83.9 F
San Fernando
Friday, Jun 9, 2023


Spotlight/24″/cw1st/dt2nd BY JOAN OSTERWALDER Staff Writer Year Founded: 1912 Origins: Originally called Owensmouth due to its proximity to the Owens River Aqueduct, the community was established in 1912 by Janss Investment Co. and a land syndicate called the Suburban Homes Co. In 1917, Owensmouth was annexed by the city of Los Angeles. After rapid growth fueled by the West Valley land boom, the community renamed itself Canoga Park in 1931. Business Profile: Mostly small retailers, including antique shops, bookstores, discount stores many of which date back to the 1920s. Toula Weldon has seen the best and worst times in Canoga Park, her hometown of 27 years. In the ’70s, Sherman Way bustled with antique shops and the area was clean and livable, the 54-year-old said. Then business started slumping and the district deteriorated. It hit its low point a decade ago when squalid restaurants, drug addicts and the Pussycat Theatre, a porn movie house, dominated the area, she said. “When people have a little money, they move out,” she said. But after the decades-long decline, there are signs that the retail area along Sherman Way is poised for a comeback. Local merchants have agreed to tax themselves to make the area more attractive, and the Pussycat, damaged severely by the Northridge earthquake, has been replaced by a community arts center a development that business people hope will draw new customers to their district. “I’m very excited,” said John Berry, artistic director of a community theater group out of Woodland Hills, about Canoga Park’s new entertainment venue, called the Madrid Theatre. “It appears that all the people are sprucing up their buildings. The anticipation is high, it’s all riding on the theater You’ll have to dress up to go to it.” Like Berry, merchants are fired up about the theater’s potential to bring customers back to the area. “One guy came to the opening (of the Madrid) and came in afterward and spent $50,” said Eve Klein, who owns a nearby used books and records store, which has a “Welcome Madrid Theatre” sign on its front window. “He was from West L.A. and never knew Canoga Park existed.” The community arts center was built with about $3 million from a $3.5 million federal disaster assistance grant. The remaining $500,000 was used to embellish the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Canoga Park business community is awaiting approval to create a Business Improvement District for a 12-block area along Sherman Way between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Canoga Avenue. The program, expected to be approved by the City Council at the end of the year, will allow commercial property owners to voluntarily assess themselves to pay for improvements, such as added security, street maintenance and marketing of the business district. The district’s projected annual budget will be around $226,000 for the life of the five-year program. A 1996 study identified several problems in the Canoga Park shopping district: the area lacked pedestrians because of noisy, four-lane Sherman Way; there were no major retail stores that could anchor the area for other retailers; and shops offering parking in the back didn’t have adequately posted signs, discouraging potential customers. Since then, the three-person staff at the Reseda office of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency has helped funnel in state and federal funds to make the area more attractive. Among other initiatives, a $1.1 million streetscape program was launched to repair sidewalks and alleys and pay for landscaping. The $750,000 fa & #231;ade and signage improvement program offers business and property owners grants of up to $25,000 to upgrade their storefronts. The CRA also established a centralized leasing office that tracks vacant retail space in Canoga Park and other areas of the redevelopment area. “This is a very historic community. There are destination points that attract people to the area,” said Leslie Lambert, project manager for the CRA. “It’s the unique stuff what the (nearby) Topanga Plaza (mall) doesn’t have.” Stores, such as Follow Your Heart a natural foods restaurant and grocery Green Thumb Nursery and antique shops, attract clientele from other parts of the city. A coffee and ice-cream shop will open soon and target the theater-going crowd. “There’s a lot of hope the Madrid is going to bring in new people,” Lambert said. Joe Vogt, owner of construction firm Excel & Associates and chairman of the board of the Canoga Park Business Improvement District, said Canoga Park was never as bad as people perceived it, even at the height of the Pussycat Theatre days. What hurt the community most was the Northridge earthquake. “We’ve been depressed before the earthquake hit,” he said. “But when it hit, it left us like a ghost town.” The area has changed a lot since then, he said. “(It’s) a 100 percent turnaround.” Although hopes for better times are high, not everyone is so optimistic about the revitalization effort. “They’re not doing much,” said 77-year-old Vincent Degani, owner of Vincent’s Canoga Park Jewelers. “Well, they’re trying to clean it up a bit. They put palm trees in and they’re dying. Nobody’s watering them.” The new landscaping and the Madrid Theatre are definitely improvements, but that’s not enough, Degani said. “They got to get businesses to move into the neighborhood,” said the shop owner, who has been in Canoga Park since 1958. “There are quite a few vacancies. You need a restaurant and some ladies apparel shops.” He also said the two nearby malls, the Topanga Plaza and the Fallbrook Mall, take away business from the area. Weldon, who was assaulted three years ago in an alley behind her house off Sherman Way, said she hopes the efforts by the city and community will make Canoga Park a nicer place like in the old days. “We want people to come to the theater and improve our neighborhood,” she said. “We’d love to have a safer neighborhood.”

Previous article
Next article

Featured Articles

Related Articles