LACBC Everywhere: Tommy Gelinas Keeping Old School Alive
“I remember when I used to be into nostalgia.” – Demtri Martin
Memories are precious to preserve, but ultimately they are moments of time that fade away.
The San Fernando Valley has gone through so many permutations since the late 18th century that it’s hard to remember where it’s been.
Early San Fernando Photo when horses ruled transportation.
The mission and rancho periods led to grazing and farming until rail and access to water started to unleash the area’s potential.
Studios began to sprout up and big movie stars, like Bob Hope, Clarke Gable and Bing Crosby, settled into their large compounds.
Movie costumes from the Valley’s Western period.
After World War II, Los Angeles began to sprawl as freeway construction allowed people access to cheaper land and larger homes with plenty of space for swimming pools.
The San Fernando Valley was an ideal expansion target for baby boomers with a mixture of older, core neighborhoods and plenty of open space, and thus the Valley grew to be the quintessential suburb.
As a result, auto centric malls, Googie architecture and large signs exemplified the suburban fabric – designed to attract the eye of speeding drivers.
Busch Gardens was a popular amusement park in the center of the Valley.
The area continued to prosper, and many point to the 1970’s as being the Valley’s Camelot age as big corporations and the film industry provided well paying jobs.
It’s during this zenith that Tommy Gelinas remembers his childhood fondly in the midst of this excitement.
Riding a bike played a large role growing up.
Classic Gary Littlejohn
It provided him a means to discover the Valley, as he was free to roam about with his friends but had one rule: be home by dinner.
What was also special for Tommy was being part of a new style of cycling that was just developing: Bicycle Motorcross or BMX.
Launched in Southern California in the early 1970’s, the Valley was a hotspot for this emerging sport with a number of dirt tracks and first generation manufacturers located in the area.
BMX grew so quickly that racing bodies formed including the National Bicycle Association which hosted the sport’s the first pro race in Van Nuys.
Racing soon reached the national level and the golden age of BMX was born.
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There was still momentum for the suburban lifestyle transitioning into the Eighties.
Sprawl continued to take hold, but the shine on the Valley’s veneer began to fade.
A collection of memories from the Van Nuys Assembly Chevrolet Plant.
Big companies, like Chevrolet and Lockheed began downsizing their facilities, devastating the surrounding communities.
Newer suburbs grew further away in Simi and Santa Clarita Valleys offering people even larger homes for a fraction of the cost.
Lockheed and the aerospace industry played a large part of the Valley’s growth.
Traffic increased to the point that daily smog warnings would alert families when to stay inside.
As these changes took hold, many of the local landmarks lost their clientele and one by one began shuttering their doors.
Through his travels, Tommy gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the Valley and took notice as these sites disappeared.
Matchbooks from many of the Valley’s lost restaurants.
He started keeping track of this history by collecting everything he could get his hands on: postcards, business cards, furniture.
No item was considered insignificant.
Those large, iconic signs became a target too, but despite their size, they were surprisingly hard to locate.
The Palomino hosted a number of country greats like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Patsy Cline.
Records were hard to come by about their whereabouts, let alone the possibility of the signs being scrapped.
Tommy diligently searched the Valley, asking questions and using word of mouth, which began yielding success, saving such prominent signs as The White Horse Inn, The Palomino and Henry’s Tacos.
The White Horse Inn closed its doors in Northridge in 1998.
Thanks to the internet, Tommy started to gain a substantial following by sharing his collection first through LiveJournal, then MySpace and continuing onto Facebook and Instagram.
As the collection grew and space became limited, the time came for Tommy to establish a non-profit and opened the Valley Relics Museum in Chatsworth.
Within its walls, you’ll find not just emblematic artifacts of days gone by, but many of the finer details bringing history back to life.
This iconic Henry’s Tacos sign was restored with its original pricing.
Costumes from Westerns and other movie features harken back to the days of Universal Studios and Republic PIctures.
Programs from air shows recollect a time when the area embraced aviation.
Photos from the Chevrolet Plant remind you how people were more than just co-workers, but family.
The deeper you look at the artifacts, the more you realize that the conglomeration of these memories could have only existed in one place: The San Fernando Valley.
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Time only moves forward, yet change is constant.
Los Angeles continues to grow upward and inward, meaning the reliance on the traditional strip mall and mid-century habits are fading away.
As historic homes, longtime family businesses and revered focal points get replaced by modern, corporate offices and tract housing, the Valley only continues to lose its individuality.
Like the rest of us, Tommy doesn’t know what the future will hold, but saving our history is the first step to having a link to the past.
While we can never relive our memories, there is still a living history we can preserve.
A number of surviving BMX stickers from the 1970’s.
When you talk to Tommy about BMX, the exuberance on his face is like seeing a child get a new bike for their birthday.
In his presence, bikes are a distraction as he’s eager not just to talk about them, but to ride them as well.
Just a small part of Tommy’s large BMX collection.
Tommy takes great pride how the sport’s roots are firmly placed in the Valley.
Gary Littlejohn, Mongoose, Redline and many other early manufacturers were innovators in performance and style.
Even Tommy’s office is filled with bikes.
The sport’s first pro race was held in Van Nuys back in 1974 by Ernie Alexander’s National Bicycle Association.
Tommy has kept this era alive with his vintage collection of roughly one hundred BMX bikes.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with these bikes, you’ll understand the artistry and uniqueness of these restored classics.
Builders used outside the box thinking to explore frame construction and experimented with customizing components.
CW Racing’s inventive downtube.
To celebrate this era, Tommy and the Valley Relics Museum are hosting an N.B.A. Reunion and BMX Show at the Valley Relics Museum.
Many of the sport’s early pioneers and current pros have committed to appear because Tommy’s passion and support for BMX is widely known.
Even as the sport continues to grow, riders both young and old respects BMX’s origins as all riders can relate to the fun and freedom these bikes provide.
Years go by. People age.
Seeing Tommy ride his bike is timeless.
The NBA Reunion & Bike Show Swap Meet is this Sunday, May 7th at the Valley Relics Museum.