How Big Is His Valley

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

[Bing Crosby sings....]

I've been spending a lot of time lately in the Valley. You know, the gigantic basin that Bing Crosby crooned about in a number hit during World War II, and the place that Los Angeles magazine once called "that strange land over the hill."

The Valley is a place where - supposedly - nobody goes. And where - yet - more than a million and a half people call home.

I don't live there any more and haven't for a good long time. I did write a book about it, but the honest truth is that I prefer the beach. More important, so does my wife -- herself a reformed Valley girl.

But at some level, I still consider the Valley HOME -- and probably always will.

My reason for making the drive through Sepulveda Pass these days is that my siblings and I are selling the house we grew up in.

Yes, we know how sour the real estate market has turned, now that unemployed writers and street musicians can't get an easy mortgage.

But after 51 years, we no longer need the Roderick half-acre in a corner of Northridge that the realtors call Sherwood Forest.

That name has always been a mystery to me, but now I'm pretty happy at what a few shade trees can do for the image. We'd have a much harder time selling if the old neighborhood were called Smoggy Flats or Hot as Hell Hills.

And by the way, I've heard every joke and dig about the Valley's heat and tract houses and pervasive flatness.

When the Valley was seized by one of its periodic bouts of secession fever, Jay Leno suggested the new city go for authentic local flavor and call itself Asphalt-by-the-Sea or Unknown Actorville. My personal favorite was Pornadelphia.

When Tom Wolfe came out to dissect L.A. car culture for an Esquire magazine piece that became his classic book Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, he wrote that "if there is a river within 1000 miles of Riverside Drive, I never saw it."

The Valley Wolfe saw was endless scorched boulevards - lined with one-story stores, bowling alleys, skating rinks and taco drive-ins, everything shaped into crazy trapezoids.

Bashing the Valley never goes out of style. When the women in Sex and the City sashayed into L.A., Carrie Bradshaw got in a couple of good shots.

It's tradition. Robert Redford once quipped that when his family moved to the Valley, he felt like he was being tossed into quicksand. It was like "a big oven with nothing in it, an ocean with no ships on it."

Bob Hope called it Cleveland with palm trees." And he lived there for six decades, the reigning emperor of Toluca Lake.

Even Nikita Khrushchev, Cold War ruler of the Soviet empire, slammed the Valley. Refused a visit to Disneyland, and piled instead into a hot car and forced to inspect model homes in Granada Hills, he complained with great umbrage that this development caused him bitter regret.

Well, look who's laughing now. Every week, it seems, the Hot Property column in the Times notes some million-dollar real estate sale in the Valley.

The Valley has become more Hollywood than Hollywood itself. Now that Channel 2 has fled Sunset Boulevard for a spiffy new building on the CBS lot in Studio City, the big three news stations in L.A. -- 2, 4 and 7 -- are all located on the hot side of the hill.

Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers and DreamWorks are there too, along with about a zillion production houses, special effects shops and, yes, porn studios.

For many of us though, it will always be home.


For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.