Happy 818, or, San Fernando Valley Day!

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s Map of the San Fernando Valley

Although the date format of most countries is “day/month/year,” the US, as we know, likes to fly in the face of global conventions and go its own way (see also: British Imperial Units, Fahrenheit, and American football). Because of our quirky date format, American nerds observe π Day on 14 March (3/14) whilst nerds in other countries favor 22 July (22/7 being a more accurate approximation of π). It’s also why 26 June (6/26) is San Gabriel Valley Day and 18 August (8/18) is San Fernando Valley Day.


For readers outside of Los Angeles, “818” serves as a sort of shorthand for the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles County because it’s the regions primary area code (the other is 747). The 818 area code was only introduced on 7 January 1984. Prior to that, all Angelenos used 213, which was introduced by AT&T in 1947. When it was introduced, 818 was also the area code for the San Gabriel Valley, although on 14 June 1997, most of that region was re-assigned 626, which similarly serves as shorthand for that region. Although 818 covers all of the San Fernando Valley, it is not limited to it, as it also serves as the area code for several communities in the Conejo and Crescenta valleys. The association with the Valley is so strong, though, that when 747 was proposed as a new area code for the south and west Valley, Valleyites banded together in a rare show of unity and agreed to overlay both area codes across the entire region rather than deprive parts of the Valley the 818 area code.


There are dozens of valleys in Metro Los Angeles but since at least 1927, “the Valley” has referred, in Los Angeles parlance, to the San Fernando Valley, which, although mostly part of the city of Los Angeles since 1915, has retained a strong sense of identity distinct from other regions of Los Angeles. Before I first visited Los Angeles, I had some ideas about Valley culture and, especially, Valley girls despite having never heard the song “Valley Girl” nor having seen the film of the same name. All the way over in Mid-Missouri, I knew that there were people in the Valley who supposedly said things like “grody to the max,” “gag me with a spoon,” and “totally awesome.” Their favored filler word was “like” which, to my chagrin, soon became mine and seemingly every American my age — although my maternal grandfather’s “likesay” wasn’t actually that different.


I had, it turned out, seen the Valley although I often had no idea. In 1914, Carl Laemmle began construction on the Valley’s first permanent movie-making facility, Oak Ridge Ranch, which later became Universal City. When I got around to taking the Universal Studios tour, I recognized the cityscape I’d seen on episodes of Adam-12, Dragnet, The Incredible Hulk, and countless other programs. One of my first jobs was at Penny Lane in Burbank and on my lunch breaks, I’d often go on walks. One day I arrived on the block where the Arnold and Cooper homes from The Wonder Years still stood. I also would discover that Starfleet Academy was actually the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.


Although which communities are in the Valley and which are not would seem to be a pretty settled issue, it, in fact, is constantly debated. A valley, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is “an elongate depression of the earth’s surface usually between ranges of hills or mountains.” In the case of the San Fernando Valley, that elongate depression is located between several ranges of hills and mountains, including the San Gabriel, Santa Susana, Simi, Chalk, Verdugo, and Santa Monica (known, colloquially, as the Hollywood Hills). Therefore, if no part of a community is located within that elongate depression than that community is not located in the Valley. That means, despite what some might say, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Sunland, and Tujunga are unequivocally not located in the San Fernando Valley.

Some, bizarrely, will argue that Burbank isn’t part of the Valley because “it’s its own city.” So, too, is San Fernando. Does anyone think that the city of San Fernando isn’t part of the Valley named after it? One can be forgiven for thinking that Universal City, given its name, is an actual city, but in fact it’s an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County. Less debatable is the fact that it’s located within the San Fernando Valley. I’m also a bit at a loss to explain why the status of Glendale is up for debate. Why is it hard to understand that a city can occupy more than one region? Glendale, like Los Angeles, is located both within and without the Valley. Glendale was founded in the Los Angeles Basin. However, over time, it has expanded through annexations to occupy parts of the San Rafael Hills, Verdugos, Crescenta Valley, San Gabriel Mountains, and yes, a tiny portion in the southeastern edge of the Valley where the Los Angeles River flows out of the Valley into the Los Angeles Basin — the so-called Glendale Narrows.

Of Metro Los Angeles’s regions, only Midtown rivals the Valley when it comes to degree of Balkanization and the near ongoing renaming of neighborhoods. The town of Toluca was renamed Lankershim… and then, a few years later, North Hollywood. Meanwhile, some people in North Hollywood decided that they’d like like to rename their neighborhood Valley Village… and, later, a few decided they’d rather their nickname be known as Sherman Village. Over in the southern end of Van Nuys, meanwhile, some residents decided that they’d rather people think of them as living in northern Sherman Oaks, and so the imaginary border was moved.

