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BTTF# 21: Andy Devine's Gravel Flats Ranch in Van Nuys

Image courtesy The Museum of  the San Feranando Valley 
Welcome aboard the Delorean! 

Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to the former Andy Devine Ranch known as Gravel Flats at 6947 Kester Avenue Van Nuys. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to sometime in the 1930s (actual date unknown) and the flux capacitor is......fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time.

Above images courtesy The Museum of the San Fernando Valley 
Andy Devine was an American character actor and comic cowboy sidekick known for his distinctive raspy voice, the result of a childhood vocal cord injury when he tripped with a curtain rod in his mouth. He appeared in hundreds of films with his most notable role in the 1939 classic Stagecoach directed by John Ford (a former Reseda resident). Devine later would appear in two early television series as "Jingles" the sidekick in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and then as the leader in Andy's Gang. Devine would go on to become a world famous film and television actor spanning close to 5 decades. His last role was in 1977's The Mouse and His Child which he provided the voice for "Euterpe." 

So after a days work in Hollywood, Devine would return to his ranch home in Van Nuys known as Gravel Flats which was built sometime in the 1930s. Devine commissioned famed architect L.G. Scherer to build his home who also designed Ernest Borgnine's Beverly Hills estate that was recently acquired by actor Jason Bateman in February 2013. It is believed that Devine chose Van Nuys to be reminiscent of his native Arizona which was surrounded by miles of open country which if you can imagine,Van Nuys was mostly empty in the early 1930s. Many other celebrities including Edward Everett Horton, Josef Von Sternberg, James Cagney, Lucille Ball, Jackie Oakie, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, and Zeppo Marx to name a few were building ranch homes in the SFV to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city (you can also read an LA Times article about former stars homes).

The images below taken on August 29, 1939 on a moving truck depict the 1930's colonial era ranch home on a small single lane Kester street. In 1938, Devine was requested to be the honorary mayor of Van Nuys which he held that title until his departure of Van Nuys in 1958 to Newport Beach due to suburbanization. 

Across the street from his home was a public pool called Crystal Plunge built by Cornwell's on June 1, 1923 that was wildly popular during the scorching summer heats according to the Daily News and the LA Times. Another story surfaced that Devine built Crystal Plunge for his children and teammates from the Van Nuys High School swimming team to practice swimming since there was no pool at Van Nuys High. These stories are conflicting so I am not sure of the true history other than maybe Devine acquired ownership of Crystal Plunge but wasnt the original developer. 

And now its time to fire up the Delorean and go back to the future to 1947, 1952, 1972, and 1980 using favorite site The area highlighted in red below shows the Devine ranch to the left and the Crystal Plunge pool on the right. As can be seen in the surrounding areas, development was starting to take place as GIs were looking to settle down after WWII.

By 1972 as shown in the image below, both Devine's ranch and Crystal plunge were gone. Devine would later pass away at the age of 71 due to leukemia in 1977 in Orange, CA. Devine always had a fondness for the SFV and I am sure he was hurting inside when his ranch was demolished. According to an LA Times article published on May 8, 1997, titled For this Actor, Gravel Flats Was Devine by Michael P. Lucas, "He kept a fond spot in his heart for the Valley. He often half-joked that after he sold Gravel Flats to apartment developers he could retire any time, without a worry about starving." 

The 1980 image below shows complete development with no land available nearby. 

And now its time to fire up the Delorean and go back to the future to the present setting where not much has changed since the 1970s where apartments are common on Kester compared to the old ranch days of the 30's and 40's. 

The former Andy Devine ranch is located on the left with Crystal Plunge on the right. Image courtesy Google Maps
The site of the former Andy Devine ranch. 
The site of the former Crystal Plunge pool. 

As a bonus, Andy Devine's son, Dennis would become an apartment and condo developer in the 1980s in the San Fernando Valley as explained in an LA Times article published on February 10, 1985 by Ruth Ryon, Actor's Son Has Devine Flair With His Homes: Affordable North Valley Condos Are Builder's First Solo Project. I wonder how Andy felt about his son developing the last remaining parcels of the SFV which Andy seemed to appreciate for its vast emptiness and country feel. 

You can view more SFV history and Back To The Future series here


The Movieland Directory - Andy Devine

Wikipedia - Andy Devine

IMDB - Andy Devine

1939 Magazine Article posted at The Museum of the San Fernando Valley

The Ernest Borgnine Estate Listed for First Time in 60 Years by Curbed LA (in reference to L.G. Scherer)

For this Actor, Gravel Flats Was Devine by LA Times article

Actor's Son Has Devine Flair With His Homes: Affordable North Valley Condos Are Builder's First Solo Project by LA Times article

Stories, Glories of Stars Are Reflected in Former Valley Homes by LA Times article

The Great Andy Devine by The Museum of the San Fernando Valley

1923 - 1924: Busy At Work and At Play by LA Daily News article (in reference to Crystal Plunge)

Wikimapia - Crystal Plunge

Crystal Plunge Image - Pinterest by Flattop N Lollipop Hipes

Old Timers Reminisce as Van Nuys Turns 75 by LA Times article (in reference to Crystal Plunge)

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

2 comments to ''BTTF# 21: Andy Devine's Gravel Flats Ranch in Van Nuys"

  1. Interesting article, however the pool in the picture is not the Crystal Plunge but the Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Playground pool on Huston Street. I swam in both pools in the 1950's.

    Tom Cluster, formerly of 6944 Columbus Avenue

  2. Hello Tom. Thanks for the correction. I will make the correction.


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