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Thank You San Fernando

April 21, 2017

San Fernando, California was my home in the early 1950’s. My parents had moved there from North Hollywood, after several failed attempts at a life in the states of Utah and Iowa. They purchased a new home in 1952 on North Orange Grove Avenue when I was only four years old. This was one of many tract homes built among old orange groves for the burgeoning population that would soon become known as commuters. Thus, in the fragrant orange blossoms, began my San Fernando experience.

The town of San Fernando is named for a saint and somewhat unbelievably many people in the 1950’s and 1960’s did not know that the San Fernando Valley was named for the town and not the other way around. My father constantly explained this to his out-of-state relatives and informed them as to where our home was exactly. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, most people had never heard of San Fernando; that it was north of Los Angeles seemed to serve as explanation enough for most people. It was an anonymous place in those days and that fact proved to have its good points as well as it bad points.

I attended Dyer Street elementary school and Olive Vista Junior High School, both located in bordering Sylmar. There was always a bit of rancor in those days about which school you attended if you lived “on the border,” as we did. We technically had the choice of attending schools in either Sylmar or San Fernando. I went to the Sylmar schools and my brother went to those in San Fernando. In a gentle twist of irony, I wound up teaching school years later at San Fernando High School although I had graduated from Sylmar High.

San Fernando was a small world with borders of city blocks not miles when I was a child. My early life was lived primarily between Glenoaks Blvd. and 1st Street and between the confines of Hubbard and Maclay. The world outside these names was blurry and for practical purposes did not exist for many years in my early youth. And so as a child, I got to know this tiny piece of real estate pretty well. I can still smell the freshly cut summer grass on our street and I can still hear the mockingbirds that seemed to inhabit every tree. In the summer, I would catch butterflies with a homemade net, invading all of our neighbors’ yards without ever hearing a complaint from any of them. Saturdays were spent at the Crest Theater watching the double feature two times through for the price of 25 cents. DeMelice’s Market on Maclay Avenue was another favorite haunt, where a nickel would get you an enormous pickle and a friendly smile. As a young coin collector, I was allowed to freely go through the till unsupervised at the Atlantic Richfield service station on Maclay looking for old pennies. When I found the ones I was seeking, I would replace the face value into the till with my own pocket money. I remember pleasant things and I cannot recall the ugly days at all, although I am sure they were present somewhere in my youth.

As I stumbled awkwardly though my early years, my childhood enthusiasm for my hometown gave way to a comfortable kind of reassurance. I took a job with the San Fernando Sun as a paperboy. My four-block route included everything from 1st Street to 5th Street between Orange Grove and Maclay. After being a paperboy for what seemed like a lifetime, I moved on to high school and more serious pursuits. Still, I remembered all of my route customers fondly until I was well past my teens. My strongest recollections of my high school years are what I would collectively call stability. San Fernando never seemed to change substantially or in ways that upset the psyche. This allowed us time to grow up without the additional encumbrance of too much change thrust at us all at one time. The Hat was always there between Sepulveda Blvd. and San Fernando Road and JC Penney was always close at hand, a stone’s throw from Castell’s Records. It was a life lived largely by memory and the knowledge that everything had its place. Everything did have its place, as did we. Life as a teenager was comfortable in San Fernando. In this easy environment, I went through high school with the same kids I had known all my life and we encountered very few problems. Sure, we were “carded” every so often by the San Fernando Police for having a beer in our possession, but there seemed always to appear a firm guiding hand from the night rather than the butt end of a nightstick.

Life’s rhythms were constant, strong and reassuring as the years went by on Orange Grove Avenue. Family, friends and the common notion that we shared in being “from San Fernando” set these rhythms. However, as the seasons counted out my youth, I would stop in our front yard, gaze toward the San Gabriel Mountains, and wonder what was beyond them. As I grew up in, I gradually learned what was beyond those mountains and much more. We often traveled to the Sierra Mountains for vacations and these trips provoked a curiosity deep within me to see more, do more and be more. Gradually, I began to wish that I could leave San Fernando and its small confines. This wish turned into a strong desire by the time I finished high school. I was convinced that San Fernando was not for me and I yearned to leave for greener pastures well before those pastures had yet been found. Travels and college followed and my desire to leave San Fernando became stronger every year. I began attending college at what was then called San Fernando Valley State College in September of 1966. The campus took me away from San Fernando and I found that I had not been prepared to deal with the realities of the world outside my hometown. The Vietnam War, for instance, seemed so much more horrific and real just a few miles away in Northridge. In the end, born of frustration and stubborn beliefs I chose to live Jimmy Stewart’s wish in It’s a Wonderful Life as I attempted to “shake off the crummy dust” of my hometown and move out into life’s full current.

