Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I was an original Mallrat

Here's another small excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 60s. It's 1964 and I'm too young to drive. My guess is today nothing's changed.
The Topanga Plaza opened!

Finally! A place for teenagers to loiter in air conditioned comfort!

The Topanga Plaza was L.A.’s first indoor mall. So take that West Covina and Terminal Island! It’s one thing to just call yourself a great suburb, but now we had an Orange Julius, Montgomery Wards, and Morrow’s Nuts to prove it! No wonder the Soviet Union viewed Woodland Hills as a target!

The mall was about the size of a city block, two tiered, flanked by Broadway and May Co. department stores with a Monkey Wards in the middle. There was also an ice skating rink (a reminder that in other parts of the world they had this thing called “winter”), Don Paul’s Seven Seas food court (affectionately known as Seven Sewers), and the world’s coolest fountain.

Beads of water (actually glycerin) ran down these ceiling-to-floor thin transparent plastic or nylon tubes creating a rainforest effect. When psychedelic drugs became fashionable a few years later this fountain became a big attraction. Just staring at it for ten hours became very commonplace.

On the opposite end of the mall there were kiosks with exotic birds and monkeys in large circular cages. That might not sound like a big deal but I don’t know one kid who didn’t love those monkeys.

But the real attraction to anyone under 20 was the Wallichs Music City record store. Owned by the ubiquitous Clyde Wallichs, his Music City stores were an L.A. institution. The main branch was at Sunset & Vine and was the hang-out capitol of Hollywood. It stocked the most complete collection of records anywhere and far more important – had listening booths! This was a revolutionary concept. You could take a sample album into this little glass booth and play it. Without having to buy it!! Why not just pass out free crack?

Every kid flocked to the Topanga Plaza for one simple reason. Most of the time we were all bored. Despite what you’ve read about how exciting the 60s were, those of us who grew up in it spent a great deal of time looking for crap to do. When our children were out of school we filled their summer days with karate lessons and dance classes. Back then we just hung out, sitting around the food court, wandering aimlessly through stores (like I gave a shit about the “Raj of India’s” Pooja Accessories Sale).

From time to time they filmed WHERE THE ACTION IS at the Topanga Plaza, which was quite ironic considering there was no action there ever. This was a daily afternoon dance show on ABC that was all shot in “groovy” locations. If anything helped perpetuate the California Myth it was this show. They’d be at the beach, the zoo, Marineland, drag strips, Pacific Ocean Park, Knotts Berry Farm, Griffith Park stables, Pickwood Pool, Busch Gardens (a combination tropical forest/brewery – Disneyland for tosspots). I say “myth” because if you didn’t have a car (or worse, not know how to drive) you were shit out of luck. In all those anthems to Surf City never once do they mention getting there by city bus.

Frequent guests were Paul Revere & the Raiders. It would be a thousand degrees and they'd be on the beach in Malibu in their heavy wool revolutionary war garb. Too bad they didn't have shorts and tank tops in the 1700s.

Tomorrow: David Hyde Pierce guest blogs and answers one of your Friday questions.


Joe said...

I wish we'd been alerted to the guest bloggery...someone could have made book on the question(s) answered.

(I would have guessed Rothman, he seems the Vegas type.)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Tomorrow: David Hyde Pierce guest blogs and answers one of your Friday questions.

Oh my god! I'm getting all verklempt! Seriously!

Does he need a chair? I can dust one off with a handkerchief for him easily.

D. McEwan said...

Marineland, Pacific Ocean Park, and Busch Gardens. How I miss all of them.

I spent the ages from 5 to 13 living a short bike ride from the late, great Marineland, and spent so much time there I began to think of Bubbles and Bimbo the Whales as friends.

I went to many a TV shoot at Marineland (I had utterly forgotten about WHERE THE ACTION IS. It was a fun show) At a taping at Marineland of TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES I got to meet Bob Barker and Gypsy Rose Lee. (Gypsy Rose Lee, a total delight, didn't have a lot of 11 year old fans, but she had me), and on another occasion, saw The Munsters shoot an Easter special there. I used to have a picture of a skinny teenaged me posing with Fred Gwynne in FULL Herman Munster make up, but "enjoying" a cigarette, by a tank full of sharks.

And I miss Pacific Ocean Park. It was a blast, a small acquatic-themed Disneyland. GREAT rollercoaster. It wasn't bad enough that it went bust after a mere 8 years open, but it sat there and ROTTED slowly over the years. I would see it's decrepit remains decaying over the years, and it broke my heart every time.

