Surrounded by towering, long-needled pines, the picturesque Ventura Boulevard-Vanalden Avenue property that is now the Tarzana Community & Cultural Center almost never happened. Only the vision, dedication, financial contributions and continuing perseverance of a few local residents saved it from becoming one more built-up commercial establishment.
As many know, Tarzana is the birthplace of Tarzan - Lord of the Apes. Celebrated American novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs created the world-famous jungle hero right here on his own spacious Tarzana Ranch, where he spent most of his life riding, writing, and living life to the fullest.
The author would have seen and recognized the modest 1940s Spanish-style home located just a few blocks west of his own large, hilltop hacienda.
From the early '50s through the next four decades, the southeast corner at Ventura and Vanalden became Diane and Rudy's Garden Statuary, a rustic, wooded outlet well known to Valley residents. In the early '90s, the property was again sold to a commercial developer who, in turn, sold it a few years later to a major storage company.
For a time, it seemed as if one more commercial venture was to occupy this special piece of land which was valued in the millions. Helen Itria Norman, then president of the Tarzana Property Owners Association, openly dreamed of somehow obtaining the corner as "a community meeting place -- where people can come together to discuss their respective needs, and find solutions." Her dream seemed unlikely.
Then, in 2000, a remarkably generous gift from local resident Helen Baker-who passionately shared Mrs. Norman's dream---created a foundation to raise sufficient money to purchase the property. A few large donations and many smaller ones followed--along with a sizeable bank loan.