I rarely venture into the Valley these days but I make an exception every now and then for Ventura Boulevard.
There was a time when I lived and breathed in the infamous Valley (for those of you who don’t know, the Valley is the biggest suburb in Los Angeles and known officially as the San Fernando Valley).
It was practically all I ever knew of LA.
But that was another very naïve lifetime ago and an entirely different story. I’ll say though that when you live and experience a place where there’s probably only one decent bookstore within 5 to 10 miles, where 7-11s take up more space than parks, and where teenagers talk like those characters from Clueless (yes, they really do!) and spend their time watching crappy reality shows; you get over it rather quickly and run away as fast as your feet could take you.
So these days, unless I have a very specific and very important purpose, I rarely ever venture out west past Burbank, which is in the easternmost part.
But I make an exception every now and then for Ventura Boulevard.
I don’t know. I guess I figured that a street that mattered enough for artists like Tom Petty (“All the vampires walkin’ through the valley / Move west down Ventura Blvd”, Free Fallin’), Tori Amos (“On my way up north, up on the Ventura”, A Sorta Fairytale), and Frank Zappa (“On Ventura, there she goes / She just bought some bitchen clothes”, Valley Girl) to write songs about can’t be all that bad.
Or maybe it’s because this southernmost boulevard in the Valley is a thriving hub for many small and local businesses.
Ventura Boulevard is that one major street in the Valley where there are decent restaurants that won’t overcharge you for Americanized versions of foreign cuisines, where there are actual bookstores, where vinyl is still very much alive and DVDs don’t have to be so expensive, and where there are more affordable vintage and consignment stores than Urban Outfitters, Gaps, and H&M.
Here on Ventura Boulevard, candy-and-soda shops are not just shops but vessels to the past and guitar stores are not just guitar stores trying to make profits but museums of works of art.
Don’t get me wrong. Ventura Boulevard is definitely has more of “A Sorta Fairytale” than a “Free Fallin’” vibe; still much more suburban that rock’n’roll. But for all it’s young upper-class suburban air, Ventura Boulevard is that one street in the Valley that has actual taste.
All photographs by Michelle Rae. She lives, breathes, and haunts in the City of Angeles.