After a short time, I reached that point of departure, moving first to Granada Hills, then Agoura, then Oregon and finally, many, many years later, to my current home high in the Italian Alps. I had come back to my family’s roots and at last, it seemed that I had escaped the grasp of my upbringing. But here in my non-native Italy I have reflected much about that past and in these thoughts I have often found the whispered word, “San Fernando.”

Appreciation is often that last human emotion that we experience although it should perhaps be the first. It is unfortunately that way with parents, friends and life itself. I look back now to the black and white days of San Fernando some sixty-five years ago and I take in a deep, deep breath and I smile. It is a full smile, brought forth by the knowledge of a youth well spent and the pride I now belatedly feel in being from a little town named San Fernando. Gone are the old Empire phone prefixes but the goodness and richness of my youth will be with me for all of my days. I look at it now as a gracious gift. Perhaps the only best thing that I can do today is say to you from the heart, “Thank you San Fernando.”

Photo: Orange Grove Avenue in San Fernando circa 1958.

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  1. Vsii permalink

    Allen, Great story. Reminded me of my own upbringing in Glenbrook, CT. Nello

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Nello. Looking back is always a pleasure.


  3. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Thinking of my home town this morning…


  4. Great story of your youth. Looking back we appreciate so much…simpler times. 🙂


  5. Jean Harley permalink

    Hi Allen, just finished reading your wonderful story about San Fernando. Those really were great years. I was raised in Sylmar on Dyer Street between Kismet and Eldridge and then we moved to Astoria Street when I was just turning 11. That was above Sayer Street. I attended Morningside School for kindergarten till Hubbard Street School finally opened in Sylmar. I was there from 1st through 6th grade, then Olive Vista, and then Sylmar High, which was two long blocks from my house. When you look back, we were very fortunate to have such good upbringings by loving parents in good neighborhoods. I went to L.A. Valley Jr. College and worked part time till I graduated then full time after that.. Eventually I got a job at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank and worked for them for 35 years. Growing up I used to watch old movies with my family like “The Quiet Man’ with John Wayne and always said I wanted to see all the places in the movies. I finally took one trip to England, Ireland, Scotland and a few hours in Wales one year. Wow, I loved every minute of it. But when I got home there was so much that had to be done on my house that I never had enough to travel anymore. That is my only regret in life that I didn’t see all the places that I wanted. I was able to see quite a few of our states and at least I enjoyed that. I can’t complain about anything except too bad we have all this going on right now. Hope it doesn’t last too long. I love hearing your stories. I told you I bought 2 of your books, but my Joe has been in very bad health and taking care of him takes a lot of time so I haven’t had a lot of time for myself. I promise I will eventually get around to reading them and let you know how much I enjoy them. Take care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this lovely comment. I enjoyed every minute of San Fernando and Sylmar. We went to the 40th reunion but missed the 50th due to emergency surgery. California is a long haul from either North Carolina or our other home in Italy. We are however planning a “farewell tour” to California after this Covid nonsense is settled.


  6. Steve Sawyer permalink

    I was born in San Fernando in 1952 and raised in Sylmar. I thought it was a good place to grow up in. Loved when my mom would take me to the San Fernando mall. The 3 blocks or so seemed a lot bigger back then. I remember going to crest theater and saying I was 11 so I could get in for a quarter then have a dime for candy til my brother screwed up and got mixed up and gave her his 1953 birthdate. What do you expect from a guy named Tom Sawyer. Left LA in 1972 thanks to the last year of the draft lotto. Got to see a part of the world as a C141 Loadmaster, mostly SE asia. Join the Army after 4 years and finally got to see Europe, a lot of Germany. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jim Hansen permalink

    Thank you for a great story. I had the same boundaries as I was born at 316 Hagar St. and grew up at 828 Harding st. Was a city Council member and Mayor from the mid 197
    0’s thru the early 1990’s. Best childhood you could imagine. now live near Lake Tahoe but, still miss San Fernando.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Phil Brittenham permalink

    My first semester (B10) in high school was at North Hollywood High and I hated it. We moved to Jaguar Street in San Fernando in between semesters and I enjoyed every minute at San Fernando High, graduating in 1959. The streets in our neighborhood were still dirt and we were surrounded by orange orchards. I loved driving my big brother’s ’55 Triumph to school and out and around the Valley, especially out to Chatsworth where we watched people shoot skeet and where I saw Roy Rogers. Chatsworth traffic was managed by a single four way stop. I attended LA Valley Jr College for two years (imagine $6.75 a semester + books) while selling shoes at a Kinneys and at the May Co. We moved to Sylmar in the early 60’s where my parents continued living after I moved on.

