California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Burbank

California Fool's Gold
B is for Burbank

This blog entry is about the Los Angeles County community of Burbank.

Burbank Panorama
Burbank from the Verdugos

For this episode, I was accompanied in the CARDIS by frequent traveling companion, Shimbles. We were originally to be accompanied by Matt Masocco, but he was called into Amoeba to work at the last minute. It was a hot, muggy day in Los Angeles.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the San Fernando Valley
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of the San Fernando Valley


Anyway, Burbank is located in the San Fernando Valley and can be divided into two distinct areas, one nestled on the slopes and foothills of the Verdugo Mountains, and one in the western portion in the southeastern end of the San Fernando Valley. Burbank is surrounded by Tujunga and Sunland to the northeast, Shadow Hills to the north, Sun Valley to the northwest, North Hollywood to the west, Toluca Lake and Universal City to the southwest, Griffith Park to the south, and Glendale to the east.

Map of Burbank
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Burbank

Being its own city, Burbank is made up of several of its own neighborhoods, including happening Downtown(with the Mall District, The Civic Center and Burbank Village), noisy Burbank Junction, hilly Burbank North Estates, chill Chandler Park, Hillside, edgy Magnolia Park, the bustling Burbank Media Center,McNeil, the Northwest District, and the horse-friendly Rancho Adjacent and the Rancho Equestrian DistrictsDr. Burbank


EARLY HISTORYThe Tongva had lived along the Valley’s waterways for some 8,000 years. After the Spaniards invaded, the area making up Burbank became part of Rancho San Rafael in 1784. It was in the area that would become Burbank that the Spaniard governor was unseated and replaced by Pio Pico in Mexico‘s War of Independence. After that, another portion of what would become Burbank was made part of Rancho Providencia in 1821.


As we all know, the US conquered Mexican California a couple of generations later. The Yanks put a new man in charge, a dentist from Maine, Dr. David Burbank, who purchased about 10,000 acres of the area in 1867 and built a ranch on which he grew wheat and raised sheep. In less than 10 years, the San Fernando Valley was LA County’s king of wheat production. The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived, connecting LA and SF in 1876 and settlement of the area increased, centered around Olive Avenue, formerly a Tongva trail to the Cahuenga Pass. In 1887, Providencia Land, Water, and Development Company began developing the land, calling it Burbank. With the money Dr. Burbank had amassed both from his career and sales of his land, he opened the Burbank Theatre in 1893, in downtown Los Angeles.

Fawkes' Folley

BURBANK TRANSITIn 1907, farmer Joseph Fawkes and E.C. Fawkes secured the first American patent for a monorail. They formed the Aerial Trolley Car Company and christened their first monorail “Aerial Shadow.” In 1907, it embarked on its first trek… only to fall apart after traveling approximately a foot. It was rebranded “Fawkes’ Folley.” In 1911, Joseph Fawkes re-settled on West Olive in Burbank where he grew apricots. The same year, Burbank was incorporated as a city and, two months later, a more reliable method of transportation, the Red Car, arrived. After that, the previously primarily agricultural town would rapidly industrialize and grow. In 1916 Burbank had 1,500 residents. That year, Original Stage Lines began running buses between Downtown Los Angeles and Burbank.

Today Burbank is also accessible by Metrolink‘s commuter rail Antelope Valley Line and Ventura County Line, Amtrak‘s Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight, Glendale‘s Beeline, and the Los Angeles Metro. The Metro’s 92 Line follows the route of the old Pacific Electric Glendale-Burbank Red Car Line that was discontinued in 1955. The main transit organization is Burbank Bus, which began in 2005 as the successor to Burbank Local Transit and operates four lines. To read an in depth history of Burbank public transit, click here.

Burbank 1922
Burbank 1922

By 1930, the time First National Studios, Andrew Jergens Company, The Lockheed Company, McNeill and Libby Canning Company, the Moreland Company, and Northrop Aircraft Corporation were located there, the population jumped to 16,662.BURBANK UNITED AIRPORT

Burbank United Airport

In 1930, Burbank’s United Airport was the largest commercial airport in the Los Angeles area, helping cement the town’s association with the flight industry.BURBANK DURING WORLD WAR II


Camoflauged Lockheed Vega plant
The Lockheed Vega plant before and after camouflage

During World War II, Lockheed’s Vega factory was camouflaged to foil possible Japanese invaders with a fake suburb replete with automobiles, homes and trees.BURBANK EMPIRE CENTER