Paul Duca said...

Doug...if that doesn't beat all. I have a large collection of old TV commercials of all kinds, and it includes a promo for the Munsters at Marineland special.

Steph said...

Man I was born in the wrong era!

Janice said...

Oh, how I love to remember Topanga Plaza! I moved around a lot in the Valley as a child, so closing my eyes and remembering that mall circa 1972 is "home" to me. The Jolly Roger restaurant, Orbach's, that cool restaurant in May Co that overlooked the mall... there was even a tiny Thrifty's Drug Store. Thanks for sharing the memories - I look forward to your book!

D. McEwan said...

"Paul Duca said...
Doug...if that doesn't beat all. I have a large collection of old TV commercials of all kinds, and it includes a promo for the Munsters at Marineland special."

Well look for me in the crowd front rows. A skinny teenage boy with brown hair and a Brownie camera.

The Munster make ups were not supposed to be seen in daylight.

I still have a picture of Yvonne DeCarlo I snapped that day, posing with a friend of mine, and I have a shot I took of Fred, Yvonne, and Al Lewis, in full make up and regalia, by the whale tank, with a boom mike above them, doing a take. Only the shot of Fred and I doesn't survive.

Nathan said...

And to think, all today's youth have to look forward to will be Katherine Heigl's comeback appearances at the Galleria. (I'm just trying to keep your hits coming by pouring gasoline on the flames.)

WV: loothe what a tooth is called when you're already missing a bunch of them.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

(I'm just trying to keep your hits coming by pouring gasoline on the flames.)

Here. Napalm. ;)

Mike Bell said...

Did every mall have that same glycerin
fountain? I know the "Valley Plaza" here in Bakersfield did. Also the Broadway (my mom worked there) and Sears and Orange Julius.

The best thing was the Jolly Roger restaurant and cocktail lounge. The waitresses all wore these little pirate outfits like you might buy out the Adam and Eve catalog. Go go boots as well. Even as a 11 year old, I great appreciated those short skirts and go go boots.

stålar said...

Just wanted to make sure you're not missing out on the HuffPo headlines today, Ken. Some good ones, or how about "Kid Rock: Twitter Is Gay"?

Chas said...

"Where The Action Is" was shot around the corner from my house at Studio City Park several days a week. They had this huge jungle gym with a 10ft slide that the Raiders could climb around on. I remember Len Berry singing "1,2,3" from the top of that slide a few times.

Cathy Fielding said...

When we moved back to L.A. in 1968 the Topanga Plaza Mall was where we hung out. I too was fascinated by the fountain. I remember staring at it every time we came there, wondering how they did that. I also remember the ice-skating rink that kept us cool during those 100+ degree summers.

Sandy Koufax said...

Ken: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley too (Reseda). When Topanga Plaza opened (July 10, 1964) it was really a big deal for us kids and the Valley. Wow, a cool place to hang out and be seen. KFWB used to broadcast live from their "satellite" studio at Wallach's Music City. I still have a photo that I got from Sam Riddle the day be did his show from there.
I have great memories of going into "Raj of India" just to smell the incense. I think to this day it has affected my sense of smell!
Anyhow, thanks for the memories...

Mike M. said...

Oh how I appreciated you taking me down Memory Lane. Yes, Topanga Plaza was indeed a wonderful place for us kids in the 60's & 70's. I loved you remembering all the stores. I sorely miss the Pickwick Bookstore.

I must be a little younger than you (50 now) as I don't remember Where the Action Is, but I sure remember "Groovy" on Channel 9 broadcasting every afternoon from Malibu. My sister had a crush on the host (Mike somebody if I remember correctly, with curly blond hair).

Looking back, growing up in the Valley in the 60's/70's was a great childhood. LA City Schools were great then (prior to Prop 13) and there were a lot of open spaces. I remember how pissed we all were when they started building Porter Ranch because we used the play in those hills. My grandparents had a home right off Devonshire in the those days and their backyard was basically an orange grove. We even used to ride horses to the Spann ranch in Chatsworth (prior to Manson, of course).

Thanks for the wonderful trip down memory lane...

thomas tucker said...

Off topic, sort of, but does anyone remember a restaurant called Horace Heidt's Java Time at the old Santa Monica mall?

Alaskaray said...

Man, that really brings back great memories. I recall how fascinated I was the first time I saw that fountain. Topanga Plaza was also a pretty good place to pick up girls.

I'm not sure, but I think you and I were together when we met Sally Field at Music City. Maybe it was the neck strain from flying all around in that nun's habit, but she wasn't very nice to us.


