Regular readers of this space know that trite catch phrases, idiotic expressions, and misuse of words have a way of getting under my skin. The overuse and trivializing of the word “iconic” is a good example. What was once a word that had special and specific meaning has become mainstreamed to the degree that anyone or anything that is old and famous is now automatically considered “iconic.” The iconic Hollywood Bowl, the iconic Elizabeth Taylor, the iconic American apple pie, the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy. The media usually starts these trends and then regular people pick up on it.
Another phrase much overused and overheard today is “back in the day.” The expression itself isn’t new, but has been picked up by all the “with it” folks of late. It is freely used to refer to almost any time in the past. Instead of simply saying “I used to wear white sneakers when I was a kid,” now they say, “I wore white sneakers, back in the day.” I don’t use that expression; I prefer to say “in the good old days.”
Back in the good old days, Toluca Lake had real restaurants. While there might be a few residents who still remember Val’s where Trader Joe’s market now stands and Barone’s Italian restaurant, I wonder how many would recall Sorrentino’s, Alfonse’s, the Tick Tock, The China Trader, the King’s Arms, or even Now Voyager and Jason’s. All of these were on Riverside Drive and were Toluca Lake old reliables. In addition to being restaurants, they were local watering holes.
Back in the good old days before Trader Joe’s and Von’s, Toluca Lake’s supermarkets were Toluca Mart and the Food Giant on the corner of Pass and Riverside. The Food Giant had a separate ice cream counter called Brookdale. They stocked my dad’s favorite sherbet, Strawberry Crush, and my mom’s favorite ice cream, Rocky Road.
Back in the good old days before Dana Drugs, Toluca Lake had Lakeside Pharmacy and another old time drug store (I forget the name) with a soda fountain right across the street from Warner Bros. Elliot’s was a terrific furniture store on the corner of Pass Avenue and Riverside. My wife and I bought some of our first furniture there.
Back in the good old days, Toluca Lake had many charming little shops and boutiques such as Angela Cartwright’s Rubber Boots. How many of today’s Toluca Lake residents know that the original International House of Pancakes was right across the street from Bob’s Big Boy? My sister had her sweet sixteen birthday party there.
Back in the good old days, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sheridan, Doris Day, Johnny Weissmuller, Amelia Earhart, Audie Murphy, Andy Griffith, Jonathan Winters and Roy Disney all called Toluca Lake home. Many of today’s movie and television actors, writers, directors and producers still live here, but it will never be the same without old ski nose, Packy East.
Back in the good old days, you could actually drive down Riverside Drive without being in bumper to bumper traffic at rush hour. The only rush there was at that time of day were the studio drinkers rushing over to get a seat at the bar at Alfonse’s or Jason’s.
For many of us at Disney, the Mexican restaurant of choice for an off lot lunch was El Chiquito on Pass near the Warner’s main gate. Don Griffith, Vance Gerry, Fred Lucky, Dave Michener and I spent many a lunch hour in that back corner booth in the bar. They had a really delicious open-faced steak sandwich with steak fries which helped to absorb the vodka tonics. And on Riverside Drive near the freeway and next to the Standard gas station I remember a cozy little French restaurant called Paul’s which had live music.
Why do I reminisce so? Why do I think of the Toluca Lake of long ago? It must be the summer doldrums that brings out the nostalgic memories for me. Or maybe it’s just old age. But I’ll tell you this, if you weren’t there back then, it is very hard to explain just how unique the village was. Toluca Lake “back in the day” was a very special place. You might even say it was “iconic.”