Tarzana’s Non-Pedestrian Pedestrian Bridge!
SOME TIME AGO, I went on and on and on about Peanuts fruit snacks. Read it, or read it again!, it’s a fascinating study of what happens when I don’t have an editor to rein me in and keep me from going on and on and on and on, and then on top of that, I go off on absurd tangents that seem important when I’m writing about it, but in fact just diminish the overall wallop I was looking to deliver until the whole thing is some novel-length disjointed mish-mash that few have the patience to stay with past the first paragraph and then if there’s anyone still reading after that, it’s not likely that whoever’s left will be able to follow my incoherent ramblings through the second paragraph let alone the end – like what’s already happening with this one; also something about never-ending, run-on sentences!
But oh brother, try and talk me out of including half of the nonsense I insist on putting in posts like that – just try and talk me out of it! It’s a fool’s errand, you better believe it!
Where was I going with that?
Oh! Yes! Peanuts!
My point was that I saw those Peanuts fruit snacks at the 99¢ Only Store on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, and not more than a mile away (Or maybe a little more than a mile away; what do I look like, an odometer?) over in Tarzana there’s something just cluttered with Peanuts! Crammed with more Peanuts than an elephant’s stool.
That’s not what I meant.
What I’m talking about here is Peanuts! Vintage Peanuts!
Not only vintage Peanuts, but vintage, largely unvandalized Peanuts.
They’re on a pedestrian overpass. Yes, you heard me right – on a pedestrian overpass. Or for you folks east of the Mississippi, a “foot bridge!”
I’ve passed beneath the walkway in my car dozens of times over the years, and I’m as amazed by this display today as much as I was the first time I saw it.
If you’re a fan of classic Peanuts – and you are unless you’re a monster – you’ll recognize these images as being from, arguably, the strip’s heyday – the early to mid 1960s. I’m pretty sure I recognize images from specific strips I’d seen. You probably do, too.
Here Snoopy irritates an unnamed bird back when birds in Peanuts looked a little more avian – not much, mind you, but a little bit. And it’s before Woodstock’s debut. It’s the slimmer, better Snoopy, too.
And look who’s in the pool with Schroeder: Violet, Shermy, and Patty – three characters who all but disappeared by the late 60s.
There’s no Peppermint Patty, no Marcie, no Thibault – oh no – these images predate all that nonsense! (However, conspicuous by his absence among all this unique Peanuts artwork? “Pig-Pen.”)
I’ve wondered for years exactly what the deal was with these twelve images. Did Schulz draw them himself? What were they painted on? And why the hell were they here, in the Valley, the armpit of the filthy toilet that is Los Angeles?!
Finally, I stopped one Sunday and walked on, around and across the overpass to check them out reeeal up-close-like.
I thought maybe I’d learn they were on fiberglas boards or plywood but no! They’re on sturdy sheet metal panels – and unfortunately for you, you crooked thief who’d like one in your living room above your couch (and who can blame you?), they’re bolted securely in place.
You’d need a lot of room over that couch, anyway: Each of the dozen panels is five feet tall. They range from about three to eight feet in width.
Since they do seem to represent images from particular strips, my guess is Charles Schulz didn’t design these images specifically for the panels, but rather they were enlargements of artwork he liked. But I can’t say for sure – I’m no Peanuts expert!
Just a few have been hit by taggers – but don’t worry – they’ve been cleaned up as best they could be cleaned up – and more important, the awful, awful people who did this will burn in hell for all eternity. Oh, I’ll see to that.
Seeing them up close, touching them, feeling them, tasting them a little bit where the bars of the overpass’s railing permitted my tongue to roam along the panels’ edges only resulted in more questions and a canker sore the size of a ping-pong ball. I wanted answers. And now you, too, want answers. So on behalf of both of us, I called the school the bridge is next to.
“Ted Parsnips, Parsnips Post-Press!* Say, what’s all this about Peanuts pictures on the pedestrian foot bridge? The public has a right to know! C’mon, lady, gimme me something good for the front page!”
(*The daily print edition of this blog.)
“Um…Nobody has been here long enough to know the history about them. Someone else called once a while ago. I think you can do a Google search on them.”
[No joke: That’s what she said. Yep, that’s the Los Angeles Unified School District for you…!]
With that I slammed down the receiver and ran out of the phone booth, wetting the nub of my reporter’s pencil with my mouth (producing another canker sore) as I flew across my bedroom. I leapt on the bed, pulled my laptop onto the very top of my lap and began Googling like there was no tomorrow. They don’t call me “Scoop” Parsnips for nothing: No one was going to beat me to the punch on this story. (Well, except for whoever had already covered it, which is what I was looking up.)