Ray Randolph said...

Great post, Ken. I had totally forgotten about the fountain at Topanga Plaza. My favorite store was the one that carried all of the cool blacklight posters, lava lamps, love beads, etc. Although my memory is pretty much shot, I believe it was called the Light Brigade.

I also enjoyed the recreation area across the street (behind Topanga Theatre) that had miniature golf, trampolines, and the huge slide that you'd ride down on a gunny sack. Great memories. Woodland Hills ruled!

D. McEwan said...

"Mike M. said...
I sure remember 'Groovy' on Channel 9 broadcasting every afternoon from Malibu. My sister had a crush on the host (Mike somebody if I remember correctly, with curly blond hair)."

His name was Michael Blodgett. He hosted shirtless and had the body for it, which is why I remember who he is all these decades later. He had a career as an actor, and even did some writng. He is a credited writer on TURNER & HOOCH for one. He died in November, 2007.

Anonymous said...

"His name was Michael Blodgett. He hosted shirtless and had the body for it, which is why I remember who he is all these decades later. He had a career as an actor, and even did some writng."

Big D--you might not care as much as some of the others in the crowd, but perhaps his best accomplishment was marrying one of the greatest Playmates of all time, Cynthia Meyers, Dec 1968

Tim said...

As a student at Canoga High 65-67, across Vanowen from the mall, we'd try to sneak over & smoke cigarettes for our 40 minute lunch period. We had to sneak because you couldn't leave campus for lunch unless you lived within 1 mile, and only then w/ a note from mom/dad. Many a time the P.E coaches almost busted us. To be branded a smoker by the coaches was like wearing a scarlet 'A'

Anonymous said...

Ah, Marineland. When I was at KRLA I put on "The Wolf Man Jack Show" there. He killed. I'm going back to the scence of "the show" next month - a new hotel, Terranea!

WV: aphyd. Hope there aren't any there.

Debby G said...

When I was a preteen, I spent almost every Saturday at Topanga Plaza with my best friend. We'd go ice skating, get a bunch of free samples from Hickory Farms, and go to all the stores. We used to rearrange the racks of baby clothes at the dept. stores from our favorite to least favorite. I'm sure the sales clerks loved us.

Great to see the old pictures of the mall! It's changed a lot since then.

D. McEwan said...

Just some, I hope, interesting tidbits:

The set of the military fortress where Captain Jack Sparrow is almost hanged in the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie was built on the site of Marineland.

Other films have used that location for sets. The housing tract in A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD was built where Marineland had been, and the opening "film location" in POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE was there as well.

In the old MGM THE THREE MUSKETEERS with Gene Kelly, when D'Artagnion is riding along the French coast with England visible across the channel, he's on the shore below the bluffs on which Marineland was sitting, and "England" is being played by Santa Catalina Island.

The lighthouse which is supposedly near San Diego at the end of A TICKLISH AFFAIR with Shirley Jones and Carolyn Jones is really the Point Vincente Lighthouse a half mile west of Marineland. As a 12 year old, I witnessed some of that shoot. My whole family went to see that movie together in a drive-in because we'd all seen some of it shot. To get to the shoot, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile had to drive right past our house. THAT was cool! Nothing I like better than big, camp, wildly-phallic vehicles!

In THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, in Richard Carlson and Julie Adams's first scenes, on a boat, the rear projection plate behind them is a shot of the bluffs on which sits Marineland.

Yet in the CREATURE sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, much of the film takes place at A Marineland, but it is "Marineland of the Atlantic" in Florida, whereas we have been discussing Marineland of the Pacific, its sister aquarium, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County, about a mile and a half west of the "Big W" from IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which these days is merely a Big V.

The Aragon Ballroom where Lawrence Welk did his execrable show for many years was in Pacific Ocean Park. Often they'd send the singers and dancers down into the park to shoot musical numbers all over the place. I have on DVD some of the P.O.P. Lawrence Welk location songs. Can't stand the music, but I love seeing P.O.P. in it's ever-so-brief glory.

"Anonymous said...
Big D--you might not care as much as some of the others in the crowd, but perhaps his best accomplishment was marrying one of the greatest Playmates of all time, Cynthia Meyers"

I can see where some would indeed find that interesting, although the concept of a "greatest Playmate of all time" is truly lost on me. It's like me calling my kitty "one of the greatest pussy cats of all time." What is the criteria, and how debased can the word "great" get?

