Canoga Park’s main drag offers quaint, funky charm

first_imgMany visitors to Canoga Park never get beyond the monster malls, those colossal bunkers of extreme retail that line Topanga Canyon Boulevard. But less than a mile to the north, along Sherman Way, lies a little oasis of antique shops and neighborhood cafes that reveal a richer history and deeper sense of place. Believe it or not, Pacific Electric Railway Red Cars once traveled down the middle of Sherman Way on their way to downtown Los Angeles. Owensmouth The retail strip bordered by Topanga Boulevard on the west and Canoga Avenue on the east was surrounded by farmland, and the town was originally named Owensmouth for its proximity to the outlet for the Owens River Aqueduct. Today, this short stretch of Sherman Way mixes some funky with a bit of quaint to offer a little something for everyone. More shabby chic than Mayberry Main Street, the district has renewed itself in recent years after falling on hard times in the 1990s. It’s got a classic coffee shop called Henri’s, a high-end patisserie and plenty of upscale furniture stores. But it also makes room for a head shop that sells adult DVDs, a kids dance studio, and one of the best vintage clothing stores in L.A. “They’ve spiffed up the street,” said Ted Martindale, 77, who has been ordering hot oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar at Henri’s once or twice a week for decades. During bad times and good, Martindale has kept coming back because he feels like a part of the community, especially at Henri’s. “The waitresses are friendly, they don’t mind saying hello to you,” said Martindale, who lives down the way at De Soto Avenue. “It makes it more homey.” Donna Alba of West Hills has been waitressing at Henri’s for 25 years. “They’re all my boyfriends,” she says of her regular customers. “It’s a family.” Renaissance After losing shoppers to malls opening in the area through the 1980s and ’90s, the community was blindsided when the Northridge Earthquake hit in 1994, damaging many of the central structures of central Canoga Park. Instead of letting the area slip further into disrepair, residents and merchants united behind the formation of a business improvement district plan for Sherman Way. “That’s when a bunch of the property owners got together to pool money to revitalize the area,” said Mary Paterson, executive director of the Canoga Park Improvement Association. “They redid the Madrid Theatre and then the West Valley Playhouse moved in and all these quaint stores opened up. Now we’re looking at what can we do, above and beyond what the city does.” Merchants kick in funds to pay for graffiti removal and landscaping along the strip and for marketing efforts to promote local events, like Canoga Park’s 95th birthday celebration last month. New projects include rehabilitating the historic post office building, which houses a mosaic by Maynard Dixon, a 19th century California artist known for his images of the West. Residents are also scouting locations for a farmers market. An effort to save an old train depot on Sherman Way failed when studies showed that the structure was unsound and dangerous, Paterson said. The building, which dated to 1912, before Owensmouth joined the city of Los Angeles, was demolished just a few months ago. But plenty reminders of the past remain. Health food market and cafe Follow Your Heart opened in 1971. Photos hanging on its walls show Larry’s, the butcher shop that operated at the location previously. One of the photos shows what used to happen at Larry’s when a shopper bought $100 worth of meat. “They would ring a cowbell,” said Paterson, who once worked at Follow Your Heart. Today, of course, the market and cafe are vegetarian. “You still get people coming in who remember when it was Larry’s,” she said. Jonesing for satin? Rooted in tradition, Sherman Way also has a wild side. There’s Miss La De Da’s Collectible Glitz, which sells vintage jewelry, and of course, Aardvark’s Vintage Clothes, a destination thrift shop that attracts costume designers and collectors alike. On a recent weekday, entrepreneur and Tom Jones impersonator Don Fetner was browsing the aisles for satin shirts to complete his Jones personae. By day, Fetner runs a business selling sun covers for baby strollers and car seats. But he spends many nights honing his singing and stage skills at The West Valley Playhouse on Owensmouth Avenue. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Fetner sold his vacuum cleaner store on the Upper West Side 15 years ago and moved to Los Angeles for the weather. As the son of a frustrated singer, Fetner always thought about performing, and once he’d settled in Woodland Hills, the Playhouse on Owensmouth became home. Historic Sherman Way continues to attract people from other parts of the Valley as well. Arica Faustinia travels from Northridge to bring her daughter to a dance studio called Creation Station. A Northridge native, Faustinia was reminiscing about the Capezio dance shop on Topanga Canyon where “everyone in the Valley went to get fitted for shoes.” After dancing, Faustinia and other mothers stroll down the sidewalk to Pastries by Edie, a European pastry shop that sells delicacies that look too good to destroy with a bite. Edie’s is a must stop for Bertina Tartakovsky, who owns a family home day-care center in Northridge. She said sometimes she drives to Canoga Park just to get her Edie’s fix. The shop has grown mainly through word of mouth, said Jason, Edie’s son, who manages the store. “People keep coming back,” he said. “They tell other people about it.” — Barbara Correa, (818) [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more