a man who was stopped in the San Francisco Bay Area for riding his bicycle without a light at night. Fine. Thats not an issue. WHAT was the issue? He told me that the female cop demanded a "pat down" and handled his groin. Yep. ILLEGAL. Traffic stops by police do not include a "pat down."

The "land of the free" is gone. We now live in a police state. Think not? Watch the news. Watch the daily shootings by police in which the victim nearly always dies. Then watch the county District Attorney office routinely, and quietly, "clear," the shooter cop.

Take note of the police equipment. Black military uniforms and helmets. Military assault rifles for the smallest confrontations. Bullet proof vests. Military style helicopters. Cameras at all intersections. Coming soon: unmanned surveillance police drones to watch you from the sky.

And the government pretends that its all within the lawful framework of the US Constitution.

FELONY CHARGES FOR COPS WHO USE THEIR CLUBS, MACE, PEPPER SPRAY, OR TASERS EXCEPT IN THEIR OWN SELF DEFENSE? Why? Because cops routinely use those WEAPONS upon citizens and routinely get away with it.

Time for the public to sit up and take notice.

A badge and a gun do NOT make an honest person. A badge and a gun do NOT make a person trustworthy. A badge and a gun do NOT stop the cops from engaging in lies to protect themselves or their cop co-workers.

Oh, but what about taking a photo ? Have a lawyer do some research for you. The cop was ILLEGAL.