Thursday, December 14, 2017

In The Valley of Nostalgia: The Valley Relics Museum

Neon and on and on at the Valley Relics Museum.
The San Fernando Valley might be known for being the archetypal Southern California suburb, for a notable early 1980s teenage female linguistic dialect, and yes, uh, pr0n, but if you love and appreciate your local history as much as The Militant does, you'll know that it's a place that has changed over time, from agricultural farmland to suburban wonderland, to the modern quasi-urban districts that are currently springing up on both ends of the 818 along the 101. Now, The Militant doesn't get over to the other side of the hill that much, but when it does, it actually matters.

This past weekend, one of his operatives totally wanted to go to the Valley Relics Museum, a relatively new (opened 2013) exhibition of SFV nostalgia, most of which is the personal collection of Burbank native and North Hollywood resident Tommy Gelinas, who started exhibiting his collection over a decade ago in his NoHo art studio. Gelinas has also been responsible to salvaging and maintaining several iconic signs and artifacts from across the Valley (and a little beyond) after their original public purpose was shut down forever.

After a quick Saturday morning trip up the 101 to the 170 to the 5 to the 118,  we arrived at a quiet industrial park nestled between Topanga Canyon Blvd and the Metro Orange Line (yes, this place is totally transit-accessible), and through the doors is some 4300 square feet of space jam-packed with SFV and general Southern California nostalgia. Where to start?

The Valley Relics Museum's Busch Gardens collection! The Militant loved this aerial view which shows the old theme park's exact location near Roscoe and Woodley. The park was replaced by an expanded Budweiser plant, and only the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks near Woodley remains.
 The first room has some photos and memorabilia of various SFV institutions, from the aerospace industry (Lockheed and Rocketdyne called the Valley home) to ground-based transportation such as the Pacific Electric and the RTD. An adjoining room has behind-glass knicknack displays featuring such sights as the old Busch Gardens theme park in Van Nuys and some 1984 Olympic memorabilia (including not only an Olympic torch, but an accompanying manual book).
The Western memorabilia room, including several Nudie's Rodeo Tailors store artifacts, curated by Julie Ann Ream.
Another room is packed with movie and TV Western memorabilia (including remnants of the iconic North Hollywood Western apparel store Nudie's Rodeo Tailors), curated by Julie Ann Ream, whose grandfather, Taylor "Cactus Mack" McPeters was an actor in several Hollywood Westerns, who worked alongside such icons as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne.  Preserving the artifacts of her grandfather, her other Western actor relatives and their peers has become her personal passion, and on most days Ream is on hand to talk about her collection and her Western family members' stories.

The main exhibit room contains antique iconic store restaurant signage and a collection of classic BMX bikes (an SFV invention)!
The rest of the museum is the main exhibit room, which encompasses over 2/3rds of the total space. Front and center is Gelinas' collection of classic '70s-era bicycle motocross (BMX) bikes, which originated in The Valley. The characteristic rigid frame was invented by Gary Littlejohn in North Hollywood and the open suburban spaces of the SFV allowed for large BMX dirt tracks to be built. Futhermore, BMX manufacturers like Mongoose, Redline, Champion and Robinson were all based here in The Valley.

Some relics from The Palomino, including a ticket stub from a 1979 Elvis Costello concert there!
The room also contains a large collection of now-gone store and restaurant signage, several of which are neon like the original sign from North Hollywood's Palomino nightclub (which featured now-legendary country and rock music acts from 1949 to 1995) and more conventional signage, such as the original Googie-style Henry's Tacos sign from Studio City.

A 1958 newsstand ad insert for the old Los Angeles Mirror (the old afternoon paper that eventually merged with the Los Angeles Times), touting the SFV as, "L.A.'s Happiest Half-Million" (that population has since grown by over 3 1/2 times).
The room also contains many signs familiar to those from, yet not unique to the Valley per se, such as a Pioneer Chicken revolving sign saved from the Olympic Blvd. location, '70s and '80s-era Jack In The Box (the chain originated in San Diego) signage, which also includes the old-school drive-thru clown speaker (even earlier than the type that was blown up in the infamous 1980 commercial) as well as the incandescent Tiffany Theatre sign rescued from its now-demolished West Hollywood location.

A few iconic Valley trios also make their presence here: Statues of Alvin, Simon and Theodore of The Chipmunks fame (born in Van Nuys), and Yakko, Wakko and Dot from The WB's Animaniacs (who, of course, lived in the studio's water tower in Burbank).

Exit Through The Gift Shop: Do buy some of Valley Relics Museum's t-shirts of classic now-gone Southern California businesses. Because you will look so awesome rocking that Pup'N Taco shirt!
Not only can you see some Valley relics, but you can wear them as well. The mini gift shop by the entrance sells shirts of now-gone So Cal institutions like Pup'N Taco, Malibu Grand Prix, Fedco, Zody's, Muntz TV, Saugus Speedway and legendary rock stations KMET and KNAC, among others. The sales of the shirts support the museum, so be generous!
The collection does not explore the comprehensive history of The Valley; aside from an 1865 letter penned by Issac N. Van Nuys himself, much of the Valley Relics at this museum cater to the collective memories of Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers spanning the second half of the 20th century. So there are hardly any relics from the SFV's agricultural era. But still, Gelinas and the rest of the folks that run the museum must be given massive props for preserving the relatively recent history of The Valley. The staff have mentioned that some patrons have brought parents or grandparents who suffer from Alzheimer's Disease into the museum, and the sight of familiar memories from the exhibits instantly woke up something inside of them.

Yes, History can be that powerful, folks.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the place isn't that big. Fortunately, you can enjoy the place in under two hours, and unfortunately, you can only enjoy the place in under two hours. But apparently there's more collection that they don't have the space for. The museum is planning to move into larger digs sometime in 2018, with one potential location being an old airplane hangar at Van Nuys Airport, but the museum has also explored even a Santa Clarita Valley location (Blasphemy!).

The Valley Relics Museum is transit-accessible! It's just two blocks south of the Metro Orange Line and Metrolink Chatsworth Station (something that didn't really exist during the RTD era...
Yes, this MA blog post is probably some four years late,  and some of you might have already been here already, but a museum open only 50 or so times a year, coupled with a busy Militant schedule can cause that. But better late than never. And hey, The Militant is actually blogging about something other than an Epic CicLAvia Tour. That in itself is something to celebrate! Woo-hoo!

But if you haven't been here before, and especially if you're an SFV native or grew up in the 818, make sure to pay a visit to the museum this Saturday (those t-shirts make great presents, BTW), or at least add it to your New Year's Resolution list for 2018, before they move into their new location. And then visit them again when they have more stuff to display!   

Valley Relics Museum, 21630 Marilla St, Chatsworth. Open Saturdays only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free admission (but do kick them at least a few bucks to keep their nonprofit operation open). Accessible via (M) Orange Line and Metrolink (Chatsworth Station) - bike or walk two blocks south along the Orange Line bike path.


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