It has been said that Orion Avenue is a " One-Way
Road Back to the '50s" as this clean, closely knit neighborhood is largely
unchanged from the days when Ike was President and Coca-Cola cost a nickel.
"Picture-perfect houses are framed by white picket
fences and vast green lawns that present themselves to the quarter-mile-long stretch
between bustling Victory Boulevard and the neglected Sepulveda Drive-In.
Here neighbors greet each other by name. Three generations of some families live on the block. And residents looking to sell their
houses generally give first shot to neighbors' children looking to buy. World War II hero Audie Murphy once lived on the street, and "The Jack
Benny Show" was written in an office behind one of the houses. Orion is the street where America grew up--or wished it had.
Indeed, there is an almost back-lot feel to the neighborhood, as if the street and its tidy Colonial-style houses are an idyllic version of
suburbia sprung from the minds of Disney "imagineers." And if the
canopy of liquid ambers and the atmosphere of friendliness seem familiar, it's probably because they are.
The 6200 block of Orion is the single most-filmed residential block in Los Angeles, according to city records. Companies that scout locations
cite the street's ability to look like Anytown, U.S.A., as much like suburban Duluth as Van Nuys. Not a single palm tree is planted along the
"It's very LTB," said Pam Carter, a resident of the street who is a location manager for Warner Bros. LTB is film lingo for "Leave It to
Beaver." Houses on the block have served as the make-believe homes of millionaire Blake Carrington's mother-in-law for the television show
"Dynasty" and rock legend Richie Valens' rich girlfriend in the movie
"La Bamba." Once, film crews covered a house in artificial snow in the middle
of July for a car battery commercial.
But this is not the neighborhood of Joe Everyman. Houses so rarely go on the
market that they are snatched up within hours of a "For Sale" being planted in the front yard--if a sign ever goes
up at all. Keith Mullins, whose red barn house is among the most popular with
film companies, recalled that when a real estate company sign appeared on his front lawn, at least
five people passing by stopped to make offers. No luck. The sign was a prop
in a commercial for a Midwest real estate company. Informal tradition holds that before a house is made available to the general public, it is offered to the
neighborhood. Residents Brent Carpenter and Bill Dennis grew up on the block,
and now live a few doors from their parents. Their children walk down the block and across the street to visit grandparents. "For me, it was kind of like
home," said Dennis, a manufacturer's representative. Carpenter's wife's
identical twin and her husband
live directly across the street. He lives in the house once occupied by a family
doctor who patched up neighborhood kids after football games.
Part of Carpenter's sale agreement includes language that guaranteed the former owners would receive half the yield from the back-yard
garden's several hundred square feet of eggplant, cantaloupe, asparagus and artichoke.
Mullins, a manufacturer's representative, remembered haggling until 1 a.m. over the price with the old woman who owned his house. She wouldn't
come down. He couldn't go up. They argued back and forth until the woman's cat jumped onto Mullins' lap. As he began to pet the gray,
long-haired feline, the woman lamented not being able to take the animal with her when she moved. Mullins told her the cat could stay.
"The house is
yours," the woman said.
This stretch of Orion Avenue, less than two miles south of where police barricades
were erected to stem drug trafficking on the same street, has drawn "lookie-loos" since it was carved from a walnut orchard in the late
1940s. At the time, Victory Boulevard was a country highway that turned into a dirt road not too much farther west. A riding stable occupied the dusty
lot at the southern end of the block, where the Sepulveda Drive-In now stands unused. Promotional literature for the tract boasted that
residents could pay their property taxes with money made from selling walnuts grown on their lots. Dennis and a couple buddies would ride their bikes
to the Sepulveda Basin and spend hazy summer days searching for crawdads and
tadpoles. And Bill Blucher Jr. would sit on his front porch shooting his BB gun into the
It was Blucher's father, William, who built most of the houses along the block between 1946 and 1952. Each house was different--a couple of
Cape Cods, a few New Englands and a ranch or two. Some were improvised as Blucher built. The red barn-style house now owned by Mullins was an almost
entirely different house from the one for which Blucher submitted plans to city officials.
The asking price for houses along the block was between $28,500 and $31,500, relatively expensive for the time. Lots were 100 feet wide and
300 feet deep. Until Bucher built this portion of Orion, few builders had tried putting big houses on big lots in the San Fernando Valley.
Blucher, who also built houses in Toluca Lake and Pacific Palisades, envisioned the entire slice of land bordered by Victory, Sepulveda
Boulevard, Erwin Street and the Sepulveda Dam as covered with houses like those on Orion. But soon after
Blucher began construction along Orion Avenue, the city changed the zoning on adjacent streets, shrinking the
size of the lots and thwarting his plans. The result is that Orion Avenue seems out of place among the smaller bungalows that line the streets to the east and
west. "It's kind of a country sense right in the middle of the city," said
Becky Griley, who lives with her husband, Glenn, and three children in William Blucher's former house in the middle of the block. "We're almost
like a little community of our own. We have a community feel that a lot of people don't have."
Other residents echoed Griley's sentiments. Some can name every resident along the street, along with vitals such as how many children,
occupation and how long they've lived on the block. As proud of their
neighborhood as they are, some of the residents of Orion became concerned a few
years ago that it had become too well known among film crews. A few complaints
were lodged a few years back with the city's Office of Motion Picture & TV Coordination about the number
shoots, and filming was scaled back, according to office director Dirk Beving. Beving said there have been no complaints in recent months.
Residents said they have become accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of the film industry, trucks blocking the street, having their houses remade
to fit a director's vision. But residents also said they like watching the
movies being made. For the car battery commercial, crews blanketed McInerney's yard and
house in artificial snow and hung plastic wrap icicles from the eaves of the roof. As the monologue touted the battery's effectiveness "even in
the frigid cold of a winter night," a shivering actor turned the keys.
Sure enough, the car started. It was the middle of July, about 70 degrees.
"It was like 'The Twilight Zone,' " McInerney said, laughing."
Portions of this page were quoted from the Los
Monday, February 25, 1991
By: AARON CURTISS
TIMES STAFF WRITER