When silent film producer Mack Sennett got hold of 20 acres worth of lettuce fields in 1927 he immediately built a studio and began shooting the iconic Keystone Kops series. Hollywood took notice and over the next few years, silent movie stars, pretend cowboys and assorted A-listers migrated in droves to the former avocado groves that would soon be known as Studio City.
Tiny bungalows sprang up around Tujunga Village, which became a prime site for movie shoots because the one-story structures helped short actors like Charlie Chaplin look big.
The Village has evolved into a charming one-block shopping district between Moorpark and Woodbridge on Tujunga Avenue. Nestled between two residential neighborhoods, the street brims with toy stores, clothing boutiques, restaurants, ice cream parlors, bookstores, spas, salons, vintage gift shops and a storefront theater.
It may be the Valley’s hottest, literally and figuratively, spot. You will see wannabe actors behind cafe counters, screenwriters obsessing over their laptops, show biz people taking meetings and locals hosting walking tours for visiting family members.
Aroma Cafe anchors the action in Tujunga Village’s Northeast quadrant, radiating European ambience ever since owner Mark Gunsky founded the place 18 years. Dogs sit at outside tables with their humans. Servers run the gamut from actors to screenwriters serving sandwiches, soups, salads, and insanely gorgeous bakery goods.
And in the category of the more things change the more they stay the same you can still see people running down the streets with their hair on fire--quarters in hand--to get 17 minutes more on the meter as fierce parking enforcement officers like Keystone Kops sit at the ready.
The good news is Tujunga Village is so darn pedestrian-friendly, it’s like stumbling into an alternate universe in car-obsessed L.A. Once you’ve parked, you’ve got plenty to peruse. Those who live in the hood, leave the hybrids home.
Changes afoot in the Village have included where old-meets-new and shabby-chic-meets whimsy. This store is run by two of the most cheerful women on the block... both with a designer’s eye, neither with an attitude. You can find it by its iconic smell of caramel candles.has recently opened featuring fine art and home decor and designer jewelry and has charmed up the just-east-of-Tujunga wall at Woodbridge. And Limelight clothiers has made its presence known recently.
Meanwhile, the west side of Tujunga Ave. begins with rat pack-vibed Italian eater, which recently changed chefs and managers with ambitions to upgrade the operation. On the north end, one-of-a-kind clothing store remains a stable influence on the north end. In between are many movable parts.
Ill-fated tea parlor shuttered after only a few weeks of business and now stands empty. A clothing store shut down. And last month closed its doors.
But a few weeks ago the vintage shop got remodeled into a divided pair of retail spaces by tenant Eliyahoo Vahaba. On one side the tall window, painted with cheerful letters, announces “.” Soft wear includes dancing stuffed zebra and giraffes and Hello Kitty dolls. The adjoining storefront, known as, serves up high-end hardware for tech heads including docks for Ipods and bling bling cases for mobile devices.
“I looked at Santa Monica, Westwood, Manhattan Beach,” says Vahaba. “I fell in love with Tujunga. It’s unusual for Los Angeles, a small street where you can find everything—clothes, coffee, good restaurants, gifts, boutiques. It has a very good vibe when you walk this street. “
Vahaba, who moved to California five years ago from Israel, especially savors the Village’s pedestrian vibe. “It’s rare in Los Angeles to find a little neighborhood where you can walk it. I wasn’t interested in anything on Ventura Blvd. I’m looking for streets where people can take their time and enjoy themselves.”
He describes his bling merch as “something unique you can’t find any other place. Not even the Apple store,” he says. Vahaba designs many of the cool mobile phone covers that range from sports teams to fake animal skins to rhinestone-studded cases and are priced from $25 to $200. “It all depends how tricked-out you want to get,” he says.
“First I really believe in my stuff. And second I believe in the location, says Vahaba, whose 14 month old son inspired the toy store. “If you want to buy toys you have to drive all the way to the mall. Shoppers go there like sheep and it’s so crowded you don’t even have time to really look around.”
South of Einstein’s Store iand Treats. Proprietor Kaileigh Brielle, who studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, serves gourmet gluten-free ice pop. The cozy storefront, which opened in October, offers a secret garden seating area decorated with vintage tables, old doors, an herb garden and a fountain.
Tujunga Village’s fresh new operations lend promise to the less stable side of the street, but vacancies and character-changing businesses continue to stick out like a sore thumb.
In Part 2 of the series, Studio City Patch takes a look at the area’s problem sites and previews the new store at Moorpark and Kraft.