Glendale is a reminder that there is a cost to development that’s too easily overlooked: the effect of change on the material history of the city. Once upon a time, Glendale was a charming city anchored by a big bank with wide, prosperous commercial avenues (not least Brand) lit by neon. Today the city’s downtown has the charm of Burbank. Third-rate architecture has replaced nearly every historic structure on the main drag. It’s generic and placeless and a real loss to the region. It seems like the only stuff of character is on the outlying drags where change didn’t come with a vengeance (and perhaps millions of tax-increment redevelopment bonds).
Our ride skirted the worst of it on our way to Glendale Station on the Southern Pacific line. And this station itself has escaped the ravages of policymaker mistakes. Miraculously. While Glendale depot is a live station (on the Metrolink commuter train), its days of real railroading are long past. Amtrak trains pass it by in a hurry. The ticket window is shuttered. Few people milled about. Yet the depot itself is well-preserved as if in Amber. In our era, when people choose to drive there is simply not sufficient demand to reanimate it. It seems like an afterthought today: simply another stop on an under-utilized commuter line, albeit a real looker.
We took a break at the depot to replenish our water bottles as we waited for Glendale folks who might join the ride to Travel Town. This gave riders an opportunity to talk history, take Greg’s pop-quiz about railroad history, and to look over the gear (my favorite part). In about 30 minutes were were ready to roll. We took a look at the map and off we went.
Now heading northwest along San Fernando Road West we got a close-up look at what a freight corridor really looks like. It’s not the Travel Town’s toy train, of course; it is high-speed railroading with an assortment of urban society’s cast-offs hard by the tracks: industry, strip clubs, Hollywood grip shops, and the occasional (very occasional – only one!) brewpub lend character to the mainline. (The latter wasn’t on our family ride’s itinerary.)
We passed a gem of a building, the Streamline Moderne 5245 San Fernando Road West. Now up for lease, this structure is yet another reminder of yesterday’s industrial prosperity. Back then it was a manufacturer or shipper, and no doubt a rail spur graced its rear. (The arc of the block to the south is the giveaway that a spur came off the mainline there. Indeed via aerial image one sees the ghost of the spur before the road was repaved recently). #5425 is one of many buildings in the era that sit unused or under-utilized and certainly unappreciated. But it’s there for the discerning eye to discover.
The penultimate leg of the ride took us northwest on San Fernando Rd. That’s nobody’s idea of a warm, welcoming corridor, and a mouth eager for a taco will go hungry long before finding a local eatery near this industrial stretch of blacktop. (Though it has real neo-noir possibilities at nighttime.) So we dog-legged west to the north side of Griffith Park and on to…Travel Town!
If you haven’t been to Travel Town, be prepared for a free, fun afternoon that’s perfect for the kids. Picnic on the grass or set up for a birthday at the tables. Ride the toy train. There’s a million ways to amuse a kid here and none of them require batteries. After visiting the Pasadena Model Railroad Club the day before it was great to see the real thing up close and personal (even if the stock is a bit worn). But because it’s not a museum, it’s got an easy vibe: look, touch, but don’t climb!
After Travel Town the ultimate leg of the journey was commenced. We rode west toward the river to skirt the elevation and then group stopped one last time at the Mulholland Fountain (the guy that brought water to the city – remember?) before heading off to Philippe’s for a sandwich. Yours truly climbed Los Feliz Boulevard for a rendezvous in Hollywood and then back to Beverly Hills.
LACBC always does the Sunday Funday rides right. Thanks to Greg for leading the ride, and to Carol for Coalition support. And thanks to both (and whomever else did the pre-ride scout) for taking us on some lovely alternate routes like West SF Blvd. that opened up the history of this very interesting and complex area. We’re already planning our next ride up here in the northeast!