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Sun May 15, 2022, 11:39 PM

Valley Blvd. [View all]


Some things, which are in my memory, may just be part of a dream. I’ve gotten so old I can’t tell anymore what really happened and what I’ve imagined. Right now I’m trying to remember my home and childhood and all I can visualize are scenes from Valley Blvd. My memories seem to be street signs and landmarks, of friends and family, encompassed in the main drag of reverie, with the intimacy of geography.
So Valley Blvd is about 30 miles long. It begins in the city of Los Angeles, but for the purposes of this essay let’s go in the opposite direction, let’s start in the wonderful City of Pomona.
Right before Valley Blvd ends and turns into Holt I seem to recall a “Head Shop” where I used to go to buy underground comic books. It was there that I stumbled on to artists who bucked the mainstream. There were names like R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson and Gilbert Shelton. Colorful and obscene, these books would never make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They existed but will never exist for the mainstream.
Not too far from there was a music store that sold guitars and amps, and other forms of musical equipment for the aspiring rock star. I purchased a P.A. system there for my brother David. I loved that place. It was very Wayne’s World. If you had the money you could buy yourself a cream colored Stratocaster. You could buy yourself a dream.
As you begin to move closer to L.A. (and reality) you arrive in La Puente. Right on the corner of Valley Blvd and Nogales Street there was a small shopping center. It had a Thrifty Grocery, a Woolworths, a Donut shop, a laundromat and Macs Liquor Store. Seasonally they would set up Black Cat and Red Devil Firework stands. There was a Tasty Freeze there that sold the best taquitos, loved those things.
When we were kids, I would walk to Mac’s with my brothers and sisters, and sometime the neighborhood kids. We would go there to buy candy and soft drinks. I could pick up my favorite comic book off the spinner rack for 12 cents. I could buy a Big Hunk Candy Bar for a nickel. There was even a gentleman named Mac behind the counter. I’m pretty sure he owned the store, but I could have been hallucinating.
As you pass La Seda Ave., there is an empty lot and a Billboard that reads, “Valley View Homes 12,000$”. That’s where we lived. We lived next door to the Marquardt’s, The Flores’, The Olsons’, The Young’s, The Rainey’s and other great families. Back then, when dreams were affordable, that’s where I grew up.
And just a bike ride from there was Manual’s Market. A very small grocery store, dark and cramped, It did have a lot of cool stuff. I discovered Warren Magazines there: Creepy, Eerie, Vampirilla and Famous Monsters of Movieland. You could also purchase pickled pigs feet. It was a very eclectic place.
Moving along the 4 lane asphalt of this boulevard of dreams you pass Alta Dena Dairy, a drive thru business with lots of cows and manure. You initially could pick up the manure for free, but eventually the owners wised up and started charging 5 bucks a load. Now that’s progress!
As kids we used to go there on school trips and get to see just where our milk and ice cream actually came from. They also used to deliver milk in glass bottles, chocolate milk too, right to your front door. I really believe the milk tasted better out of glass. Or is that my memory playing tricks on me again? No, I’m sure it tasted better.
So let’s move on to Azusa Blvd. There is a shopping center there with Alpha Beta Grocery where the goods were arranged in alphabetical order. That was the whimsy of the store owner. Hell, he owned it so he could do whatever he wanted!
Also in that corner was the navy recruiting station where I signed up to join the navy. Next door to that was a clothing place where everyone bought their Levis’ (back then everyone wore Levi’s), it had a big metal cannon out front that all the kids climbed on. It sold military surplus stuff, like gas masks and canvas boots. I can’t remember the name, but everyone went there. I think it was called Doughboys, but I’m not sure.
As you traverse the valley you go over the Old La Puente Bridge, past the giant blue slide and go carts. I loved going down that slide. My parents would take us there every now and then, and it was the best! I believe that was Hacienda Blvd. Fond memories that require no snapshots. It is all just mental mementos of caramel apples and butter stains on your best shirt.
You gradually make your way out of La Puente and towards the City of Industry. Just up ahead there are railroad tracks to the right it’s all gravel and dirt. In a mile or two you see a giant statue of Paul Bunyan fondling a huge ax. He’s in front of a hardware store.