The pairing makes a certain amount of sense. He was basically a himbo, so a bimbo is the perfect mate. He might count his 7 screenwriting credits to be greater accomplishments, particularly since the IMDb lists no such woman among his four wives. according to them, his marriage record was:

Meredith Baxter (21 October 1995 - 2000) (divorced)
Lanetta Wahlgren (12 July 1984 - 21 April 1995) (divorced) 1 child
Sandra Kirchner (1961 - 1977) (divorced) 1 child
Lynn Hammerlund (1957 - 1960) (divorced) 1 child

The IMDb also lists this great trivia bit on Blodgett:
"His jail-yard flogging in There Was a Crooked Man... (1970) ranks 67th on a list published in the book: 'Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies'."

I gotta read that book! Enough blogging; now for some floggling!

Scott in H.C. said...

Great stories Ken!

Boy do I remember Busch Gardens. My late father's two favorite pastimes were growing flowers and drinking beer. and he got them both at Busch Gardens!

Wasn't the beer like 25 or 50 cents a cup?

Most kids got to go to Disneyland or Knott's - I got to ride a tram through a beer factory! Isn't that every 7 year olds dream?

Debby G said...

I loved touring the beer factory that was Busch Gardens. My younger brother always sneaked beer or convinced our mom to sneak him some. Years later, he got kicked out of every dorm at Berkeley for drinking. Quite an accomplishment. He's now an ob-gyn.

Anonymous said...

OMG! What memories!! I practically lived at Topanga Plaza. We were always trying to pick up girls there and occasionally succeeded. I ice skated there weekly and went on to play ice hockey. Ate at Don Paul's 7 KITCHENS and incidentally didn't he own The Ram's Horn in Encino? Used to order the "Moana Loa" sundae at Jolly Roger and yes, I was there for a taping of "Where the Action Is". My friends and I got so weird that we wrote down every pay phone number in the plaza and called them from home just to see who would answer as they walked by. Funny that Marine Land would come up now. Last night I dreamed that I went back there and the big tank was empty and scary looking. It was the PICKWICK pool by the way. And remember when P O P meant pay one price (99 cents)? Sorrento Beach? Ken, thanks for jogging my memory and I can't wait for your book about the SFV.

Anonymous said...

Face Book has a page I GREW UP AT TOPANGA PLAZA and the comments, photos and memories are amazing. i shared the day in 1976 Ronald Reagan gave a speech by the May Co. court (he was running for Prez 4 years before he won the nomination). Jimmy Stewart, Yvonne DeCarlo and Gary Collins appeared with RR and Nancy to introduce him and get the (geriatric) crowd going.

Jeanne Roberts said...

Hi Ken,
I'm the person who created the Facebook group "I Grew Up at Topanga Plaza." It all began when I searched FB and found nothing about my childhood mall... so I created the group. After hearing me talk about TP with such nostalgia, my husband kindly joined "I Grew Up..." so I could call it a "group." Several days later a total stranger joined... 3 members now! Then another person joined, and another, and soon a deluge of people joined... over 150 people in one day. The group now numbers nearly 2500 members who share wonderful, nostalgic memories of Topanga Plaza and the "good old days" of the SFV during the 60s and 70s. It has been a lot of fun.
I'm glad to find your blog.
All the best,

Anonymous said...

Hello to all my former friends of the San Fernando Valley and Topanga Plaza !!!

I miss you all and I miss that era so badly !!!

I'm going to check out the Facebook group mentioned next.

For now, I have to say we weren't really all that bored in our youth of the late 1960's and early 1970's!
We were just the same as everyone today and looking for kid things to do.

For us, in 1969 or so, we would ride our bikes to Topanga Plaza the roughly 7 miles of streets. We'd pass along under a set of pepper trees on Canoga Ave which was bulldozed to create a business park called Warner Center. Those trees gave us shade from the summer heat & they were like giant green mushrooms over the road.

Once at TP, we hit Orange Julius, and browsed around.

Now, at age 56, our generation is beginning to fade :) But our memories still evoke strong emotions. The perfect proof that creating good memories in your life is really, really, really important.

Good memories come from life experiences and not from expensive vacations. Good memories come from simple things like bike riding with friends, laughing with friends, experiencing fears of attending a new school or a new date. Good memories even come from bad experiences such as getting a flat tire and having to wait for hours for someone to come help you.

I urge young parents to give your own kids huge doses of good memories for their lives. Take them to the beach, to pizza joints, to movies, to firework displays, to school events, to everything. Your kids will love you for the rest of your lives with all those memories.

