Sunday, August 17, 2014

Canoga Please! Theater District: A Load Of Bunk?

Canoga Please!  I keep reading about Canoga Park’s “theater district.” Theater district this! Theater district that! A theater district? C’mon, get outta here! Where is there a theater district in Canoga Park? A thrift store district, sure. A discount birds district, of course. But a theater district? Just what are you people trying to pull here?! --Mark H., Vose Street

Dear Mark,

Heavens to Helen Hayes, friend - don't worry, you’re not going crazy! Canoga Park’s magnificent Theatre District does exist and it’s located in the heart of our downtown area, starting at the end of 21620 Sherman Way and extending west approximately forty feet all the way to the beginning of 21626 Sherman Way. 
Ground Zero for Canoga Park's Theater District:  The "New" Madrid Theatre, built in 1873 in the
baroque style,  has played host to such luminaries of le théâtre as Sarah Bernhardt, William Charles
Macready and Little Egypt - who is said to have invented her signature "Hootchee-Coochee" dance
here when an adventurous crane fly fluttered up under her skirt while she was on stage.  Staff photo.
Canoga Park old timers remember when the theatre district was roughly double the size it is now, and was comprised of twice the number of theaters, for a total of two. 

Back then, Canoga Park's theater-going-crowd had their choice of the Park Theater or the First-Run Theatre, with the latter's fancy r-before-e spelling of "theatre" implying a somewhat more sophisticated menu of offerings such as "Orgy Machine" and "Lollipop for Judy."
A trio of ads from the Golden Age of Canoga Park's Theater District, including
two that ran side by side. The third proudly announces "a staff of Canoga Park
Residents proficient in their service to our Patrons." And how, brother! And how!
While the monicker "theater district" has stuck, the original theaters themselves sadly are long gone. Today, those looking for similar entertainments and frivolities have to travel all the way down to Van Nuys and Victory and visit Adult World for a more intimate, booth-based experience. Or you can simply log onto any of the thousands of such websites right in the comfort of your home or workplace like Ingomar Schoenborn does here in his office here at the Quilt, often forgetting to turn down the volume or close the door.

L. Sol Bunk, furniture tycoon. Staff photo.
Canoga Please! I was walking down through Canoga Park’s magnificent theater district recently and happened past the recently defunct El Sol Furniture Gallery. I tried jimmying open the lock to see if they had maybe left behind one of those leopard print chairs shaped like a high-heeled shoe that I could lug home (so I'll have a matching pair for after Labor Day) and that’s when I noticed the plaque by the edge of the door. Who is this distinguished gent, please? Is he available?  
--Miranda S., Elkwood Street

Dear Miranda,

Canoga Park old timers recognize the genial countenance on the bronze plate as none other than L. Sol Bunk, founder and proprietor of his eponymous El Sol Furniture Gallery, and, incidentally, inventor of the Bunk bed - not the vertical tandem version, but rather one comprised of the four folding chairs that went to an inexpensive bridge table set (purchase of which came with a free deck of Huckleberry Hound Go Fish cards, bridge still being illegal west of DeSoto at the time). Sol used to arrange the chairs just so - roughly in a pattern describing a straight line - and stretch out on same to take an afternoon nap in the lull during afternoon matinees at the theaters on either side of his store. (Business usually picked up during the intermissions, when folks would come out into the daylight to see who’d they’d been groping inside, and if things worked out, maybe start picking out furniture together.)
Recently Gone But Not Forgotten, Recently: Former local business leader El Sol Furniture Gallery,
above, was located smack-dab in the middle of Canoga Park's magnificent theater district.  Staff photo.
Leroy Solomon Bunk ran the store for nearly 64 of his 58 years and was tragically killed in 1972 when, as fate would have it, the race-car bed he was driving home one night hit a truck carrying a delivery to his own store. It was determined that poor visibility was a factor when Bunk struck the vehicle, as it was loaded with clear Lucite dining room furniture which was quite trendy at the time but difficult to see. 

Lights were dimmed along Canoga Park's magnificent theater district the next evening although it is lost to the annals of time whether it was as a tribute to Sol or in response to a crackdown on certain movie parlors by the local vice squad.

But to answer your original question: Your plaque, manufactured by Peppy Engravers on Strathern between 1948 and 1984, is an excellent example of mid-to-late century bronze ElSol-abilia. In good condition it is valued at $329,499 attached to its original building. Pried free from its brickwork it is worth considerably less, approximately $1.80 - $2.65, depending on its precise weight and the current price of scrap bronze, though this does not take into account the costs associated with an arrest for defacing and/or pilfering private property. A complete deck of vintage 1961 Huckleberry Hound Go Fish cards, by comparison, recently went for $6.43 on eBay.

--Burton Cantara

Do you have a question about Canoga Park? Email it to us at and it may be answered here. Questions may be edited for brevity or to accommodate photos we've been looking for an excuse to run. Sorry, due to the volume of mail we receive, we cannot respond to every inquiry.

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