Keep Burbank Weird

Save Magnolia Park!

“Everything’s 30-50% off, and there’s a yard sale upstairs.”

Last month I went shopping at Pinup Girl Boutique in Magnolia Park. They were having a huge sale, which at first I considered lucky. I don’t like shopping, but I love Pinup Girl. Some of my favorite clothes came from there — in fact, in one of the top results for me on Google Image Search, I’m wearing a top I bought there. They are very LGBT-friendly, have all kinds of clothes for all kinds of bodies, and fit my personal style — which I recently realized is pretty much just “former teenage goth turned librarian playing Rizzo in a community theater production of Grease.”

“Why the sale? Are you guys moving?” I asked the cashier, and she nodded.

“Will you still be in Burbank?” I added, hopeful.

“We’re not sure,” she said. “But probably not.”

It made me sad, but did not surprise me.

I have not always appreciated my hometown. Burbank is not the most beautiful city in the world: there are some nice parks, but they’re surrounded by nearly-identical stucco homes and concrete office buildings. The color palette is overwhelmingly beige, brick, and avocado. Residents of Los Angeles proper liked to sneer at “Bore-bank,” saying it was “an airport and not much else” and “an IKEA with a mayor.” It’s not really L.A., they ‘d insist, it’s theValley, and not even one of the fun parts where they shoot porn.

As a child, I took all these things to heart. Burbank was to blame for my glottal fry and Valley Girl upspeak. Then there was the whole acting thing, which showed me a bigger picture of the world than I perhaps deserved: after you’ve lived abroad more than once as a twelve-year-old, it’s hard to get excited about coming back to a town named after a dentist.

But I never stopped loving Magnolia Park. It’s a strip full of vintage stores, thrift shops, and all kinds of tiny Mom and Pop businesses that runs along Magnolia Boulevard. Even as an adult, every time I thought of a grocery store, I imagined Handy Market. Every time I got sick, I thought of my grandmother getting me soup from Full O’ Life, a health food store and restaurant with healthy food that actually tasted good! I tried in vain to find a recipe that was close to Martino’s Tea Cakes, but knew I would never find any doughnut as good as the ones at Doughnut Hut. Watching the movie Magnolia was unsettling because I did not associate Magnolia Boulevard with sex, drugs, and frogs, but with kitsch, googie architecture, and consignment shops. Yeah, some of them were named things like Hubba Hubba and Junk for Joy, but it felt innocent, the background for my childhood.

Though, there was something a bit John Waters about it, and perhaps a little Guillermo Del Toro, too: Dark Delicacies is dedicated to horror of all kinds, and there’s not one but several year-round Halloween stores on Magnolia. It’s still cool to like Tim Burton’s movies in Burbank, because he grew up there, and the connection runs deep. (Sometimes creepily so, but that’s a story for another post.) There’s now a Ouija Board Museum practically around the corner from where I lived as a baby. Magnolia Park is a good place to be a goth.

It’s also a place that recognizes its unique position in local history. My father and brothers always loved Autobooks-Aerobooks, which stocks hundreds of books on autos and airplanes and is a great place to learn about Burbank’s contributions to aviation. And It’s a Wrap, which sells clothes used on film sets, seems like a metaphor for Burbank in itself: a place that gets the cool cast-offs from Hollywood. There are fur coats (some faux, some real), period costumes, and tiny, stretchy t-shirts bought for grown-up actresses on soap operas that fit me as a nine-year-old. (I remember feeling a bit concerned for those actresses.) It remains the one clothing store my father likes. His favorite find was a shirt with a velcroed-on button placket, which had been used in a fight scene. He loved to make us laugh by saying “I hate this shirt!” and pretending to rip it apart.

Perhaps I’m starting to sound like an advertisement. Nobody has paid me to write this, and I don’t think this is just me idealizing my childhood. I’d like to think I have a slightly higher immunity to nostalgia than most, having been something of an object of nostalgia myself, and as anyone who’s read my book will know, I have many less than perfect memories of Burbank. That said, I do honestly believe it is a truly charming and unique place, and I’m not alone in that. While my Angeleno friends from “over the hill” might have sneered at Burbank in years past, when I mention I’m from there now, I get “Oh, yeah! Burbank has such cute shops — and the food trucks on Friday nights! I love Magnolia Park!”

And now, it is in danger of disappearing.

My hometown has changed. Houses in Burbank cost three to four times what they did in the 1990s, and many big box stores have moved in: there’s now a Wal-Mart, a Hobby Lobby, a Costco, yet another Target, and now a Whole Foods. This wouldn’t have been a huge problem if it didn’t also mean that landlords (none of whom seem to live in Burbank, let alone the Magnolia Park area) were doubling and tripling the rent for Magnolia Park properties. Pinup Girl is now gone. Creature Features is gone. Geeky Teas, which also does cat rescue, is moving, and Dark Delicacies is in danger, too. These are all small businesses, many of which are owned by women. And who knows what effect it will have on Burbank’s already exorbitant housing market?

The landlords raising the rent have missed the point entirely: pricing these shops and cafes out will take away what people like about the area. It will become another neutral, muted, beige Southern California suburb. Burbank is not meant to be a suburb. It’s tried to be just another small town, but it’s just too weird for that. Maybe it’s futile to think that my old neighborhood should never change. But I think it’s important to try to do what we can to keep the spirit alive.

So what can be done?

The Save Magnolia Park campaign has been coming up with many ideas, such as making Magnolia Park a historical district, having it zoned for small business only, or turning the shops into co-ops. But they need support, and they need promotion.

While I know there are many important and scary things going on in the world, if you have the time, effort, and inclination, please watch this video and consider supporting Save Magnolia Park. Share the video, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you’re in L.A. and you want to shop, shop in Magnolia Park! Spread the word about it! L.A. loves its small stores and kitsch, and there’s no better place for it than Burbank.

I just recently remembered that few months after I bought an apartment in New York, my sister came to visit, looked around my neighborhood and said, “It kind of looks like Burbank!” I couldn’t deny it: there was a part of me that had shaped by Magnolia Park. Even after six years in Manhattan, I had longed for a neighborhood that felt busy and bustling, but with a down-to-earth feeling and Mom and Pop stores. It’s a part of my life, my own personal history, and I want it to remain a part of other people’s, as well.