12 Valley Secrets You Need to Know About

Published On 10/20/2015 Published On 10/20/2015
The Japanese Garden | Jessica Ritz/Thrillist

Can you keep a secret? No? Well, turns out, neither can we, especially when it comes to the Valley. These are the 12 best secrets that were just too good not to share. But don't blame us for blabbing: it's hard to not get excited about where the Batmobile was built. 

1. There’s a crazy cylinder-shaped house in Woodland Hills

And it was built by the same architect who designed the Pavilion for Japanese Art at LACMA, Bruce Goff, who didn’t actually live long enough to see it completed. Located in a woodsy area near the Woodland Hills Country Club, the Struckus House was built in 1982, and is a stunning example of his eccentric approach to organic architecture with four stacked windows eerily shaped like eyes.

Jessica Ritz/Thrillist

2. The Batmobile was built here. Boom.

An original Batmobile still stands proudly on the showroom floor at Barris Kustom City on Riverside near Lankershim.

3. The coolest museum in LA is in... Chatsworth?!

It's the Valley Relics Museum, and since 2013, it's where curator Tommy Gelinas has worked with a collection that ranges from vintage photos to legendary signs (Henry’s Tacos!!! The Palomino!!!!!). There are also two tricked-out cars by the same Kiev-born Jewish immigrant rodeo tailor, Nudie Cohn, who blinged out Gram Parsons, Elvis, Roy Rogers, and so many other rhinestone cowgirls and boys.

Flickr/ATOMIC Hot Links

4. The tie for coolest museum in LA is in... Sylmar?!

Yup and it’s called the Nethercutt Museum and Collection in Sylmar. The co-founder of Merle Norman Cosmetics and his wife opened this private car porn museum in 1971, which also features other antiques and a restored 1912 custom Pullman car built for Clara Baldwin Stocker, who was OG LA bigwig Lucky Baldwin’s oldest daughter.

5. You can eat and drink while listening to a live air traffic control feed in Van Nuys

The 94th Aero Squadron restaurant at Van Nuys Airport is one of the West Coast’s hidden-est gems. Hang at the bar and then pop on a headset to hear live action from the air traffic control tower that regulates one of the country’s busiest general aviation airports. Plus there’s a replica of a World War I-era French farmhouse. Oh, and a bottomless mimosa Sunday brunch.

Jessica Ritz/Thrillist

6. One of the most peaceful spots in LA is located next to a water treatment plant in Woodley Park

If Pasadena’s genteel Huntington Gardens were a judgy teen, it would make so much fun of the completely pristine Japanese garden and teahouse replica built alongside a 1984 Brutalist-style building and waste water treatment equipment. But that’s because kids can be petty and mean, and very jealous. The Japanese Garden is no poser. Yeah, it might not have the Huntington’s pedigree, but it’s a perfectly maintained oasis and escape from the city you’d never expect to find. (OK, sometimes the smells can get a wee bit funky.) You can also do some archery nearby (wut) in Woodley Park.

7. The Valley’s most famously opulent movie theater is now a medical spa

True story, S. Charles Lee -- one of the most famous architects of the early boom period in LA, who designed the resplendent Los Angeles Theatre and had a hand in the entire Broadway district -- also designed the La Reina on Ventura, the facade of which still stands, but the interior of which is now a medical spa. (Also? His great grandson is the editor of Thrillist LA. Boom for nepotism!)

Flickr/J Jakobson

8. There’s a Nike-Ajax missile site in the Encino Hills

San Vicente Mountain Park off of Encino Hills Dr and Mulholland looks like yet another scruffy LA park offering that classic nature-urban juxtaposition and hiking you can find all over the city. But if you look closer you’ll see remnants of the Cold War dotting the landscape, from when this was LA96C, a Nike-Ajax missile site. Sixteen of these sites dotted the LA area, with radar equipment used to detect possible air attacks from communists and the other bad guys people were really scared of back then. Anti-aircraft missiles were stored and ready to go down in the Sepulveda Basin, just a few miles north.

9. You can kayak… in Encino… in the LA River… legally

Wait, wuuuuuu? Right around where Balboa and Burbank cross, there’s a river underpass that looks like, well, the spot where Edward Furlong almost bit it in T2. But if you drop in and go north (with a tour group like the LA Conservation Corps), there’s an actually beautiful stretch (NO, SERIOUSLY GUYS!!!) full of natural foliage, birds, other wildlife… and the occasional bathing drifter. It’s a pretty amazing way to see a part of the city that feels completely undiscovered, and to realize that the river isn’t actually the run-off cesspool you were probably brought up to believe it was.

10. There’s a part of Burbank specially permitted for horse owners

It’s called The Rancho Equestrian District (of course it is) and it hugs Riverside Dr and the river near Griffith Park, basically right in the shadow of the Disney and Warner Bros. lots. Not only are homes here zoned for stables, but the Blazing Saddles premiere was held in the 'hood at a drive-in theater on Alameda (Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little showed up on horseback… of course they did).


11. There’s a CIA outpost in North Hollywood, and what’s inside is disturbing

OK, it has nothing to do with the government, but the CIA -- the California Institute of Abnormalarts -- is an equally absurd but lower rent (and less publicized) Museum of Jurassic Technology. Exhibits include Bigfoot’s head and a tribute to dead fairies (are they real? are they fake? who knows?!?!), and they often have live performances… from midgets. Or clowns. Or bands. If you’re open to insanity and you haven’t been, now’s the time.

12. Part of the Valley is radioactive

So this dude Joel Grover at KNBC did some deep digging about what happened at the now-defunct Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Hills, on the Valley’s western edge. The nuclear lab was open for decades, but the cleanup? That, um, never properly happened. Which is a pretty big deal since according to the investigation, for 40 years, 209 acres of the site became “home to 10 reactors, a plutonium fuel fabrication facility, a uranium fuel facility, and a ‘hot lab’ for remotely cutting up dangerous radioactive material.” A partial meltdown happened in 1959. As the population increased in the area, nearby residents weren’t informed. The fallout? “[A]cres and acres of radioactive and chemical contamination remains right above the neighborhoods of thousands.” Yeah, but are there any three-eyed fish?

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Jessica Ritz is a freelance journalist. The Valley spot she's mostly likely to be seen at is Carney's Studio City feeding questionable food to her two young sons. Follow her at @jessnritz.



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