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Byline: Barbara De Witt

As long as I can remember, when people said ``The Boulevard,'' there was no doubt about what they meant.

Oh sure, Van Nuys Boulevard had its charm, with clanging streetcars and teens in hot rods cruising to Bob's Big Boy. But Ventura Boulevard was the high-rent district where the cultured-and-coiffed shopped and dined in the '50s and '60s.

The Boulevard was the Wilshire Corridor of the Valley, a mix of Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue that united five communities from the hip-and-happening Studio City to the outlands of Woodland Hills, which was west of nowhere before the birth of Topanga Plaza in 1963.

I grew up on The Boulevard. I lived in Panorama City, but I spent Saturdays and summers in my mother's hair salon a few doors down from Woodman Avenue, where I had my first professional manicure at 5, learned to coil perfect pin curls by 10 and witnessed my first makeover at 13.

My mother, Irene Brezina, worked for several people, including shampoo guru Jheri Redding, who whipped up frothy fruit-flavored shampoo concoctions in the back room at Jheri's Coiffures (now the Marmalade Cafe) in the days before they were known as Redken and Nexus products. When Redding closed his salon in 1963 to manufacture shampoo, Mom opened Lady Godiva Salon on The Boulevard.

The place gave me a peek into the lives of the rich and famous. Mom did the hair of stars such as Jane Russell; starlets such as Ann Dore; and Jody Wolcott, Johnny Carson's first wife.

When I was old enough to drive on my own, Mom, instead of the Thomas Guide, gave me a piece of paper with a hand-drawn straight line across it, labeled ``Ventura Boulevard.'' Each cross street was also labeled.

The merchants along The Boulevard in those days were mostly young people with families who had staked out new lives for themselves after World War II. This was pre-franchise, when most merchants owned their own unique business and some lived in the back or above the store. Merchants made a point to get to know each other, looked out for each other's children and for problems like crime and fire along The Boulevard.

Most of the original businesses in Mom's block are gone, save a few like Eddie's Shoe Repair, Artan Frames, Flam's Key Service and Val Gobbi's Pioneer Filter and Pool Supplies.

As we talked recently in the front of her shop, my mother took a trip down memory lane.

``Look over at the Nerve Lounge. It's been so many things over the years,'' she said. ``And next to it is Moonlight Tango Cafe, where Johnnie Floyd's Meat Market was. They had the best meats; it was like an early Bristol Farms, where everything was top quality and you could place special orders.''

Looking down The Boulevard, my mother pointed to the Beverly Hills Diagnostic Center at Mammoth Avenue, recalling when it was a huge ski shop where they gave outdoor skiing lessons on fake snow until the late '60s.

I got to know neighbor-merchants while doing my chores, hosing down the sidewalk and washing the windows. Turk's Western Wear was next door, and Mom did the owner's hair. Roy Rogers often showed up there with his horse, Trigger.

John Schuck, who co-starred in the movie ``MASH'' and the TV show ``McMillan and Wife,'' had the office above Mom's. He was friendly, with a ready smile and plenty of autographed photos, which boosted my popularity with my peers. Teen-age salesmen from Wear Ever pots and pans, also upstairs, took me to the Cherry House for ice cream sodas on our first dates.

Many high-profile boutiques came and went on The Boulevard. Kathy's Cottons in Studio City was one of the most popular places to buy a new dress in the late '50s.

``And what about the store called Joane Johns?'' recalled Valerie Cravitz, 61, who hasn't missed a Friday afternoon appointment with Mom in 37 years (even after moving to Valencia) and who spent a recent afternoon reminiscing with other longtime customers.

``Remember, it was near Laurel Canyon and it was supposed to be frequented by lots of celebrities? I never saw one, but I miss those one-of-a-kind dresses they had for special events.''

``There was a place called Hody's Drive-in at Sepulveda Boulevard,'' added Marilyn Wiehl, 54, of Van Nuys, ``where all the girls from Van Nuys High would meet to map out their weekend social life, as well as stars like the singing King Sisters. You drank cherry-flavored Cokes and ate hamburgers served on a tray at your car window.

``Speaking of cars, back then there were a lot of empty storefront lots on The Boulevard and we'd have street parties on them, forming a circle with our cars like a wagon train and turning the headlights on.''

For the fanciest place in the Valley, it was ``the Tail O' the Cock ... where the waiters wore white gloves,'' Cravitz said.

``That was in the '60s, when the Sportsmen's Lodge was a hot spot for dancing,'' said Johanna Glass, 80, of Tarzana.

These longtime patrons miss the faces and places that didn't make it to The Boulevard of the '90s.

``Even Josephina's is gone,'' said Leona Radke, 79, of Van Nuys. ``It was a good Italian restaurant, just past Woodman Avenue, but when it closed in the '70s it seemed like the neighborhood went down with it.''

Mom agreed. The recession and the advent of malls pulled a lot of people away, and petty crime sent a few others looking for new, brighter spots. But even during leaner times, she says, merchants found other rewards in being along the Valley's main street.

``I never set out to make a lot of money, but working on The Boulevard proved more rewarding than I ever imagined,'' Mom said of her 34 years in the shop. ``Maybe it was my energy or my staff or simply that my customers became friends with me and each other.

``It was an era of elaborate hairstyles, like the beehive, and hairdressers were considered artists. We used to work so late on New Year's Eve, designing the hairstyle and adding ornaments to match their gowns.

``Today, it's more of a wash-and-wear society.''


2 Photos

Photo: (1) Irene Brezina began her hair-dressing career on Ventura Boulevard, where she styled the hair of actresses such as Ann Dore.

James Brezina/Special to the Daily News

(2--Color) Irene Brezina at Lady Godiva Salon on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, where she's had the same clientele for the past 30 years.

David R. Crane/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 20, 1997

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