Chatsworth... Then

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I was asked if I remembered the Munch Box in Chatsworth. Of course I remember. It was this small, bright yellow hamburger joint next to the Southern pacific rail line about a mile from where it came out of the tunnel into Los Angeles. The place had great chili burgers, but if you were old enough to know, the coolest thing was that they used to serve root beer and root beer floats in big frosty cold glass mugs. ... Yeah, that was then. It made me think back. Back then, where I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles was still mostly farms, quickly becoming suburbia, but it was an awesome place to grow up. I remember. So I wrote a little essay about it for people that might remember The Munch Box too. I like it. I hope you do.

Oh I remember.

You speak of the Munch Box and yes, it was such a special place that it still is a special place. It is a part of Chatsworth which seemed to have many special places for some of us lucky enough to have been there. I could tell you of a few, oh yes I remember, I remember walking past the Candy Cat and the Country Squire and Sunset liquors and Los Toros every morning on my way to Miss Lee's kindergarten class at Chatsworth Park Elementary, but let me share a memory of Chatsworth that though gone now, was cool and dim and beautiful and green and timeless. Let me remind you. When I was young, Chatsworth was in transition from a quiet agricultural town of endless sunny orange groves to becoming suburbia. Many of us were children of the city and the suburbs that technology created, but we were lucky enough to grow up in this quiet, idyllic village before it became part of the mega city that is now LA.

Walk with me up Canoga Avenue in another time when orange groves stretched from Topanga Canyon to Balboa. As you cross Devonshire you would cross Brown's Creek that starts far up in Oak Mountain. Cross the street and look to the West at the huge row of eucalyptus trees on the west side of the street protecting an orange grove from the Santana Winds. Eventually, Hughs Market would be built there up against Devonshire Street, but not for years. On the East side of the street are houses of the new people in town that work in the young aerospace industry, the movie industry and the new local business of the San Fernando Valley. Those lots on Canoga Avenue back up against Brown's Creek. North of Devonshire here, Canoga Ave is still just a dusty dirt road running through some houses and farmland. On the other side of the creek is a large meadow that is a sheep farm that goes from the creek over to Eton Avenue. As you continue north and pass San Jose Street there is a field on the right where they grow squash to feed cattle. There are small ranch spreads on the left side of Canoga Ave backing to the railroad tracks, including a pheasant farm. The sides of the road rise up to the thin fences of the fields. Tumble weeds line the road. Now you are walking in to Chatsworth as it was, a quiet place of farms that usually show no movement except in the frenetic times that mark the seasons of a farm. It is dusty. The plants have a brown cover from dirt the occasional car leaves drifting behind. There are dark brown beer bottles in the space beside the road. Not that so many are thrown there, but that there has been so much time for them to gather undisturbed. You then cross Chatsworth Street, an place so pristine that no child today would be allowed in such an unspoiled solitary place. Then, it was children that imagined monsters in the unknown. Now it is the adults. Really, it was just quiet farm fields beyond where the developers had ventured and the city had spread. To us then, it was nature undisturbed or just perhaps not so despoiled by humans.

I knew I was past where I was supposed to venture, but this was remote enough that my parents had not thought to forbid my going here. It was empty anyway. It was fields surrounded by giant eucalyptus with a majesty I was to young to understand, but still a presence I could sense. There were real giants when I grew up. They were ageless dark green giants and very mysterious. I'll never forget that pungent scent of eucalyptus. The farms had a vitality I could feel and still feel to this day. There was life in those fields, from the giant trees to the fragrant orange groves to the spreading vines and the big green caterpillars on the silk weed plants beside the road. I remember the buzzards circling high above that told of both life and death. It was quiet and empty and had the beauty of empty places and the peace of quiet places and then I would think I should go no further and I would head home to the familiar comfort of a so civilized home. Chatsworth sometimes seemed too wild even to an adventurous child as myself.

The dirt roads were dusty, but as they were paved, the vitality and wildness vanished, but oh yes, oh yes, I do remember. Beauty and wonder like that must not be forgotten and the mountains will always be there to remind those that remember to look for those small remaining places of Chatsworth as it was.

The Munch Box reminded me and I wrote some about the horses. Stephanie Bertholdo mentioned about how easy it was to pick pomegranates from their backs. It made me laugh to remember. There were so many odd and funny memories of the horses. Oh, do I remember. Hey, wasn't Chatsworth about horses? What was that question? "What's better, a horse or a motorcycle?" So I thought I would start a thread about them. There were the horse people like Stoney Brooks and Frank Matt. There were the crazy horses like Snooper who thought he could jump a concrete wash ... and perhaps he could. They were such escape artists and they had so much time to try.
Well, rather than tell my stories, I thought I would write one and see what everyone else remembers. I hope it brings back fond memories.
Enjoy, Mike

I remember one day I was in front of my parents house on Farralone. There were people about chatting. There may have been a couple horses, perhaps a dog under foot. I turned a bit and found out I was right next to a horse. It was reddish brown and a bit sweaty where I was looking. It was the most heavily muscled horse I had ever seen. There were ripples under its skin over its ribs. It was one incredibly tough horse. My eyes traveled up and I saw how it got that way. There was a big guy on it wearing boots, jeans and a long sleeve shirt. His brow was furrowed by work and shaded under a hat. He looked like he was made of rawhide and oak limbs. I think I did a double take. I had never seen someone like that before, though I have since. Mountain climbers with legs of granite, divers as tough as sharks. They tend to travel alone since there are few that can travel the paths they choose.

The horsemen and horsewomen of Chatsworth were a tough lot. It goes with the beast, but that was one of the toughest hombres I've ever seen.