Long-Neglected Community Near Foothills Gets Attention

Spotlight On Tujunga: New development: A retail mall, anchored by Sav-on, is under construction.

By DANNY KING
Staff Reporter

Commerce Avenue in Tujunga is badly in need of revitalization. Its three-block commercial district is a hodgepodge of beauty salons, thrift shops and family-run businesses. It has a number of empty buildings and even a couple of vacant lots. There's not a chain store in sight.

But residents and merchants have made it clear they want development on their own terms.

Earlier this year, for example, when Arco was looking to put in a 20-pump gas station at a 1.25-acre site that had been empty for five years, the locals had the project killed.

"It's not good to have a gas station at the entryway of a business district," said Charlotte Leu, president of the Commerce Avenue Merchants Association. "We feel we can do better."

Residents are thinking more along the lines of Trader Joes' and Starbucks. But whatever happens, the Commerce Avenue area and a nearby stretch of Foothill Boulevard the heart of the blue-collar Tujunga community are finally getting some attention after years of neglect by elected officials and developers.

When District 2 Councilwoman Wendy Greuel took office in April, her first action was reopening the district's Sunland-Tujunga field office, which had been closed two years ago by former Councilman Joel Wachs. Greuel then introduced a motion to earmark $165,000 in community development block grant funds for feasibility studies and a specific plan for Commerce Avenue. So far, $30,000 has been appropriated towards a consultant to perform the studies.

"The specific plan talks about the importance of restoring a retail and arts district," said Greuel "And to bring it back to what it once was."

These are only plans, but there are signs of change along both Commerce Avenue and the Sunland-Tujunga Foothill Boulevard corridor, which runs three miles from the Glendale border to the Foothill (210) Freeway. AuctionDiner.com will be opening Tujunga's first Internet caf & #233; in the next several months. Three blocks east, Armenian Entertainment Group bought an old Edwards Theatre site last year and is converting it into a banquet hall.

Meanwhile, Woodland Hills-based Realty Bancorp Equities LLC is building a 45,000-square-foot retail mall at the corner of Foothill and Tujunga Canyon boulevards, about three-quarters of a mile east of Commerce Avenue. The center is two-thirds leased, with Sav-on as an anchor tenant, despite being seven months from completion, according to Don Hayes, partner at Realty Bancorp.

"Foothill is constantly improving to the west," said Hayes. "We think (the center) is in the path of all the future increase in income and population."

In recent years, Tujunga, which was incorporated into the city of Los Angeles in 1932, has seen a steady influx of entertainment-industry workers, as well as residents priced out of the La Crescenta market to the east. The average single-family home in Tujunga sold for $240,000 in May, compared with $363,000 in La Crescenta, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

"This is one of the last affordable areas of hillside living in Los Angeles," said Patricia Davenport, field deputy for Greuel. "It doesn't lend itself to unmitigated sprawl."

Suburban transformation

In the 1920s and 1930s, Tujunga was a weekend getaway for L.A. residents. But when Lockheed's "Skunk Works" division in nearby Sun Valley ramped up during World War II, the Sunland-Tujunga area was transformed. What was once a resort community where stone homes date back to the 1910s became a bedroom community full of suburban developments (one home up the hill from Commerce Avenue was used in "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial").

With Commerce Avenue built for smaller businesses 38 different parcels make up the street's western frontage between Foothill Boulevard and Valmont Street retailers looking for larger space left Commerce Avenue in favor of Foothill Boulevard to the west. When the Lockheed plant closed in 1990, many residents moved out, draining both Foothill Boulevard and Commerce Avenue of commercial activity.

Greuel is spearheading an effort to find a tenant for the site at Foothill and Commerce that was the location of Sunrise Ford until it closed in 1997. Leu and other merchants in the area helped get $15,000 in city funds for cleanup and beautification efforts along Commerce.

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