Burbank Empire Center
The Burbank Empire Center

In late 2001, the Burbank Empire Center opened on the former site of Lockheed’s Skunk Works and other properties with aviation as the theme. The buildings in the shopping center look something like airplane hangars and the signs have airplanes above them. With the air industry and service jobs for the industry’s many workers, Burbank’s population reached 78,577 in 1950.BURBANK CITY HALL

Burbank City Hall

Burbank City Hall Interior
Burbank City Hall

Burbank’s Art Deco City Hall was designed by William Allen and W. George Lutzi and completed in 1943. Inside is a large mural painted by Hugo Ballin depicting Burbank’s ties to agriculture, aerospace and film.BURBANK IN THE 1950s

Barbara Graham's Murderous Hands  I Want to Live Poster

The decade that symbolizes for many “The Good Ol’ Days” was marred, in 1953, by one of Burbank’s most infamous crimes. In March of that year, the 64-year-old widow Mabel Monahan answered the door of herWest Parkside Avenue home when Barbara Graham (aka Barbara Wood) knocked. Bloody Babs, as the press later nicknamed her, and Jack Santo, John True, Baxter Shorter and Emmet Perkins bust in in search of her rumored fortune. After she refused to give them anything, Bloody Babs beat her skull in with a gun and suffocated her with a pillow. They stuffed her body in a closet which, ironically, had about $15,000 of jewels and other valuable that Babs and her accomplices failed to find. True sang in exchange for immunity. Shorter disappeared (and was assumed dead) and the other three went to the gas chamber. Susan Hayward later won an Academy Award for playing Graham in the highly fictionalized movie I Want to Live! (1958). It was remade in 1983 with Lindsay Wagner.



Burbank’s skyline was very low until 1974, when the 10-story Pacific Manor was completed. The second skyscraper was only one by the original definition — the 6-story 333. N. Glenoaks.

The 1980s saw the greatest period of highrise construction in Burbank. The 21-story Holiday Inn Burbank Media Center was completed in 1981 and, when I worked at the Penny Lane there, I sometimes used to ride its elevators on my lunch break for lack of anything better to do. In 1983, the 6-story Burbank Executive Plaza and the 10-story 303 North Glenoaks opened. The 10-story Burbank Center was completed in 1984. In 1985 the 14-story Central Park at Toluca Lake and the 21-story 3800 West Alameda were completed. Finishing out the 1980s, the 13-story Studio Plaza and 36-story The Tower were completed.

Currently, The Tower, in the Media District, is the 26th tallest building in the Southland and the second tallest building in the San Fernando Valley, after Universal City‘s 154 meter tall Universal City Plaza. It was designed by Nadel Architects Inc and was originally known as Tower Burbank. The 36 story, 140 meter tall skyscraper is the tallest concrete structure ever built in a severe US earthquake zone.

The 2000s saw the completion of the 10-story ABC Building in 2001 and the 14-story The Pointe in 2009.


Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris Murder Mack
Lawrence Bittaker, Roy Norris and their rape van, Murder Mack
Another horrible crime rocked Burbank in 1979, when a psychopathic Burbank machinist, Lawrence Bittaker, and his prison buddy, convicted rapist Roy Norris, bought a bought a 1977 GMC cargo van, which they came to call “Murder Mac” and hatched a plan to rape and kill local girls, eventually attacking at least six, killing them with coat hangers and ice picks after repeatedly raping them.BURBANK TODAY

Luckily, the Good Ol’ Days are gone and done and nowadays the violent crime rate is incredibly low. Today, home as it is to the HQ of Warner Bros, NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Company, Cartoon Network,Viacom and PBS, Burbank has been given (or perhaps gave itself) the nickname “The Media Capital of the World.” It’s population is 59% white (largely Armenian and Persian), 25% Latino (mostly Mexican), and 9% Asian.ATTRACTIONS IN BURBANK

There’s actually a fair amount of stuff to do in Burbank, which is perhaps why musician Brett Shadydescribed it to me as “The Jewel of the 818.” For higher-minded types (like myself, of course), there’s the Colony Theatre, Artpeace Gallery, Grove Theatre Center, The Victory Theatre, Theatre Banshee andHyaena Gallery. Until recently, Burbank was home to now defunct Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, one of too few Asian-American theater venues. I’m providing a link in the hope that they come back in some way, shape or form.

