Sunday, January 12, 2020

Valley Relics but that's just me

Four 'n 20 Pies, Van Nuys, California, 1978

A stop not mentioned in last week’s post was our visit to Valley Relics, a repository of ephemera from the mid-century San Fernando Valley with more than a nod to the movie business. This entry is prompted by a text from Garrett and Michelle that included an article about Four ‘n 20 Pies a small restaurant chain that I helped start in 1969. That is fifty years as in 50.

The article refers to the location at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard as being in Sherman Oaks while Peggy and I contend it was in Van Nuys. And we should know since we lived two blocks away. To us south of Victory Boulevard was Sherman Oaks. My office, however, was in a Sherman Oaks building that had a Hamburger Hamlet downstairs, so I had easy access to their famous Lobster Bisque. My baker’s table desk from that office serves as the worktable in Peggy's studio this very moment and I will be framing a print on it tomorrow.

The article listed the locations as Encino, Northridge, Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. I remember them being Encino, the former Pie Pantry, first, then Van Nuys, Studio City and Northridge. I deduce that what we called Studio City is now Valley Village. It doesn’t matter a lick but confuses my brittle brain. Our head baker Charlie was Cher’s stepfather. Hey, that’s what he told me.

The piece got me to thinking about the Four n’ 20 days and my first taste of creating a business. I was less than two years from college graduation and was toiling as the Store Planning Manager of Baskin Robbins when I started the pie shop concept with Kurt Kornreich. It followed in the steps of Marie Calendar’s, the first and biggest in the pie shop universe. Don Calendar started the ball rolling in Orange County with little more than a lunch counter serving his mother Marie's pies, a burger and chili. Business boomed, Calendar’s expanded and soon challengers, or is it pretenders, joined the fray. IHOP had House of Pies, Denny’s had Mother Butler’s, McDonald’s had something or other and Baskin Robbins started Four n’ 20. All but 28 Marie Calendar’s and two Four n’ 20s in Van Nuys and Studio City are gone.

Four n’ 20 Pies was designed by Pasadena architect Harold Bissner. Harold was brought to Baskin-Robbins by its new president, Bob Hudecek, who came from Van de Kamp's where he had been vanquished in a power struggle. I know the feeling. Van de Kamp's restaurants were also designed by Bissner. Peggy was a designer at his firm and did his presentation drawings. That was before CAD so everything was done by hand. Peggy and I have remained close to Harold these fifty years. He would be in his nineties by now. We need to check in on him. I feel guilty that we didn't on our holiday trip.

Valley Relics, though, resuscitated lots of other memories. Some of them good.

Pioneer Chicken and Van de Kamp's signs at Valley Relics.

On one Valley Relic wall are these signs from Van de Kamp's and Pioneer Chicken. For Van de Kamps see above. As to Pioneer I interviewed to be president of the outfit sometime in the mid-70s when I was a vice president of KFC. I shopped many of the stores and told owner Rick Kaufman that they were an abomination. Truly wretched. I dined at his jungle chic Malibu Creek home, was enchanted by the indoor waterfall, was impressed by his B-movie friends and still said NO. Pioneer filed for bankruptcy in 1988. Once there were 270 units. At last count there are two.

Nudie Cohn in a Nudie Suit.

I was drawn to Nudie’s glitzy station wagon with the longhorn over the grill at Valley Relics. Because Peggy and I had sat at his table at the wedding celebration of Glenn and Laura Goodstein many years ago. The splendid fete was held at the lovely and talented Beverly Wilshire. That's where we shared dinner with the flamboyant costume designer for the stars. Reputedly Nudie’s first suit was for country star Tex Williams. Later he gave Porter Wagoner a peach covered suit featuring rhinestones and a covered wagon on the back. He figured Wagoner would be a billboard for his flashy attire. Apparently it worked. In 2006, Wagoner said he owned 52 Nudie suits at $15,000 a throw. That was Robert Redford wearing a Nudie Suit in Rhinestone Cowboy. 

Nudie's glamorous white wagon with requisite longhorn hood ornament.

Nudie Cohn, late of Kiev, Ukraine, was as well known for his garish cars with silver dollar crusted dashboards and longhorn steer hood ornaments as his flamboyant clothes.

Nudie cuts a rug.

At the Goodstein nuptials Nudie was stuffed into a rhinestone flecked white suit and sweating like a whore in church. 

As they say on the red carpet, "Who are you wearing?"

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Well, well. You can't much beat "At the Goodstein nuptials Nudie was stuffed into a rhinestone flecked white suit and sweating like a whore in church" as a statement. Nice jaunt down the Memory Lanes of greater Los Angeles including Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, and Valley whatever it is called these days. As you said, it doesn't matter. The boundaries have been morphing and changing for decades. What a place it was and is. Nice to have some rousing memories that you were willing to share with the greater blogosphere. Thanks, Steve! Hope you are able to get in touch with Harold Bissner sooner than later.