Anyway, at the time of writing, the communities of the San Fernando Valley include but are not necessarily limited to Arleta, Burbank, Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Cottage Grove, Deer Lake Highlands, El Miradero, Encino, Fern Ann Falls, Granada Hills, Grand Central, Grandview, Kenneth Village, Lake Balboa, Lakeview Terrace, Mission Hills, the NoHo Arts District, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Porter Ranch, Reseda, Riverside Rancho, San Fernando, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Sherman Village, Sherwood Forest, Stonehurst, Studio City, Sun Valley, Sylmar, Tarzana, Toluca Lake, Toluca Terrace, Toluca Woods, Twin Lakes, Universal City, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Warner Center, West Chatsworth, West Hills, West Toluca Lake, Winnetka, Woodland Hills, and Van Nuys.


The first people in what’s now the Valley were probably the Chumash, whose ancestors lived in the Channel Islands off the coast of what’s now Los Angeles at least 13,000 years ago. By at least 7,000 years ago, the Chumash had settled parts of the Valley. About 3,500 years ago, various Uto-Aztecan language speakers arrived from east, including the Tataviam and Tongva. They established villages in and around the Valley, including Paséknga, Achooykomenga (present day San Fernando), Pakoinga (“the entrance place,” present day Pacoima), Siutcanga (“the oak place,” present day Encino), and Kaweenga (“the mountain place,” from which “Cahuenga” is derived).

In 1769, Catalonian military officer Gaspar de Portolà i Rovira led an overland expedition through the Valley on behalf of Spain. Later that year, Spain granted El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos to soldier Juan Francisco Reyes, who built a home in the north valley. On 8 September 1797, Spain established the Mission San Fernando Rey de España there. It was also that year that Spain renamed the valley, “El Valle de San Fernando.”

Mexico, including Alta California and Los Angeles, declared independence from Spain on 10 September 1810. Independence was ratified in 1821. In 1846, the US invaded California, which was made the 31st state on 9 September 1850. Early prominent Anglo settlers included James Boon Lankershim (from Missouri) and Isaac Newton Van Nuys (from New York). The cities of Burbank, San Fernando, and Van Nuys incorporated in 1911. Owensmouth incorporated in 1912 (and later changed its name to Canoga Park). Most of the rest of the Valley was annexed by Los Angeles on 22 May 1915, when 438 square kilometers were added to city, doubling its size. Beginning in the 1970s, there were a series of attempts for the Valley to secede from Los Angeles. In 2002, voters rejected efforts to create Valley City, which had it suceeded in seceding, would’ve been the the second-most populous city in California and the sixth-most populous city in the US.

Yesterday, on Valley Day Eve, my friend Mike and I rode our bicycles from my place in Silver Lake to Van Nuys, along the way passing through Riverside Rancho, Burbank, Toluca Terrace, North Hollywood, the NoHo Arts District, Valley Village, Sherman Village, Sherman Oaks, and Valley Glen. We stopped for food and drink along the way at Tony’s Darts Away, Los Amigos Bar & Grill, and a 7-Eleven. Along the way, I thought about some of my favorite Valley things (and mourned the loss of Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee and Paladino’s).


BEST BOOK ABOUT THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY: The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb by Kevin Roderick (of L.A. Observed) is a coffee table book that does a good job of explaining the Valley.

BEST BOOKSTORE: The Iliad Bookshop is one of my favorite bookshops — and probably has a copy of The San Fernando Valley for sale.

BEST BUS RAPID TRANSIT LINE: Metro‘s G Line speeds along (unlike Metro’s J Line) a tree-lined dedicated right-of-way for its entire length. Much of it is also paralleled by the Orange Line Bike Path (the F Line was origianlly known as the Orange Line), which Mike and I rode much of.

BEST MALL: Plaza del Valle is a mall in the old school sense and feels more like a place than any enclosed shopping center.

BEST DOWNTOWN: Downtown San Fernando, or the San Fernando Mall, is charming in a way that most of the Valley’s commercial districts are not; namely, it feels like a place where pedestrians aren’t regarded as nothing but an inconvenience for motorists.

BEST SIMULACRUM OF A DOWNTOWN: Warner Center — the wonderfully bleak, boring, shiny retro-futuristic Century City of the Valley.

BEST AIRPORT: Hollywood Burbank Airport (formerly known as the Bob Hope Airport) is accessible, unlike most airports in the region, by train, allowing travelers to leave their cars in the garage. What a novel concept! The name, though, is deeply embarrassing since the airport is not only not in Hollywood — it’s not even especially close.

BEST AROREAL HISTORIC-CULTURAL MONUMENT: A tie between Lassen Street Olive Trees (also known as 76 Mature Olive Trees) and 300 California Pepper Trees.