Inside the Blue Room
Inside the Blue Room


For lowbrow types (like myself) who just fancy getting drunk, there are some nice joints, like the The Blue Room and Corner Bar, which I can both recommend from experience. For those that prefer staring at athletes whilst they drink, rather than chatting up cuties, there’s Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Joe’s Great American Bar, Burbank Bar & Grille (formerly *cough* Burbank X-Treme Bar & Grille), Tin Horn Flats Bar & Grill, Michael’s Bar & Grill, Park Bar & Grill, Office Bar & Grill and Champs. There’s alsoWhiskey Bend, Sardo’s karaoke club, the nightclub Mr. B Entertainment, and the pubs Snug, Tony’s Darts Away and Buchanan Arms.

Wildwood Canyon Park
A trail in Wildwood Canyon

There’s plenty to do as well that doesn’t (necessarily — but can) revolve around the consumption of alcohol too. There’s the Stough Canyon Nature Center, the Chandler Bikeway, Brand Park, Wildwood Canyon Park, and many smaller ones. At the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, there’s the Equidome, which is used for rodeos, concerts and is the site of Equestfest and the the annual Fiesta of the Spanish Horse. Oh yeah, there’s also Pickwick Garden.

Santoro's Subs

BURBANK EATSAs always, I was on the look out for places to eat. Numerous recommendations came in from Burbankans for Chili John’s so the CARDIS transported us to the area…. only to find that it’s closed for the entire month. In a rare display of decisiveness, Shimbles declared his desire to feast upon a grinder so instead we went to Santoro’s Subs, which was also recommended by Burbank native Ferndangolo. The sandwiches were nothing fancy but quite good and absolutely overloaded with ingredients. Make sure to grab at least six napkins. Another restaurant of note in Burbank is the Bob’s Big Boy. Built in 1949, it’s the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy, a nice example of Googie architecture and a popular spot for car clubs to congregate.

Other joints include Alfredo’s Granada, Ameci, Apollo, Arbat, Arde’s Bistro, Arnie Morton’s, Backstage Cafe, Bahia Caporales, Barney’s Beanery, Bella Vista, Ben’s Catering and Deli, Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria, Big Screen Cuisine, Bistro Provence, Burning Bonzai, Cafe Colombia, Cafe Elegante, Cafe O Hookah Lounge & Restaurant, Cafe Valentino, California Pizza House, Candelejas, Castaway, Century Dragon, Chadaka Thai, Choza Mama, Coral Cafe, Corner Cottage,

Costa Azul, Cupcakes & Co, De Bell’s Clubhouse, Dimples, Dino’s Pizza, Don Cuco, Don Diego Mexican, Donut Hut, El Mexicano Inn, El Tapatio, El Torito, Elephant Bar, Exotic Thai, Flavor of India, Frank’s Steak House, Frontier Wok Too, Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza, Garni Kebab, Gary Bric’s Ramp, George’s Patio Cafe, Gindi Thai, Gitana, Gourmet 88 Burbank, Granville Cafe, Green Garden Cafe, Guido’s, Harry’s Family, Healthy Bites, Hill Street Cafe, Honeydew, Islands,

Jeff & Tony’s, Knight, Kotayk Kabob Deli, L’Angolo, La Bamba, Larry’s Chili Dog, Lily’s Cafe, Lotus Chinese Gourmet, Magnolia, Martino’s Bakery, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Mo’s, Momotaro, New Town Buffet, Norm’s, North End Pizzeria, Octopus, Ohana Hawaiian BBQ, Papoo’s, Parazzi, Philly’s Best, Picanha Brazilian, Pinball Pizza, Pinocchio Restaurant, Pizza Factory, Pizza Man, Poquito Mas, Porto’s, Pupuseria del Valle, Ribs USA, Rico’s Pizza,

Riverside Cafe
, Robert’s Cuisine, Saraya Thai, Sawan Cafe, Season Thai Cuisine, Seoul Korean BBQ, Simply Coffee & Boutique, SmokehouseSol y Mar, South Street Burbank, Sun Moon Garden, Sushi Dake, Tallyrand, Taste Chicago, Tequila’s Restaurant-Bar & Grill, Thai Kitchen, Theresa’s Family,Third & Olive, Tokyo Yakidori, Tomo Sushi, Tony’s Italian Deli, Urban Eats, Venice Deli, Victorios, Viva Fresh Mexican, Western Bagel Burbank, Wokcano Cafe, Wok to Go, Yogurtiers, Yum Yum Donuts, Yummy Cupcakes, Z Pizza, Zankou Chicken and Zono Sushi.

