Cruising Van Nuys Blvd. in the late 1970s My Photo Project

Pontiac Tempest

About my photos

While attending El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California, I took a two hour advanced photography class in the fall of 1978. One of our weekly class assignments was to take handheld photos at night by “pushing” Kodak Tri-X 400 to an ISO of 3,200 (ASA back then). Having heard of, but never attended before, my friends and I headed off one Wednesday night to Van Nuys Blvd. to check out the infamous cruise night to complete my class assignment. Needless to say, the experience did not disappoint! We parked on a side street near Van Nuys Blvd. (Gilmore Street to be specific) and walked on over to “The Blvd.”. As soon as I took my camera out (a 35mm Canon AE-1), a van pulled up beside me and a women wearing only a Van Nuys Blvd. bumper sticker (advertising the forthcoming movie) popped out of the passenger window and shouted “take my picture”, which of course we did!. As all young men do, we found this very exciting and knew this was the place to be on Wednesday nights! Not only were we interested in the wild girls showing off, but the all of the cars were something special to behold too! Being located at a traffic signal and slow rate of cruising, several guys in their cars wanted us to take their photos too – and they wanted a copy! Thereafter, a small business was born where I would print some 8 x 10 inch photos for the guys during the week; returning the next Wednesday to sell the prints to them for $5 a piece! Of course, not all of them showed back up to purchase their prints, but we were having fun and didn’t really care all that much.

Going down to Van Nuys Blvd. nearly every Wednesday night continued on for several months into the spring of 1979. However, that was the year I graduated from high school and I moved on to California State University Northridge that fall where classes and studying took up most of my time. That spring, however, I did have a surprise of sorts. Policemen were always present on cruise nights, but they generally left us alone to do our thing with taking photos and displaying them on the street. One night, a two policemen came over and started looking at all of the photos. To my great surprise, they wanted to buy some! As I remember, I think they bought around six or so – a big sale! After they bought the photos, they remarked that they bought them so they could show the city council what they were having to deal with on Wednesday nights. Now, I don’t know if they were ever used for that purpose, but I can tell you this, Van Nuys Blvd. cruising was shut down just a few years later around 1981. Yes, I feel a little guilty if the photos aided in this, but I have no doubt it would have happened anyway. Besides, times change, events change, and the great Van Nuys Blvd. Wednesday night cruising era passed into time.

Despite it’s passing, I always knew that this era would be remembered fondly by many people as a time when cruising the Blvd. was the thing to do here in the valley on a Wednesday night. Sure, there was some nefarious things going on (read: sex and drugs), but, as a whole, it was a more wholesome time and something just fun to be part of. I sincerely hope that you enjoy this look back at cruising the Blvd.

John E. Atwood
President of PAST, INC.

PS. The header photo used on this site depicts my 1966 Pontiac Tempest, which I still have to this day!


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