An immediate right takes you to the “Vineland Drive In” to see a movie or go to a swap meet. My family went there often. We would pop our own popcorn and make baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, to take with us. Sometimes, when we were flush with cash, we would skip that, and maybe buy pizza or tamales at the snack bar. I can almost smell the intoxicating aroma of hot food, tomato sauce and cornmeal wafting through our old Chevy station wagon.
And then, of course, there is El Monte where I spent the first years of my life. As you drive in, there was a strip club and porn shop. When I was a child I seem to remember a dummy hanging from the neck in front of the club, as if in effigy. It was very macabre. Maybe It was a dream.
As we continue our cruise down Valley Boulevard, there was a huge Junkyard on your right with lots of cars waiting to be stripped and sold as parts, much to the joy of mechanics for miles around.
And then, you approach 5 points, in El Monte, there is Peck Ave. That had the old farmers market with the giant chicken sign. Back in the day it had a mechanized element of a an egg coming out of it’s ass. Of course I could be wrong about that. It does sound kind of outlandish.
Everyone does seem to remember Pep Boys (Manny, Joe and Jack) plus the Crawford’s Country store. So that had to be real. The inside of Pep Boys always smelled like rubber. And the floors were highly polished and had a slight gold gleam to them.
And then you pass the municipal buildings and roll up to Ramona Blvd. That location has a lot of history. You can throw a rock and hit The El Monte Legion Stadium a huge orange (pink?) building with concrete ramps. It was where my mom and dad met, at a dance. Where lots of peoples parents met at dances. It was torn down years ago.
There was also The Greyhound Bus station, Safeway Grocery, Big and Tall Men’s clothing store, some unnamed bicyle shop, and an Orange Julius. My mother loved Orange Julius.
After my stint in the Y.C.C., I purchased a Volkcycle Mark IV from the aforementioned bike shop, I rode that damn thing pretty much everywhere.
Moving ahead there is the El Monte Mall. Not an enclosed edifice of concrete and glass but an open road with sidewalks and buildings where families gather to mingle and buy things.
I especially recall the old Christmas decorations they would hang. It was all plastic and tinsel, red and teal dreams from early in the century, dreams of a “Charlie Brown Christmas” and Andy Williams’s singing baritone in a choir of elves.
The El Monte Theater was there. That is where I saw the “Incredible Two Headed Transplant” with my brothers and sisters and Norma and Nelva Cruz. It was a shocking movie for its time.
One of my favorite places in the Mall was Thrifty Drug Store, where you could buy a scoop of ice cream for a nickel, two scoops for ten cents, and if you had good balance three scoops for 15 cents. There was a tube tester right at the front door. That was back when people could repair their own TVs.
I also remember a cigar and magazine shop with a whole wall of comic books and magazines. It was run by surly old men who also minded the counters. They were mean and rude and the shop smelled like tobacco and old spice after shave. And no matter what they really said to you, it always sounded like. “What the Hell do you want?!” Heh, heh…I loved that place.
At some point you move out of El Monte and approach Alhambra. My memories become really disjointed and patchy from there. Was there a “Chows Restaurant” in that area? Does anyone remember a large orange sign with a Black Cat with an arched back snarling? How about an antique shop with an old fashioned bike out front? Like a camera that’s been dropped on the ground I just can’t make it all out.
I seem to recall a JJ Newberry’s at which point you start to approach L.A. proper. Valley Boulevard goes thru a pass in some hills and then over railroad tracks and there, on the left, is a huge complex of buildings with a giant mural of pigs in a field. I always assumed the place was a slaughterhouse. But I could be wrong about that. I don’t remember any weird smells. Although I will say that the mural was very well done!
As we approach the end of Valley Blvd. we see many houses along the hillside and a Square D Hardware store on the right. There is a bridge there and an on ramp to Soto St. in Boyle Heights where my Nana Rita lived with Little Toni.
My family would regularly drive there all the way from La Puente. We would traverse the whole San Gabriel Valley, the length of a dream, the length of a lifetime to visit my grandmother. She would give us kids Neapolitan ice cream and Hawaiian Punch for our troubles, it was well worth it.
I really don’t believe it was all a dream, though some of it may have been.

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