So here’s what I found out:
The pedestrian overpass was built in either 1969 or 1971 (two articles list different dates) and apparently the artwork went up once it was built (or shortly thereafter).
According to an Los Angeles Times story from 1994 “the bridge received its cartoon embellishments when a member of the school’s PTA convinced cartoonist Charles Schultz [sic], an acquaintance, to donate drawings of Charlie Brown and his friends.”
Which makes me wonder all the more about the making of the panels. They’re nicely done and fairly on-model (though some of them do have a sloppy, traced look in certain areas – look at Snoopy’s front paws and belly above). My theory: This was something Schulz had had other similar requests for and it was just a matter of using whatever blown-up designs he’d used before. But again: I don’t know – I’m no Peanuts expert!
This might explain, though, why these panels were erected on the bridge right around 1970 but the images have a mid-60s Peanuts look, and why he included characters he had just about phased out of the strip.
(I suppose it is possible that ol’ Sparky actually sketched these out personally for the school, but I doubt it. His workload would have been enormous around 1970 and I can’t imagine him taking on such a big, in multiple senses of the word, project.)
Interesting, though, something about the above image of Lucy has a slightly more recent look to it. The other images of her on the bridge have that mid-60s look; this has a slightly later look – late 60s…? Yes, yes, you know, “But I’m no Peanuts expert.”
I didn’t notice any brush strokes on the images, and seeing small areas where colors have chipped off, exposing metal beneath, I’m guessing maybe these were painted with enamel and then fired in an enormous, monstrous kiln. However, in addition to not being an expert on Peanuts, neither am I an expert on the creation processes of any sort of large art installments so frankly, in case you haven’t figured it out already, I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Also, I’m no Peanuts expert.
Schulz’s name is signed within each of the images, rather than on the edge of the panels. In the lower right corner of each panel is © BY UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. For those of you interested in that sort of detail.
I think and now you too think that it’s neat that these have been up there for the better part of 40 years (though they’ve come down at least once – in the early eighties while the bridge was repainted and repaired) and they remain in particularly good shape. (Perhaps giving further credence that they are enameled?)
They’re not without some damage, and yes, in a few areas, you can see some assholes have tagged them.
This one’s been hit by a tagger on the left side, near Chuck’s ear. You can see other damage – missing paint – on his neck and dings on his hat and Lucy’s glove. Charles Schulz’s signature appears twice here: On Charlie Brown’s shirt and on Lucy’s glove.
Some jackass with no future tagged this panel of Snoopy dancing. According to a very short piece in Los Angeles Magazine (coincidentally very recent as of this writing) “The City of Los Angeles” is responsible for the panels’ upkeep. I guess that means it was someone from the Office of Community Beautification/Graffiti Removal who scrubbed the hell out of that and made it virtually invisible unless you’re up close and looking at it at an angle. Good job, sir!
Sally is walking away from the school, no doubt a subtle commentary by Schulz on the character’s well-documented troubles embracing a formal elementary school education.
I hesitate to even mention this for fear of jinxing it, but I’m slightly encouraged that none of these dumbasses have tagged the actual characters. Could it be that to these otherwise soulless morons, Peanuts is actually sacred? It’s a nice thought, but given the ongoing de-evolution of society, especially in this horrible city, it’s probably only a matter of time before they’re defaced. Indeed: I first visited the bridge two weeks ago and came back yesterday to snap additional photos. In that time, the bridge has been hit again in half a dozen places…
…including on the back of two of the panels. The back of the panels. This time.
So what have we learned from all this?
• According to the ’94 Los Angeles Times piece, this bridge and its artwork was a source of pride for Tarzana Elementary, at least back in the mid-90s (and earlier). So the school needs to get on the ball and embrace this unique Peanuts art once again, and put something about it on their website. It’ll prevent freaks like me from calling them up and wasting the front office’s time.
• If Los Angeles Magazine is going to do a short piece on this thing, like they did, maybe use an actual freakin’ photo of the bridge or a closeup of one of the pieces of art, and not an awful 1990s publicity drawing of the characters that was just lifted off someone else’s website!
• The same Los Angeles Magazine piece notes that thirteen panels were installed on the bridge. I counted twelve. I think it’s safe to assume some lucky bastard from the LA Department of Public Works has the missing one hanging over his couch.
• Most importantly, as much as I go on and on and on about how much contempt I have for the very city in which I live, how I routinely grouse (yes, grouse) about Los Angeles, the fact that these wonderful and quaint Peanuts characters exist outside a local public elementary school on a pedestrian walkway has succeeded in melting my heart and actually given me a feeling of affection for this city.
Oh, wait…waaaait… …It’s passed.