I’ve never celebrated a 100th birthday before — although, since the pandemic … I feel closer to that age than I am.
With the centennial of our village approaching in 2023, it gives me a chance to wander back through the past century for a look at our history. (I probably should have done this 27 years ago, when I first became the honorary mayor. I’m glad there wasn’t a written test back then.)
What I really needed was a tour guide, a docent. And I found one: Rose Chimo, who is celebrating her 99th birthday this September 16. She is the mother of Paulanna Cuccinello, owner of Pergolina on Riverside. The arc of Rose’s life, in many ways, parallels the arc of Toluca Lake — and of the country. It’s a classic immigrant tale of an Italian family filtering through Ellis Island and going on to become a quintessential American success story. Rose’s parents started a successful nursery at the five points area near Riverside, Tujunga and Camarillo. After the family sold the nursery, Rose and her husband opened an iconic flower shop in the storefront where Pergolina is now: Flowers by Anthony Rose.
Rose is a perfect name for this elegant, sharp, opinionated nonagenarian. The laser twinkle. A perfect coif. Warm and open to the inquisitor, but regal and businesslike. Helen Hayes as Elizabeth I.
I have to mention that daughter Paulanna isn’t just the proprietor of Pergolina. She’s a force of nature, with exquisite taste and an exceptional eye for people, art and ideas — small and large — that make the world more beautiful. The eclectic aura of Pergolina is one of those things that puts the “village” in our village.
When you meet Rose, you begin to understand all that is Paulanna. Rose and her husband, Tony, grew beautiful flowers and a beautiful family and had many varied business successes in North Hollywood and Toluca Lake. They moved onto Talofa in 1962. Rose was way ahead of the curve in becoming an accomplished businesswoman, bookkeeping at the nursery and clerking in the flower shop. She bought real estate, unbeknownst to her husband — who was at first shocked, but then delighted when her purchases began reaping big rewards. Rose also had her own interior decorating business … again, years before American women were owning and running things. Her drive toward success in decorating really shone when she came home one night and announced to the family, “Get off the couch! I just sold it!”
This whole atmosphere of love and hard work gave Rose’s children — Paulanna; her sister, Valerie; and their brother, Anthony — fertile ground to grow successes of their own and lots of colorful memories of growing up in Toluca Lake.
I explained to Paulanna about my mission to write this piece. Could I meet with Rose and ask some questions?
She immediately decided — being Italian — that the way to activate good conversation is over a meal. So, it was to be an evening at Paulanna and Rose’s home on Navajo, with Rose, me, Paulanna and our friend Paige Peter, a longtime Toluca Lake resident who is one of the area’s staunchest cheerleaders and a member of the Toluca Lake Garden Club.
During a perfect Mexican meal, we all gradually began to pull at memory threads. The theme I was aiming at was continuity.
Continuity is what I most adore about Toluca Lake.
The small-town spirit.
The multigenerational family businesses.
The feeling of safety.
Ideas that remain constant, even as our larger world is caught in tumult and uncertainty.
I learned the importance of continuity in my job as a weatherguesser. I discovered that there were viewers who weren’t particularly fans. But that turned out not to be the most important aspect of our relationship. I came on the news at 5:18 every night for 40 years, and as I learned, viewers found comfort in the continuityof me just being there. I was part of the continuum of their lives: “Oh, Fritz is here again. I must still be breathing!”
So, at dinner … Rose would recall. Paulanna would gently correct or clarify. Paige and I sat there thinking this would make a great Netflix documentary: My Dinner With Rose.
As we ate, I asked if they had examples of continuity of life in Toluca Lake. They had many: The Helms truck rolling into town with its aromatic splendors on the same day every week. Knowing the names of the mailman and the milkman who served your house for years. Rose remembers her husband delivering flowers to both St. Charles and Temple Beth Hillel for 50 years. (I guess the key is to remain nondenominational.) Paulanna remembers being a kid and chasing the Good Humor truck around North Hollywood. Years later, her son Nino chased the same Good Humor truck — with the same driver.
I tossed out to the table, “Your best Toluca Lake memory?”
Mother and daughter riffed off each other’s recollections: Feeling safe walking home from St. Charles School. How exhilarating it was to be able to ride your bike down Riverside Drive to Bob’s Big Boy, past Bob Hope’s haberdashery near the current Trader Joe’s, past Jann Davis’s high-end dress shop and Gilbert’s Five & Dime, and over to Dana Drugs.
They proudly remembered their famous landscaping customers — Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Mary Astor. And their famous flower shop customers, including Andy Griffith and Scott Baio. George Harrison and producer George Martin also bought arrangements.
As dinner wrapped up, I asked for one idea that best described life in Toluca Lake over the years.
Paulanna had the perfect answer. “People have been coming into my store for 35 years, and even before they buy anything, they ask, ‘How’s your mom? How’s your dad?’”
That says it all. Thank you, Paulanna and Paige.
Happy birthday, Toluca Lake.
And … happy birthday, sweet Rose.