Big Pines Ski Club * The Grateful Dead * Geology * MacLaren Hall * Odyssey Hill House/Granada Hills * San Fernando Mission * San Fernando Valley * Santa Clarita Valley * San Luis Obispo * San Luis Obispo Mission * Source Family * Southern CA Drive-ins * 1971 Sylmar Earthquake * 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake * 1994 Northridge Earthquake *
Kirst's CA History Site: The San Fernando Valley

Photo from
The Van Nuys Drive-in...full of memories for Valley kids who have now grown up.

The San Fernando Valley is located in Los Angeles County, in southern CA. It is a valley surrounded on all four sides by mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains rim the south end of the Valley, the San Gabriel Mountains rise to the east, the Santa Susanna Mountains separate the San Fernando Valley from the Santa Clarita Valley to the north, and the Simi Hills lie to the west. The Valley has an interesting history that includes an ancient sea floor, Spanish missions, Mexican revolutions, geologic upheavals, movie stars, rocket science, and more. The Valley has sustained serious damage and deaths in the 1971 Sylmar Quake and later in the 1994 Northridge Quake. The area is seismically active and is also prone to floods as most low-lying valley floors are. The area is known to reach temperatures of over 100 degrees during summer months, and most homes in the Valley have air conditioning, which is considered a necessity, much as heaters are necessary in colder climates. In the mid-1900's, the area went through a significant population growth that has changed the landscape forever, yet remnants of the Wild West days of the Valley still remain.

The waterfall at Balboa and the Old Road in the north end of the San Fernando Valley. My father and I used to climb up the side of this waterfall in the 1960's. This waterfall is a significant part of the Valley's history. The Valley became part of Los Angeles County to be able to use the water from the Owens Aqueduct system, which includes this waterfall. And without this water, the Valley could not exist as it does today. (Photo: Kirsten Anderberg Sept. 2008)

"No Cruising" sign in Reseda, CA - 2008. This really embodies the Southland quite well. I remember cruising Van Nuys Blvd. on Wednesday nights with my sister and school friends in the 1970's...(Photo: K. Anderberg)

Ventura Blvd. in Studio City (Photo: Kirsten Anderberg Jan. 2008)

I actually have some deep sentimentality for the Valley. Parts of the Valley are extremely charming. On a nice spring day, under an umbrella on a patio by the pool, a breeze blowing lightly by, rustling the oak can be beautiful. The heat can even feel good at times. The Santa Ana winds can feel strangely magical, and each Valley enclave has a different feel to it. For example, Shadow Hills is very different than Studio City.

Chatsworth Park, Chatsworth, CA (Photo: K. Anderberg, Sept. 2008)

Chatsworth has a lot of equestrian paths for its residents. It also has a fabulous park full of rocks and amazing oak trees. I climbed on rocks in Chatsworth Park as a kid. Sunland also has a large equestrian population. Panorama City, Van Nuys, and Sepulveda are full of low income apartments and Granada Hills has mostly one story ranch houses with pools in their backyards and the backyards are separated by low block cement walls. I remember almost everyone I knew had a private pool in their backyard when we lived in Granada Hills. There are some interesting houses in Sunland/Sun Valley/Shadow Hills, they are made of rocks that were left after a flood, and are cool in summer, which is nice. The Valley has an illustrious and even mysterious past. It is a place that has experienced a rapid and exponential population growth in the last 50 years.

The San Fernando Mission (Photo taken by K. Anderberg, 2008)

The San Fernando Mission, the 17th mission in the CA series, is an interesting historic site. It houses relics and archives of an age gone by. Read more about the mission here.

The East San Fernando Valley, from Odyssey Hill, 2008 (Photo: K. Anderberg, 2008)

The East San Fernando Valley, from Odyssey Hill, 1976 (Photo archives of K. Anderberg)

San Fernando Valley from Topanga Canyon (Photo: K. Anderberg, Oct. 2008)

I spent many of my childhood and teen years growing up in the San Fernando Valley. I have lived in many different cities within the Valley and Los Angeles, including Granada Hills, Mission Hills, Canoga Park, Reseda, Sepulveda, Panorama City, Tarzana, Tujunga, North Hollywood, Sylmar, Sunland, Sun Valley, Shadow Hills, Venice, Van Nuys, Northridge, Newhall...It reads like a Frank Zappa song. "Word just in to the KTTV news service undeniably links this mountain and his wife to drug abuse and payoffs as part of a San Joaquin Valley smut ring. However, we can assure parents in the Southern California area that a recent narcotic crackdown in Torrence, Santa Monica, Tujunga, Sunland, San Fernando, Pacoima, Sylmar, Newhall, Canoga Park, Palmdale, Glendale, Irwindale, Rolling Hills, Granada Hills, Shadow Hills...will provide the secret evidence the Palmdale Grand Jury has needed to seek a criminal indictement and pave the way for stiffer legislation, increased federal aid, and avert a crippling strike of bartenders and veterinarians throughout the inland empire ..." - Frank Zappa from his song, "Billy, the Mountain"