BEST BAR INSIDE OF AN OLD BANK: The Federal Bar is located within a pre-Depression bank built in 1926 and is both a fine example of adaptive reuse and a bar.

BEST DINER THAT LOOKS LIKE A TRAIN CAR: NOHO Diner is not a train-to-restaurant conversion (e.g. Carney’s), but rather a restaurant designed to look like a train (e.g. Pacific Dining Car).

BEST CHURCH (BASED SOLEY ON ARCHITECTURE): Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, nicknamed, for obvious reasons, “the Onion.”

BEST CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS (FORMER): Sunkist Headquarters, a stunning Brutalist building designed by Albert C. Martin and Associates and completed in 1969.

BEST DAM: A tie between Sepulveda Dam and Hansen Dam. Both look similar, were built at almost exactly the same time, and seem to hold water equally well.

BEST HIGHRISE: Los Angeles Federal Savings and Loan Tower (now known as Valley Plaza Tower) — designed by Honnold & Rex. It was built in 1960 and is a modest twelve stories tall. It’s weird to think that sixty years ago there apparently weren’t NIBMYs for whom anything over two-stories is utterly destructive to “neighborhood character.”

BEST JAPANESE GARDEN: Suihō-en (水芳園), the Japanese garden in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area. Its name means “water fragrance garden” and is designed to demonstrate that water can be recycled instead of stolen from the Owens Valley.

BEST LARGE PARK: A tie between O’Melveny Park (undeveloped and hilly) and Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area (popular and full of amenities).

BEST LEGACY RESTAURANT: Casa de Pizza — The sort of checkered table cloth, framed pictures on walls Italian restaurant that kills the Gordon Ramseys of the world but has the potential people who take themselves a bit less seriously or who aren’t obsessed with “authenticity.”

BEST NATIVE PLANTS RESOURCE: Theodore Payne Foundation has all of the native plants you need… and that’s all of us and the entire city.

BEST PODCAST: 818s and Heartbreaks. 818s and Heartbreaks is almost certainly the only podcast about the Valley but it makes me wish that every region of Los Angeles had its own podcast. Give me a San Gabriel Valley podcast, a Harbor District podcast, a Channel Islands podcast, a South Bay podcast, an Antelope Valley podcast (&c).

BEST RESIDENTIAL TRACT: Balboa Highlands is a beautiful tract of Mid-Century Modern homes developed in the early 1960s by Joseph Eichler and with gorgeous homes designed by Claude Oakland, A. Quincy Jones, and Frederick Emmons. Shame it’s so car-dependant, though.

BEST SUBWAY: Metro’s B Line opened in 1993. It didn’t extend to the Valley, though, until 1999.

BEST VEGAN JAPANESE RESTAURANT: Gokoku is the best vegetarian ramen-ya… although it would be nice if they had beer on tap.

BEST VEGAN VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT: Vĩnh Lợi Tofu has been one of the Valley’s real culinary gems since 2002.

BEST SPORTS BAR: Jug Jug Sports Bar & Restaurant — a strip mall bar with a vibe. I would actually rather play sports than watch others play them… really I’m just there for the makgeolli.

BEST COUNTRY BAR: Cowboy Palace Saloon has live country music and, naturally, is located in the wild, dusty, and lawless frontier town of Chatsworth.

BEST TIKI BAR: The Tonga Hut — a tiki bar with a colorful history and decor both before its makeover and after.

BEST STREET THAT WOULD BENEFIT FROM A MAKEOVER: Magnolia Boulevard. The businesses and stately trees that line Magnolia Boulevard provide all of the charm. The street itself, meanwhile, is an unwelcoming, seven-lane-wide stroad. Nothing that some bioswales, a median, bicycle lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and some parklets couldn’t improve.

BEST TRAIN STATION: Although the bar is low, Chatsworth Station is the best in the Valley… because it serves Amtrak, Metro, and Metrolink. Of course, like nearly every local train station (and unlike every local airport), there are no public restrooms, because our transit agencies think that passengers prefer station art to peeing in doorways and bushes.

THINGS IN THE VALLEY I’VE STILL YET TO CHECK OUT: The Armer Theater (which hosts free film screenings), California State University, Northridge (I love a university campus), the Great Wall of Los Angeles (a huge mural and cultural landmark ), the “Hole” (a guerrilla art installation), Idle Hour (a barrel shaped cocktail lounge), Mission San Fernando Rey de España, the Nethercutt Collection (a car museum — because what better place for cars?), the theaters of the NoHo Arts District (I’ve only been to a couple of plays on one of those theaters), and Wat Thai (my Thai neighbors have been suggesting that I accompany them there for years).

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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 KCRW‘s Which 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 AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubi, the StoryGraph, and Twitter.

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