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Looking Back to 1960: The Joys of Living on a Cul-de-sac

On Pacoima Court, anything was possible when you didn't have to worry about traffic

Growing up on Pacoima Court, we were privy to a multitude of games. Why? We lived on a cul-de sac, and because of that, there were endless possibilities for safe recreation. Hide and seek, ball games, tag, skateboards and bicycling were a few of the many games we enjoyed.

A cul-de-sac is a perfect backdrop for any child.  Rounded at the end of the block, balls didn’t go bouncing into never-never land, unless they ended up in the bushes, or landed in someone’s yard.

On Pacoima Court, our manhole provided a natural home plate.  Playing baseball, sockball, and any other ball game came easily, with those white addresses on the curbs moonlighting as first and third base. There was a white cross with some metal device that sufficed as second base. To this day, I don’t recall why it was painted on the street. Maybe there was buried treasure beneath the asphalt?

During the holidays, our cul-de-sac was a place for touch football, my brothers, sisters and in-laws teaming up for a calorie burning round of passing, blocking, and general horseplay. On our block we could abandon ourselves to the game and not worry about traffic. We just had to make sure we didn’t go crashing into one of the many-parked vehicles when we’d go out for a pass. That was about all that concerned us.

Upon occasion, a ball would land in a neighbors yard.  Next door to us was an old woman named Rosie Shaffer whose backyard had huge garden sporting a luscious coy pond, lily pads, and a variety of flora.  At least once a week, one of the balls would splash into that pond, and we’d have to ask her for permission to retrieve our ball. I’m amazed at the endless patience exhibited by any person who lives next door to wild children.  

The neighbor on the other side of our house was a monk named Jim Whitney, who designed pottery. Every now and then one of our balls would land directly on one of his newly thrown pots, and we’d hear the splinter of porcelain cracking. I don’t know if my mom paid off these neighbors when these mishaps would happen, but these people were saints in my mind, having to put up with us. 

Unfortunately, a cul-de-sac doesn’t always provide much room for hiding. When coming home from Carpenter Ave. one day, I thought I’d test my throwing skills by hurling rocks at cars whizzing by on Laurel Canyon.  One hit a car squarely on the passenger side of the car, and after gloating in my glee, I ran home to hide.

Had I lived on a longer street, I could have ducked between one of the neighboring houses and given the driver the slip, but stupidly, I just ran home. The owner of the vehicle must have seen me dash into the house, and soon there was a knock on the door.  $11 dollars later, my allowance was used to touch up the paint on his car.  

I have so many fond memories of our cul-de sac.  Did you live on a cul-de-sac, and if so, what do you remember?

teresa mcgrath January 17, 2012 at 11:33 AM
great article mary....such fond memories of all the trees and shrubs offering shelter to the balls that were lost...jim whitney's beautiful bamboo, rosie's roses, maggie and john hook's one story-high bush, bud and maud buswell's manicured lawn, sima's tall trees, val richter's long driveway leading to the gully and vitarelli family, david and jo raksin's shrub-laden driveway with fruit, and the big olive tree in front that allowed competitive fights with its fruit. when the ball would get stuck, we would borrow the hook's long bamboo pole to retrieve the balls. it had a little basket on the end to pry the balls loose. the raksin's house sported a pretty pomegranet tree, and the fruit was delicious. the dead end street also allowed for tag. the neighbor's grandchildren would visit and we'd take them to the gully, or play some kickball. luckily, as mary pointed out, the neighbor's had the needed patience to live next door to the family with 6 children.
Mary McGrath January 17, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Thanks for all the memories Teresa! Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end...
teresa mcgrath January 17, 2012 at 05:33 PM
sure dear twin...the dead end street, as it was called back then, was the best playground, coupled with the gully....
Mary McGrath January 17, 2012 at 11:44 PM
And we had another cul-de-sac nearby!
teresa mcgrath January 18, 2012 at 05:28 PM
yes, laurel lane!
Mary McGrath January 21, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Thank you all for your overwhelming support of this column. I don't know how much longer it will continue, so if you like it, please post a comment here. Many thanks in advance!
teresa mcgrath January 22, 2012 at 10:55 AM
please retain this looking back column by mary mcgrath, as it evokes many comments by the new and former studio city residents. readers love to see how studio city was molded and formed, and enjoy mary's nostalgic stories. she weaves a funny, and touching portrait of growing up in studio city. thx
Andy Steiner January 23, 2012 at 03:49 AM
My alley was the same as your cul de sac. I lived on the corner of Colfax and Hartsook. An alley ran behind all the apartments along the east side of Colfax all the way from Hartsook to Addison. That was our playground. Oh the hide and seek we would play. With the myriad of laundry rooms, garages and sheds, we we're good and if you were IT you might be stuck at it all morning. A can of lighter fluid and a trail of ants atop a wall between the buildings provided endless fun for a curious 8 year old. Sitting in the shade of the clothes lines trying to teach myself how to play the guitar. I only really learned one song well... House Of The Rising Sun. And as a frisky teenager, the alley provided all manner of hiding places where a boy and girl could practice kissing. I lived for ten years in a very small cul de sac in Winnetka, only six houses. It was easy to block off for garage sales and block parties, but I'll match my alley up against your cul de sac any day.
Penelope Gamble January 23, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Hi Mike, I am not a resident of Studio City or anywhere near, but I am a long-time friend of Mary McGrath's. I tend to follow all of her writings and photography with the zeal of a true fan. I enjoy her writing and feel she pours her whole self into each article. I have read her travel articles, her home town musings and her photography journaling. You know she has a gift and I hope that somehow the budget cuts will not reach this talented lady. Thanks for all your past efforts in making a go of "Looking Back." I hope the budget Gods smile on you soon. Penelope Gamble
Mary McGrath January 23, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Sounds like a whirlwind of fun Andy. Wish I had known you then...I'm sure you practiced kissing quite a bit, from what I know of you...
Mary McGrath January 23, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Thanks so much for your comment Penny, and your own input on growing up. I've loved your stories as well. What a life you have led!

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