A photo of the San Fernando Valley, looking south down the 405 Freeway from Granada Hills. (Photo: Kirsten Anderberg, 2008)

This picture is of the playgrounds we used to play on as kids in the 1960's and 1970's, before the movies started at drive-ins in the Valley. These playgrounds were located at the base of the large movie screens. This picture, and others, of drive-in culture can be found at There is also an interesting site on Southern CA drive-ins at

There were a lot of drive-in movie theaters in the Valley in the 1960's-1970's. In the 1960's and 70's, we would load the station wagon full of kids, often in their pajamas, and we would go to the drive-in. There were little playgrounds at the base of the big screens where kids could play as the cars waited for dusk to turn to dark for the movie to begin. There were individual speakers that you attached to your car window. Sometime we parked the station wagon backwards so the kids could lie down and watch the movie out the back. Sometimes we would also sit on a blanket on the hood of the car, leaning against the windshield watching the movies. During the 1970's, many preferred drive-ins as they could smoke herbs while they watched movies in their cars. (Remember, this was before the VCR-DVD in your home technology was available.) Also in high school, we used to sneak people in by covering them with blankets, etc in the back of the car, to pay less...In the warm and temperate climate of the Valley, drive-ins were practical. I am actually not sure why drive-ins have failed and gone out of business. I thought they would have lasted forever in Southern CA. In the early 1960's, we went to drive-ins in the Saugus area too, but by the mid-late 1960's and 1970's, the main drive-in theaters we were going to were in the Valley. The drive-in we went to most often was the Van Nuys Drive-in at 15040 Roscoe in Van Nuys. It is reported that drive-in held about 1000 cars, and it was demolished in 1998. We also used to go to the Sepulveda Drive-in all the time. It was located on Erwin Street in Van Nuys. It was demolished in 1992 and held 1500 cars. We also frequented the Reseda Drive-in in Reseda. That drive-in held 740 cars and was demolished in 1985. We also went to the Winnetka Drive-in a lot, at 20201 Prairie St. in Chatsworth. That drive-in held 2239 cars and closed in 1996.

I am very happy that I took my son to the Van Nuys Drive-in before it was demolished, not knowing it would be gone in so few years later. He was about 10 years old. I am glad he experienced a Valley drive-in first hand before they became history! My sister Jan and I snuck into the Van Nuys Drive-in with lawn chairs and a blanket (without a car!) and we just sat in the back on our chairs until they kicked us out. But before they kicked us out, we saw a bizarre movie put out by the Manson Family as some sort of promotional trailer. It was crazy...It was pulled a few days later when people figured out what was playing there! But the movie was so totally bizarre that I still remember it vividly. I would love to hear from anyone else who saw that movie there!

This is a view of the hills below the Odyssey Restaurant in the 1970's...looking west, before the condos took over. My family had a house on top of the Odyssey Hill and this is a photo from our backyard. (Photo: Archives of Kirsten Anderberg)

Some "Valley" History:
* "The last Spanish and the first American owners of the San Fernando Valley...(E.F.)DeCelis once owned the whole valley. He and Andres Pico sold it for an average price of $1.50 an acre to (I.N.)Van Nuys, (I.)Lankershim, and Charles Maclay in the late (18)60's and early (18)70's." (La Reina: Los Angeles in Three Centuries, Laurance L. Hill, 1929, p.88).

* "In 1911, the Pacific Electric built out through the Cahuenga Pass to the San Fernando Valley." (Ibid., p.104).

Foothill Blvd., heading north, in Sylmar (Photo: K. Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

I remember Kiddy Land, which I believe was on Sepulveda.

Sepulveda and Rinaldi, looking south, Mission Hills, CA - Jan., 2008
(Photo: K. Anderberg)

