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The Valley’s Start: When Guns Boomed

It was the best of times (in the Valley); it was the worst of times (in Europe). Exactly 100 years ago this month – August 1914 – the world changed forever, and so did the San Fernando Valley. In Europe, the guns of August began to spew forth the death and destruction that would engulf, and alter, the world. World War I – the first truly modern war – spawned the tank, the machine gun, the fighter and bomber airplanes, the gas that choked and burnt and blinded; these were the machines that chewed up the bodies. Great Britain lost 2 percent of its total population; France and Germany each lost 4 percent; in all, 8.5 million men were killed and 21 million were wounded. The deadliest one day in man’s long and inglorious history of warfare was July 1, 1916, when 58,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. There were more than 1 million casualties in the four months of the battle. Men died in epic numbers. Beyond the numbers were the personal experiences of those at the front, the muddy ditches, the lice, the cries of the wounded stranded in No Man’s Land, the untreated who suffered from wounds of the psyche rather than those of the body; it was a horror reaching to the unimaginable. Like two boxers in a ring who pound away until they must hold on to one another to stay erect, the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia and towards the end the U.S.) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) washed away a generation in a pool of blood. But a world away, 1914 was a watershed year for the San Fernando Valley. While the mournful sound of Taps was being played for Europe, the strains of Reveille were wafting across the Valley. North of Mulholland there was a sense that a new region was coming alive. In March 1914, Carl Laemmle spent $165,000 to purchase, and then break ground on what would become Universal City. The beginnings of motion pictures’ enduring love affair with the Valley was born. Real estate was booming and land speculators were enticing potential buyers with picnics, pony rides and promises of a better life. In the town of Owensmouth, just two months after August 1914, on Oct. 4, the Valley’s first high school opened, with two teachers and 14 students. It was originally named Owensmouth High School, and became Canoga Park High School when the community changed its name. The community went on a building spree the same year, opening Owensmouth Bank, the Pacific Electric depot and a Methodist church. The following month, the Valley’s first public library opened, the San Fernando Library, a branch of the Los Angeles Library. In 1914, construction began on Van Nuys High School, which would open the following year. In 1914, buildings began lining what was to become Ventura Boulevard. It had previously been known as El Camino Real, Camino de las Virgenes and Ventura Road, and was the oldest continuously traveled route through the Valley. Just a year prior, on Nov. 5, 1913, the Owens Valley water came gushing down the Aqueduct to nourish the parched land, and the San Fernando Valley’s towns saw that to get any of it, they must join Los Angeles, their neighbor to the south. The Pacific Electric Railway, builders of a region-wide streetcar system, came through the Valley and reached San Fernando the same year the aqueduct opened. The Red Cars would be a transportation tradition for decades to come. Exactly a century later, August 2014, man has not learned the lessons of World War I, as wars, humanitarian crises and genocides are still with us. We should remember – but not celebrate – man’s inability to banish those failures. Perhaps we have, however, learned a different lesson here in the San Fernando Valley. Entrepreneurialism, the desire to build a community, the benefits to be gained from working together, and the positive role that business can play in that advancement – should indeed be celebrated. August 1914: While the lights were going out in Europe, the sun was coming up in the Valley. Martin M. Cooper is president of Cooper Communications Inc. in Encino. He is chairman of VICA’s Board of Governors and vice chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley. He is currently writing a book on the history of the Valley, 1946-1970. – How to reach us GUEST OPINIONS: Op-ed pieces must be 700 to 800 words and on topics about the San Fernando Valley business community. Please submit op-ed ideas to editor@sfvbj.com.

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