The aerial shot above is a 1950ís view of the Standard Brands Paint Company on Victory Blvd. in Burbank. Boy, do I remember this place. Dad used to come here to buy his cheap paint, and he almost always took me with him. It was a sort of rite of manliness. In fact, every few years I have odd little dreams about the place.

I should mention that my father was a maintenance painter at the Lockheed plant in Burbank (now gone) - so he painted for a living. He painted men's rooms, offices, walkways, machinery - whatever needed painting. His nickname at Lockheed was "Rembrandt." He owned no watches that didn't have tiny drips of paint on them, and snorted Vicks VapoRub in an effort to battle paint fumes for supremacy in his lungs.

Standard Brands was presided over by a guy Dad identified as "Big John," an old dude who shaved his head and wore white painter's overalls. He bore more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Clean. Whenever Dad and I walked in there'd be a Hail Fellow Well Met greeting, as if they were members of some club. Big John would then peer at me to see if I gained any height since the last gallon of paint. Since I was growing like a weed at the time, there was always some comment.

Dad would proceed over to the left hand side of the store, where the "Standard Brands" were located. If we ever paid more than $5 a gallon for paint I don't recall it. In other words, even considering the lower cost of living back in the Sixties and Seventies, this was cheap paint. What's more, Dad used to thin the latex with some water. I have no idea why - it barely covered full strength, and the practice used to rile Mom to no end. Perhaps it's some vestigial trait of living during the Great Depression, when paint thickness had to be sacrificed to keep food on the table.

The other big Standard Brands product, as I recall, was luan, a thin wood product from some banana republic. Where other people would use respectable plywood for occasional household use, we used luan. I remember once Dad nailed up sheets of the stuff onto the backyard fence in an attempt to dress things up - an ill-advised procedure since luan was certainly not an exterior use product. Needless to say, we soon had rotten and warped luan for me to break up, burn and hurl around in the back yard. I recall that broken luan had sharp, needle-like edges. I was forever pulling luan slivers out of my hands during my childhood.

Another trait of luan I remember was that small chunks of it were flat, and, when thrown, could sail like a Frisbee. There was a certain tactile gratification in throwing a piece of it, like flinging a D-cell across the yard. Whereas the D-cell would hit with a nice "thunk," bits of the luan would satisfyingly fly apart upon contact with a wall.

As I said, Mom was never a fan of "that damn" Standard Brands, and finally angrily took things in hand for one major painting project, and purchased a much better grade of paint somewhere else in Burbank. As I did a considerable part of the painting, I greatly appreciated the better quality paint, which went on and covered much, much better than any of the Standard Brands ever did.

One memorable last use of the leftover Standard Brands paint was on our family business, a cafe. We took every old can we had - in many colors - mixed them all together and wound up with an odd shade of chartreuse, which we used to paint the exterior.

The Standard Brands Paint Company was a chain in Southern California, and whenever we went for a family ride and passed one, I always noticed the familiar sign and had a sort of mental "urp," as if wondering what this pretender store was doing in Torrance or Van Nuys. Did they also sell luan? I bet there was no Big John in residence, though.

I see that Standard Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995. I guess people got tired of having to paint walls three or four times in order to get proper coverage.


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