I remember the reindeer and Santa that used to come every year to Panorama City. I remember Busch Gardens and their rides..., I grew up on Thrifty Drug Store's 10 cent ice cream cones, I remember Lemon Tree Bizarre, across from the Mission. My old high school, Alemany, has now bulldozed the old campus site on Rinaldi, but they are now in the old seminary area of the San Fernando Mission up the road. In my teens, we spent a lot of time in local parks, such as Petit Park, swinging and playing volleyball. We lived off of In and Out Burgers, most often from the one in San Fernando, right off of Rinaldi. I used to work in the old KMart in San Fernando on Rinaldi, and I also worked at Rinaldi Convalescent as a teen. I worked as a car hop at the Bob's Big Boy on Sepulveda just off of Rinaldi. Looking like we were on the set of the TV show "Happy Days," I actually took orders from and brought food to people in their cars out back. We wore these hideous brown polyester pants for uniforms and these weird little orange cone things we had to pin onto our heads. It was crazy. But I also did my share of socializing and hanging out in cars eating at the Bob's Big Boy Drive-In out back too. We also used to go to A&W Drive-ins to sit in our cars while eating! I also remember eating at a Van de Kamps *restaurant* often, somewhere in the Valley, in the 1960's. I think it had a windmill on the building and I remember it having a white and blue interior and it was always very cool inside and clean looking. [Editor's Note: I received an email from someone in Sept. 2008 saying this: "That Van de Kamps was at the southeast corner of Roscoe Blvd and Reseda Blvd. It is now the Facey Medical building." I have no idea if this is true or not, but it sounds like the area I remember it being in.]

San Fernando Mission Blvd., Granada Hills, heading east
(Photo: K. Anderberg - Aug. 2008)

My favorite tv show as a child was Hobo Kelly, a hobo woman with an Irish accent that hosted cartoons. She was on in the mornings before I would go to school. Engineer Bill was a big deal when I was a kid too. In about 1964, I was playing in the backyard of the house of my babysitter. She was an older woman with a root cellar in her back yard, and there were railroad tracks right behind her house in Newhall. And this day I was playing out back, a train slowed and Engineer Bill came off and talked to me and my babysitter! I think he gave us some kind of toy or stickers or something. I also saw Engineer Bill at a local shopping mall in Newhall in the early 1960's. I also watched Romper Room when I was a really young, between 1960-1964.

I remember going to a field trip in elementary school to Helm's Bakery. It was my first visit to a bakery and I was amazed. They gave us a little loaf of bread to leave with. I also remember Helm's Bakery trucks driving the streets of the Valley and in Los Angeles, and I think they even had music playing like an ice cream truck so the women knew to flag it down as it went down the suburb streets. As a kid I would flag down the Helm's Bakery trucks on my way walking home from school and buy cupcakes. I remember shopping for shoes at a Kinney Shoe Store on Sepulveda and also one on Van Nuys Blvd. I also remember shopping for shoes at Buster Brown Shoe Stores. My parents shopped often at Fedco, which was something similar to modern-day Costco.

The Cal State Northridge campus parking garage stairs were a twisted jumble after the 1994 Northridge Quake! (Photo taken by K. Anderberg, 1994)

Our apt was red-tagged in the 1994 Northridge Quake

On January 17, 1994, I lived at 9907 White Oak Avenue, in Northridge, CA., with my 9 year old son, Gibralter. We moved there in August 1994, from Seattle, WA., for me to begin law school. (We moved to Seattle after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake put Santa Cruz, CA., where we lived, in chaos.) Since we had been in the Loma Prieta quake, we understood some things about quakes, such as the probability of aftershocks. But on Jan. 17, 1994, at approximately 4 AM, we were rocked out of our sleep by an earthquake with amazing power. The Northridge quake was significantly stronger than the 7.1 quake we experienced in Santa Cruz in 1989. (Read More...)

I am fascinated in many ways by the geology of the Valley. I witnessed firsthand the destruction of both the Sylmar (1971) and Northridge (1994) Earthquakes in the Valley. Supposedly the east and west mountain walls of the Valley got several feet closer during the Northridge quake, and geologists have said that the Valley floor *bulged up* during the Northridge quake, as the mountains squeezed closer together. The Valley is actually a valley *floor*, as in a canyon-type shape with sand, and other land filling it in to make the Valley floor higher and higher as it fills. Even wilder, is they have found marine fossils in the Valley's floor, such as dolphin and whale bones! Apparently the Pacific Ocean used to come in all the way to the northern mountains of the Valley, but then the Santa Monica Mountains rose and landlocked the water which supposedly exited through Tujunga Pass primarily. So sea water used to be over the Valley floor, and ocean sand is at the bottom of the Valley floor, but even now, it is a valley, and valleys are typically the place the water runs through, which is how they became valleys! The San Fernando Valley is a valley floor and is subject to floods, regularly, even now. The Valley has several flood control measures in place, but there are still flood issues regularly. The Sepulveda area is in a flood plain and Sunland and Tujunga are right in the path that a lot of water takes down from mountains to the ocean and thus they flood often too. Castaic and much of the Santa Clarita Valley is sitting in the flood plain for the Santa Clara River too...I have seen pictures of the Van Nuys train station in the early 1900's, where the water is so high and rough around it, in a flood, that there are whitecaps on the water!

More San Fernando Valley Resources
Valley Relics
Montage of Valley images in 50's, 60's, 70's...
Great Sylmar 1973 video set to Paul Simon's "My Little Town"


Kirsten Anderberg. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Kirsten at

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