Bring back some good or bad memories


April 30, 2020

Cruising Van Nuys Boulevard in the Summer of 1972

In the Los Angeles suburb of San Fernando Valley, Wednesday night was cruise night. A long stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard would be packed with kids and cars from all over Southern California – the place to show off your ride.

In the summer of 1972, photographer Rick McCloskey went to Van Nuys to shoot this series of photographs, the culture on the boulevard had become an amalgamation of various lifestyles, automobiles, and very different looks and styles. The tribes included surfers, low-riders, muscle cars, street racers, and even “retro” styles from the 1950s. McCloskey’s photos offer a fascinating portrayal of the young people, their cars, and iconic backgrounds; a world that has long since vanished.

“You had everything from your Mustangs to lowriders and hot rods,” recalled Rick McCloskey. “Essentially you were out there to see your friends, show off your car and just sort of be there. It was the place for young people to be.”

There were other cruising spots in the city, but Van Nuys, for some reason or other, got nailed as the street to cruise on, specifically, a 3-mile stretch from Ventura Boulevard to about Sherman Way. People would come from as far as Santa Barbara or Orange County to cruise Van Nuys, a wide street with many lanes. Gas was relatively cheap at the time, and that made cruising an affordable way to spend a night out.

The cars were great to look at, but McCloskey said he “was more interested in taking pictures of the people when I was out there. ... I was interested in the people and what they looked like and what the vibe was of the people parked on the side of the road and hanging out.”

By the early 1980s, the cruising scene had all but vanished on Van Nuys. Among the reasons was a business backlash, McCloskey said. “Many of the business people really weren't too thrilled with (cruising) because they’d find beer cans on their porches and stuff. And ultimately, they did pass legislation or traffic rules that you couldn’t cruise.”

Today, young people no longer have anything similar to the past boulevard gathering places, where so many people can enjoy “just being there” together. Akin to starlight still trickling in from a long vanished world, these photographic images are what we have left.

(Photos © Rick McCloskey)


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