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San Fernando
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023


JEANNETTE DeSANTIS Contributing Reporter In its heyday in the 1960s, Reseda Boulevard was a bustling thoroughfare, lined with busy shops and restaurants and alive with shoppers thanks in part to neighboring San Fernando Valley State College, renamed Cal State Northridge. But then the boulevard fell on hard times. When the Northridge Fashion Center opened in 1971, many of the small shops couldn’t compete and folded. The recession of the late 1980s created more casualties among small shop owners. Then came the destructive 1994 Northridge earthquake, which walloped the neighborhood, leaving behind cracked storefronts, vacant buildings and ghost-town apartments. But a core of committed business owners has not given up on the area once called the “Bel Air of the Valley.” They have joined forces with Cal State Northridge administrators and students to revitalize Reseda Boulevard. Supporters want to create a Business Improvement District, a special zone in which property owners tax themselves for street improvements, security patrols or other measures to spruce up the neighborhood. Although the list of proposed improvements along Reseda Boulevard has not been finalized, the property owners are discussing several ideas for attracting shoppers, including hosting cultural arts events that tie the boulevard to the university as well as planting trees along the street. “We would like to make it like Westwood Village with the university nearby,” said Northridge Chamber of Commerce President John Jamgotchian. “We want to help the area realize its potential.” And there is plenty of work to do. Although it still has some of the same storefronts from its heyday, the boulevard has lost a lot of its sheen, said Dr. Judy Hennessey, chair of Cal State Northridge’s marketing department. “Reseda Boulevard hasn’t been gorgeous for a long time,” said Hennessey, a consultant for the program. “And people are sick and tired of shopping in malls and we want to give people a sense of community.” The property owners also haven’t agreed to the size of the assessment, a decision that can be quite divisive. “As the process goes on, it gets more concrete,” Hennessey said. “Nothing is solid until the BID is formed.” Ten BIDS had been in the formative stages in the San Fernando Valley since 1996, and one has been on the drawing board since 1997. However, none had reached the approval stage until June 10. That’s when the Los Angeles City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee approved the first BID in Tarzana, giving other BID boosters hope that their districts will come together as well. Boosters of the Reseda Boulevard BID believe theirs is potentially the most unique because they have been able to draw on CSUN students to help study and organize the effort, Hennessey said. CSUN’s art, architecture, marketing, management, accounting and interior design students have helped out with canvassing the neighborhoods, conducting surveys, and passing out petitions. All students get school credit for their participation, Hennessey said. The BID concept has already ignited the imaginations of the community. “Even though we are a university town, we don’t think we are,” said Barry Pascal, owner of Northridge Pharmacy, a long-time Northridge business. “We need to remind people that we are a community by adding character to the boulevard.” Personally, Pascal would like to see Reseda Boulevard paved with yellow bricks, (“like the Wizard of Oz,”) as well as having businesses add university-themed products to their inventory. “I would like to see restaurants have a CSUN breakfast and retail stores sell Matador hats and shirts,” Pascal said. “We should be something like Santa Barbara a university town.” But when business isn’t doing well in the area, it is hard to convince the small merchants that line Reseda Boulevard to put money into a grassroots organization that may or may not cause revenues to rise. “Despite new reports that the economy is coming back up, many shops still sit empty,” said C.K. Tseng, owner of Northridge Travel on the boulevard. “It is not easy to convince small business to do something that will entail more costs. It will take some time Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The history of the Reseda Boulevard area can be traced back to the 1700s. At the intersection of Reseda and Parthenia Street, a stream once ran through the area and served as an oasis for California’s early explorers and was a gathering place for the Gabrielino Indians, and later for the Spanish who established the San Fernando Mission. When American forces took over in the 1840s, the Mexican government sold the area and in the 1900s it was developed into a subdivision that was christened “Zelzah,” a Biblical name for oasis, a name that remained until 1929. The name was changed to Northridge in 1938. In the 1930s and 1940s, Reseda Boulevard was still a dirt road, and horse breeding was the No. 1 industry of the area. Film stars loved the ranch image and it became a haven for Hollywood’s early film stars. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard owned a ranch off Devonshire, and Betty Hutton once owned the area that is now Northridge Park. By the 1950s and 1960s, Reseda Boulevard was paved and in its prime with shopping centers, a post office, several churches, a bank and Northridge Hospital Medical Center. But most agree that the Reseda Boulevard of today is not the same. “Although Reseda Boulevard is the still the heart of Northridge, it was hard hit in the earthquake, which created a lot of problems,” said Councilman Hal Bernson. “It is not going downhill, but it does need some revitalization.” Hennessey said the BID is the best way to bring Reseda Boulevard back to life. “It will enhance pedestrian traffic, which increases the number of people in stores and increases the items people sell,” Hennessey said. “Beyond that, it will increase property values for everyone.”

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