The Starlight Bowl
The Starlight Bowl in 1950


Burbankans and others can enjoy the music of The Burbank Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1950, the Starlight Bowl opened in Slough Park, which plays host to a summer concert series. Musicians born in Burbank include Bonnie Raitt, Krista Detor, Jay Ferguson, Bruce Gary, David Leonard Johnson, Zella Lehr, Angel, Paul Barrere, Dave Markey, Amanda McBroom, Jeff Steele and Cliffie Stone. The bands Bleeding Kansas and Lovehatehero represent the Burbank sound, as does the annual concert Burbstock.

Atomic Records
Magnolia Park’s Atomic Records
Backside Records
Burbank Village’s Backside Records
Burbank is home to a couple of Mom and Pop record stores as well — Atomic and Backside. We went to Atomic and Shimbles almost bought a Clash 7″ before deciding otherwise, afterward letting it be known that it was the first time he’d ever entered a record store and not purchased anything. Later, we went to Backside where he… bought a Clash 7″.Burbank Media Center


As home to several major “Hollywood” studios, over 12,000 films and TV episodes have been filmed in Burbank, all of which I will now list. Only joking! But yes, movies arrived in Burbank in the ’20s. In 1926, First National Pictures opened on Olive Avenue. Disney moved to Burbank from Franklin Hills in 1939. Disney originally wanted to build “Mickey Mouse Park,” as Disney first called Disneyland, next to the Burbank studio but that idea was rejected. In March 1945, an estimated 10,500 CSU workers went on strike and began picketing all the studios, resulting in delays of several films. Unfortunately for CSU, the studios had some 130 films which they’d been sitting on so they initially planned on just waiting out the strike. Finally, on October 5, 1945 a riot broke out, the so-called The Battle of Burbank. The disorder in Hollywood helped prompt the passage of the Taft-Hartley bill, which tarred the CSU’s leader, Herb Sorrell, as a commie, resulting in CSU’s descent into obscurity. In 1952, NBC moved to Burbank. On Johnny Carson‘s Tonight Show, they’d always announce that they were being brought to audiences from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” In fact, they were filmed in Burbank’s Media Center (pictured above) and not downtown Burbank.

Columbia Ranch
New York Street being built in Burbank
Most of the movies shot in Burbank were filmed on various studio back lots, including films like Casablanca,Mary Poppins (1964) and The Princess Diaries (2001), to name three seemingly random examples. The Columbia Ranch is one of the most famous lots. It opened in 1934 and countless serials, films and TV shows had scenes filmed there. In 1970, a catastrophic fire destroyed a quarter of the lot. Half of the western set and the colonial/European set burned down. By mid 1971, Columbia and Warner Bros studios decided to combine their forces. In 1990, Columbia Pictures separated from Warner Bros and left Burbank, leaving the Ranch completely. Warner Bros. gained ownership of the lot and renamed it Warner Ranch.
Burbank is also where a TV series, Chuck, is set. The Burbank Town Center has been featured in the Bad News Bears remake, Cold Case, Gilmore Girls, ER and Desperate Housewives.

Safari Inn Motel

There are a couple of noteworthy filming locations in Burbank outside of the studios. First, there’s the Safari Inn Motel, which was featured in True Romance, Apollo 13 and Coach Carter.
Wonder Years Arnold House
The Arnolds’ House
Winnie Cooper's House
The Coopers’ House
University Ave was central to the TV series The Wonder Years. At 516 University Avenue is the Arnold household (pictured above left), built in 1949. Kevin’s hapa love interest, Winnie Cooper, lived just down the block (pictured above right).
Cubby O'Brien Clint Howard Wally Albright

Cubby, Clint and Wally – three of Burbank’s suspiciously large number of child actors

Gallery 42 sells original film posters. Book Castle’s Movie World sells all kinds of movie memorabilia. Burbank also hosts the Burbank International Film Festival. Actors Jon Ritter, Doug Savant, Jill Schoelen, Wil Wheaton, Mara Wilson, Cubby O’Brien, George O’Hanlon Jr, Eve Plumb, Wally Albright, Steve Kanaly, Laura Johnson, Mark Harmon, Clint Howard, Erin Moran, Andrew Gold, Cady McClain, Debbe Dunning, Jennifer Grant, Ami Dolenz, Eddie Cibrian, Garette Ratliff Henson,  John Kidwell, Lalaine, Marina Malota and directors Tim Burton and David Markey were all born in Burbank.

To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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26 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Burbank

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