    Thanks to all for comments that took me back to a wonderful time in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Love reading about the Valley back in the 50’s. I grew up in Iowa, but we came to visit my Mom’s brother and family every other year back in the 60’s, they lived in Pasadena. I remember LA for the smog back then, but still didn’t know much about the Valley. Married and moved to Denver after college, then fast forward to the late 80’s and San Diego became home. My wife and I were both bankers in Denver and worked for a California based bank that requested us to transfer to San Diego. Fast forward to early 90’s and I was hired as a Regional Manager for their Business Banking group. The group I managed covered all of Southern California and that is when I became very familiar with the Valley. Spent many a day commuting up to Glendale, Burbank and Van Nuys for calls with clients. After my wife and I retired we ended up in Sherman Oaks here in the Valley to be near our grandchildren. The house we have was built in the 30’s as one of those tract homes. I love the history of the area and in my wildest dreams never thought I would actually end up living here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting Kirt. I still keep in touch with many of my old friends from San Fernando and Sylmar. Thankfully, the world is smaller now with the internet.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Gregg Clemow permalink

    Hi Allen…my name Gregg Clemow and I was raised in San Fernando too 🙂 in fact I remember hanging out with Mike Rizzi for a short while. Possible a younger brother ? If so ,I have been to your house on a couple of occasions:-) in that neighborhood. I graduated from Sylmar High in 1970. I also remember going to the Crest theatre for matinees, JC Penny’s, Danny’s Dogs and Bobs records. And if you collected coins you must remember Art’s Coin shop.I worked at Flannagan’s liquor all through high school and pulled coins as you did and replacing them with my own money. Would love to talk to you 208-807-6079…..what a great story !!wonderful memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gregg – My brother’s name is David but I think we are talking about the same person. I also worked at Flannagan’s and knew Art Delgado quite well. I will try to call soon.


      • Gregg Clemow permalink

        David of course !!!I I knew a Mike Pazzi who is a Sylmar/San Fernando person as well that is where I got the name Mike.Would love to talk to you when you have time. Thanks for the reply Allen.
        Hey ….do you remember the San Fernando fiesta parade??that is an event that us kids got really excited about. So many things come to mind .🙂 San Fernando was a great place to be raised when times were so different than they are today. Again I really appreciated your story. 208-807-6079

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Gregg Clemow permalink

    Hi Allen…my name Gregg Clemow and I was raised in San Fernando too 🙂 in fact I remember hanging out with Mike Rizzi for a short while. Possible a younger brother ? If so ,I have been to your house on a couple of occasions:-) in that neighborhood. I graduated from Sylmar High in 1970. I also remember going to the Crest theatre for matinees, JC Penny’s, Danny’s Dogs and Bobs records. And if you collected coins you must remember Art’s Coin shop.I worked at Flannagan’s liquor all through high school and pulled coins as you did and replacing them with my own money. Would love to talk to you 208-807-6079…..what a great story !!wonderful memories. Oh !!I was raised on warren st. Down the street from Glenoaks park.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Mahealani Kane-Urquiza permalink

    Thank you for sharing your story. It brought back so many good memories. I grew up in Sylmar off of Foothill on Ararat St. My parents purchased that home in 1969 and my mother still lives there today. Our neighborhood back then was like family. Parents watched out for each other and us kids, we used to play hid n go seek until late in the night while our parents played cards in the backyard socializing and having as much fun as us kids did. My most warmest memory was from the scariest day Sylmar ever had when the 1971 earthquake hit. The parents put all us kids on the neighbors lawn with our sleeping bags and went house to house making sure the gas was turned off, helping each other and bandaging up people who had gotten hurt in the quake. I remember us kids just staring at each other wide eyed and scared but felt secure because we had each other and knew our parents were there helping everyone. Sylmar was a small home town back then where you could play outside, walk to the local store and enjoy the summer with the neighborhood kids. I miss those days.

    Mahealani Kane-Urquiza

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Angela Raiola Cimmino permalink

    Graduated Sylmar High and then worked for the City Administrator, Mayor and City Council at City Hall in San Fernando 1983 to 1988. Your article is amazing. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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