It isn't expensive to create good memories. Just get those kids out & do things with them so that they can then begin to create their own good memories :)

I miss you all. I miss my friends who have died already.

Thanks for the memories of laughter, Boke.

Thanks for the memories of sailing, Paul.

And Robbie, I'm sorry that you didn't avoid motorcycles after your first crash.

Lithium Addict said...

My dad had 3 stores in Topanga Plaza. They were The House of Lords on the top floor and The Rebel Shop and the Hip Pocket on either side of the mall on the bottom floor. He grew the chain to 20 stores in a number of malls throughout California before he passed away at 42 years of age, and by 1975 the stores were gone and with it my life at Topanga Plaza.

The Seven Kitchens, Ice Rink, Jolly Rogers, Spencer's Gifts, The Falling Water, The piped music, all the fun, but I remember especially the pride I felt being so connected to it. Thank you to everyone who wrote before. I enjoyed reading all the comments and relived much through all of your words and shared memories. If anyone knows of more interior images of the mall as it was back then, please post. It's fun to find a common link looking back through time at shared icons like Topanga Plaza.

Rick Beckman said...

These comments just rip away the veil of time, eh? Our family moved from Chatsworth to Canoga Park in the summer of 1964. I worked at Don Paul's 7 Kitchens the summer of 1969, my first restaurant job. Worked in the Italian food section after 1 weeks training. In the morning I baked 50 loaves of Armenian bread for his other restaurant, The Ram's Horn, in Encino. One morning he didn't get his delivery after I went to morning break after somehow forgetting I had loaded 50 loaves of dough into the pizza oven to bake. 50 little hockey pucks. 250 meatballs were next one afternoon. When 125 Italian sausages went up in smoke my 5-week stint was over. The weed must have been better than I remember back then, maybe?
Does anyone remember the Arnold Palmer's Miniature Golf at the SE corner of Victory and Platt, or the Altadena Drive-Thru Dairy at Vanowen and Platt, across from the 7-11? Anyone?

Gordon Ross/visit me on facebook said...

Ken - my name is Gordon Ross and I, along with Mike Riggel visited the new Topanga Plaza with a mission. Since I lived directly across the street (6644 Glade Ave) and had a direct view of the plaza, I was the 'guardian of the fort' with a complete listing of all the telephone booths there, the location of every entrance and vestibule, and eventually Mike and I had the location of every nook, cranny, crevice and crack in the place. We were the kings of the castle there, the keepers of the flame. Our picture was probably in every security office there (and for sure in the May Company security office, we saw it). We have some real cool stories (at least ten more) of the place if you're interested. The Seven Kitchens were not even safe from us ... this will be my lead story if you're interested.

Unknown said...

All of you should check out "Kids of the San Fernando Valley - Things we loved from the 70s and 80s" on Face book.

It's 50s and 60s as well. Everything from our childhoods is there. Great photos an stories.

Anonymous said...

Going to Topanga Plaza in the 60's was like going to the end of the earth as it was at that time, the "end of the Valley"....(go West my dear, go West).......oh, what fun it was. I remember all the stores, the remodels, the fountain, the skating rink, music and, of course all my friends. In the 80's I was the owner of Seafood Charlie in the food court. Wow, it's been over 50 years since my first "trek" & it seems like yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Worked at Mandel's 1970
Loved orange Julius downstairs

Unknown said...

Hi!? Is your last name Balsom (sp?)..? Was your Dad’s name Marty? Or are you a Zelda’s? I worked at the Rebel Shop in Topanga Plaza. So did the girl who later became my first wife. I also worked at The Hip Pocket there. Later in Torrance (Del Amo Mall). Wow....those were the days. Contact me!? Eddie

Unknown said...

Can’t wait read this book! I graduated from Cleveland HS in 1973, Northridge Jr High in 1969, & Prairie St Elementry in 1966. Loving these mentions of the various stores in Topanga Plaza that I haven’t thought about in a million years. Learned to ice skate there, ate more than my share of freebies at Hickory Farms, ate at Don Paul’s 7 Kitchens (the Paul family were neighbors of ours in Malibu - great people). Alpha Beta & Mayfair Mkts - that was a long time ago. When the Thrifty opened next to World Savings Bank on Reseda Blvd, I remember a double scoop ice cream there was 10 cents. Hope there are a lot of pics from that era - is Northridge Park still there?

Anonymous said...

I believe it was called 7 kitchens The most correct answers there were different kitchens ranging from ice cream to hot dogs to hamburgers to Italian Mexicn and gourmet